Taking a daily multivitamin may improve memory in older adults: Study

Taking a daily multivitamin supplement may improve memory and slow cognitive decline in aging adults, according to a new study.

The results could have major implications for the millions of Americans who are suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

The study, published Thursday, is the third in a series conducted under the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS), a large, nationwide clinical trial testing cocoa extract and multivitamin supplements to see if they can improve cognition and decrease the risk of Alzheimer's.

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In two prior studies, the group found daily multivitamins did have a positive effect on cognition. The current study combines a study of more than 500 participants with meta-analysis of data from more than 5,000 participants, both groups with an average age of 69.

"Cognitive decline is among the top health concerns for most older adults, and a daily supplement of multivitamins has the potential as an appealing and accessible approach to slow cognitive aging," first author Chirag Vyas, an instructor in investigation in the department of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), said in a statement announcing the study.

PHOTO: In an undated stock photo, a woman is seen taking a multivitamin.  (STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images)
PHOTO: In an undated stock photo, a woman is seen taking a multivitamin. (STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images)

For the first part of the study, researchers administered in-person cognitive assessments to 573 people. The results, published the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that a daily multivitamin improved memory and cognition over two years, compared to a placebo.

Those who took multivitamins displayed memory that was equivalent to someone nearly five years younger than they and had cognition equivalent to someone who was two years younger.

Additionally, statistically significant benefits were seen in improvements for episodic memory – that is, the capacity to recall a memory – but not for executive attention, which is the ability to block out distractions and focus on a task.

The team also conducted a meta-analysis based on the three separate studies, with non-overlapping participants, and similarly found that taking a multivitamin showed benefits for memory and cognition, which could help nutrient deficient seniors.

"These findings will garner attention among many older adults who are, understandably, very interested in ways to preserve brain health, as they provide evidence for the role of a daily multivitamin in supporting better cognitive aging," said Dr. Olivia Okereke, senior author of the report and director of geriatric psychiatry at MGH, in a statement.

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There are currently an estimated 6.7 million people in the U.S. living with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, a number that is expected to rise to 14 million by 2060, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Previous research has already shown that the risk of dementia can be slowed by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including controlling high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and depression. Cutting down on smoking, refraining from binge drinking, and getting plenty of physical exercise, may also improve brain health, according to the CDC.

The new study did have limitations, including that the multivitamin used was the Centrum Silver brand, meaning other multivitamin brands may not produce the same results. It's also unclear what particular vitamins in the multivitamin itself contributed to the positive effects.

Additionally, 98% of participants in the study were white, so the new study’s results may not be generalizable to the non-white population.

Taking a daily multivitamin may improve memory in older adults: Study originally appeared on abcnews.go.com