New Study Shows Potential for Multivitamins to Mitigate Memory Loss in Older Adults

By Abdelhafid Boukraa

A recent nationwide clinical trial conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Columbia University suggests that taking a daily multivitamin may help reduce cognitive decline in individuals aged 60 and above. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that older adults who took a daily multivitamin experienced an average of 3.1 fewer years of cognitive decline compared to those who received a placebo.

These findings were part of the Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS), a larger research initiative investigating the health effects of dietary supplements. This study was the second time a multivitamin clinical trial within COSMOS yielded similar positive results.


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The results of the study demonstrated significant cognitive benefits for those taking multivitamins. The group taking multivitamins showed memory capacity that was approximately 3.1 years "younger" than the placebo group. JoAnn Manson, head of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and co-leader of the study, emphasized the importance of these results for older adults who are concerned about preserving their cognitive function and memory.

However, Manson highlighted that while multivitamins had a significant effect, they should not be seen as a substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle. A well-balanced and nutritious diet remains crucial and cannot be replaced entirely by dietary supplements.

The study used a commonly available multivitamin, Centrum Silver, but the researchers believe that any high-quality multivitamin is likely to produce similar results. Centrum Silver contains essential vitamins such as D, A, and B12, as well as thiamine, riboflavin, and manganese. The study's authors, including Manson and Howard Sesso, disclosed grants from Mars Edge, a unit of Mars, and Pfizer Consumer Healthcare (now Haleon), the manufacturer of Centrum Silver. Some authors also received financial support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Multivitamins have gained popularity among older Americans, with 39% of adults aged 60 and above reported to be taking them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2020, multivitamin and multivitamin with mineral sales in the US reached approximately $8 billion, as reported by the NIH.


The three-year study involved more than 3,500 participants aged 60 and older and utilized online assessments of memory and cognition. The tasks included word recall, object recognition, and measuring executive control. The results showed that the multivitamin group outperformed the placebo group in immediate word recall after one year, maintaining this advantage throughout the subsequent two years of follow-up. However, multivitamin use did not significantly affect memory retention, executive function, or novel object recognition compared to the placebo.

Experts in brain health emphasize the importance of nutrients for optimal brain function, as the brain, like other organs, relies on these nutrients and can experience cognitive decline without them. Low levels of vitamins B1, B12, and D have been associated with cognitive decline. The accessibility and simplicity of multivitamins make them an exciting option to slow down cognitive decline in normal aging.

Paul E. Schulz, director of the Neurocognitive Disorders Center at the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, agrees that the brain requires a range of vitamins and minerals to function properly. Schulz, who was not involved in the study, compares the brain to a complex engine that needs various specialized components, all of which are crucial for optimal performance. He has observed cognitive impairments in individuals who lack these nutrients.

A previous study conducted by Brigham and Women's Hospital and Wake Forest University School of Medicine also demonstrated the cognitive benefits of multivitamins, showing a 60% reduction in cognitive aging compared to the placebo group. Although both studies were independent and had different designs, they shared a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial approach, which is considered the gold standard for establishing causation in medical research.

The researchers found it intriguing that participants with a history of cardiovascular disease seemed to derive the greatest benefits from multivitamin supplementation. Manson speculated that these individuals might have had lower nutrient levels at the beginning of the study, making the improvements more noticeable. However, future studies should investigate the applicability of these findings to more diverse populations, including those with lower education and socioeconomic status. Such investigations could shed light on whether the benefits are even greater in populations with limited resources and poorer-quality diets.

Further research is needed to identify the specific nutrients responsible for the observed benefits and elucidate the underlying mechanisms involved.


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