If you’re American, there’s a decent chance you start the day with a multivitamin, as the National Institutes of Health says about a third of adults in the United States take one. Though there’s no regulation regarding which nutrients they should contain, they usually offer a variety of essential vitamins and minerals aimed at addressing different bodily systems. Research tends to show they may not be all that beneficial, but a new substudy within larger research on the topic shows that they may help with memory, and slow cognitive decline by a few years.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently published more findings from the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study, or COSMOS, which has been investigating the impacts of multivitamins, as well as cocoa extract, on a variety of health outcomes. This is primarily focused on cancer and cardiovascular disease, but it has included research on cognitive health, as well. A past COSMOS substudy found that taking a multivitamin over three years was linked with a 1.8-year slowdown in cognitive aging. The most recent substudy has found something similar, providing hope that a simple step could help with cognitive health.
Chirag Vyas, the study’s first author and instructor in investigation at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry, says, “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.”
The team, led by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General, used data from a COSMOS clinical trial with 573 participants that completed all cognitive tests at enrollment. These participants took multivitamins or placeboes over two years and had in-person neuropsychologic tests. The team also performed a meta-analysis of this study along with two other COSMOS studies investigating the same topic.
The researchers found that in the clinic study, multivitamin takers had better global cognition and memory over two years, compared with the placebo group. There didn’t appear to be an impact on executive function or attention, though. The meta-analysis had similar findings, and the researchers say the benefits translated to a reduction in cognitive aging of two years.
More research needs to be done on the topic, including why multivitamins may have this impact on cognitive health.
Howard Sesso, co-lead of the overall COSMOS trial, says, “With these three studies using different approaches for assessing cognition in COSMOS, each providing support for a daily multivitamin, it is now critical to understand the mechanisms by which a daily multivitamin may protect against memory loss and cognitive decline with a focus on nutritional status and other aging-related factors. For example, the modifying role of baseline nutritional status on protecting against cognitive decline has been shown for the COSMOS cocoa extract intervention. A typical multivitamin such as that tested in COSMOS contains many essential vitamins and minerals that could explain its potential benefits.”
Some nutrients that have been linked with better brain health include B vitamins, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.