Can a Daily Multivitamin Improve Cognition in Older Adults?

Remember when you were growing up your mom would always ask, “Did you take your vitamins?”

A new study shows mom was pretty smart about worrying about this multivitamin.

Researchers at Wake Forest University, in collaboration with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, have found that taking a daily multivitamin in older adults may be associated with improved brain function. Additionally, benefits appear to be greater in people with a history of cardiovascular disease.

“We are excited because our results have uncovered a potentially simple, accessible, safe, and inexpensive intervention that may have the potential to provide a protective layer against cognitive decline,” said Laura Baker, PhD, professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest university hospital.

However, Baker and her team are unwilling to recommend that older adults include a daily multivitamin in their diet based on this study.

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Unexpected Findings

The researchers analyzed the cognitive function of three groups of older adults who were given either a flavonoid-containing cocoa extract supplement, a multivitamin or a placebo daily for three years. Nobody, not even the research teams, knew who was assigned to which daily routine until the results came out.

“I was shocked by the results,” Baker adds, “because we thought the cacao extract would show cognition benefits based on other studies showing cacao promotes cardiovascular health.” The data showed it did Multivitamin that benefited cognition.

The study involved 2,262 people aged 65 and over. During the three-year study period, participants completed annual telephone tests to assess their cognitive function. They were tested on how well they remembered stories, performed number tests and demonstrated verbal fluency.

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Test results were compared between those taking the daily cocoa extract with a placebo and those taking the multivitamin with a placebo.

The researchers found that taking the multivitamin for three years appeared to have slowed cognitive aging by 1.8 years, or 60%, compared to the placebo. Daily intake of the cocoa extract during the three-year study period had no effect on cognitive function.

The data also showed that multivitamins were most beneficial for older adults with a history of cardiovascular disease. It’s not clear why, although vitamin and mineral supplementation can improve cardiovascular health, which in turn can improve brain health.

Just the tip of the iceberg

More research is needed to understand the specific factors driving the link between multivitamins and cognitive function. Researchers think it might be related to how multivitamins can help people who are lacking in so-called micronutrients like vitamin C or magnesium or zinc.

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“Many older adults don’t receive proper nutrition for a variety of reasons, including financial issues, or they simply don’t want to prepare healthy meals,” Baker said. “There are also medications or medical conditions that can affect our body’s ability to absorb micronutrients.”

“The results are exciting, but it’s too early to make any recommendations,” Baker said. “I feel like we need to do that in another study.”

The study is published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

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