Daily Multivitamin: A Simple Boost for Memory and Cognitive Aging

Daily Multivitamin: A Simple Boost for Memory and Cognitive Aging
  • A new study finds that taking a daily multivitamin may help your cognition and memory.
  • Researchers found individuals who were given multivitamin had a modest benefit in their memory and cognitive function over two years.
  • The vitamin may help with cognitive aging.

New research finds that a multivitamin may help you maintain both your cognition and memory.

The new study published online on January 18, 2024, in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reports that daily multivitamin supplementation was beneficial for both global cognition and episodic memory.

Global cognition refers to the overall status of our cognition while episodic memory deals with our recollection of past events and experiences.

The study is the third in a series of studies that are part of the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS).

The purpose of COSMOS is to determine whether cocoa flavanols or multivitamins have the ability to reduce the risk for certain health conditions including cognitive decline, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Multivitamins linked to better memory and cognition

In the two previous COSMOS studies, the researchers assessed people’s cognition via telephone and the Internet. For the present study, COSMOS-Clinic, they gave a subset of 573 people in-clinic cognitive assessments.

After analyzing their data, the team saw a “modest” benefit from the multivitamin in these individuals over a period of two years. They also saw a significant improvement in the participants’ episodic memory.

When the data from all three studies was combined, it was found that there was strong evidence that both global cognition and episodic memory had improved.

The study authors estimated that daily supplementation had delayed cognitive aging by about two years in comparison to those who had received a placebo rather than a multivitamin.

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Why these findings matter

These findings are important, according to Kelsey Costa, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for the National Coalition on Healthcare because “[m]ild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pose significant health challenges in the US, especially in the aging population.”

Costa noted that those who have MCI are about three to five times more likely to develop some form of dementia.

Additionally, the prevalence of AD is expected to reach over 14 million by 2060. This especially affects Hispanics, African Americans, and people over the age of 85. It is also expected to be more prevalent among women.

“Given the increasing prevalence rates of MCI and AD, particularly in older adults and specific groups, finding safe and effective preventative measures is crucial,” said Costa. “The study suggests that daily multivitamin supplementation could serve as a key part of the solution.”

Why multivitamins might help with memory and cognition

Melanie Murphy Richter, MS, RDN, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and instructor of Nutrition Physiology at the University of California, Irvine, explained that the vitamins and minerals that are found in multivitamins play an important role as catalysts in a variety of brain functions.

“For instance, we need certain vitamins like B6 and B12 to produce the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine for the brain,” she stated.

Richter went on to say that neurotransmitters are involved in sending signals to other parts of the body.

“If they are underproduced, our signaling pathways will be slowed or even ineffective. Not to mention, serotonin dictates our sleep cycles. Underproduction of serotonin can lead to impaired sleep which is known to accelerate whole-body aging, including of the brain,” she explained.

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Yet other micronutrients found in multivitamins — such as vitamins C and E and minerals like selenium and zinc — can protect against the oxidative damage that is associated with age-related cognitive decline, per Richter.

Richter added that micronutrients are also important in breaking down macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Micronutrient deficiencies can leave us unable to break down our food for energy which can also deprive the brain of energy.

“This can lead to brain fog, poor memory recall and eventually more serious decline over time,” she explained.

Finally, Richter pointed to minerals like magnesium, zinc, and copper which play a big role in maintaining the brain’s electrical charge.

“Inadequate supply of these micronutrients … can lead to malfunctioning communications between brain cells and degradation of our overall brain functioning,” she remarked.

Should you be taking a multivitamin supplement?

Claire Sexton, DPhil, Alzheimer’s Association senior director of scientific programs and outreach said that although these results are encouraging, the organization is not ready to recommend widespread multivitamin use in order to prevent cognitive decline.

“Independent confirmatory studies are needed in larger, more diverse and representative study populations,” she stated.

“It is critical that future treatments and preventions are effective in all populations,” Sexton added. “COSMOS-Clinic, for example, had less than 2% non-White in the multivitamin group and 5% non-White in the placebo group.”

She noted, however, that multivitamins are easy to obtain and relatively affordable. “With confirmation, these promising findings have the potential to significantly impact public health — improving brain health, lowering health care costs, reducing caregiver burden — especially among older adults.”

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Sexton further advised that people speak with their healthcare providers about the benefits and risks of any dietary supplements they are taking, including multivitamins, noting that, although it’s preferable to obtain nutrients through a balanced diet, this is not always possible for people.

Takeaway Note

Researchers have found that a daily multivitamin supplement was linked with slowed cognitive aging and improved memory.

This is important because of the growing prevalence of dementia.

The improvements in memory and cognition could be because vitamins and minerals play important roles in brain health.

It’s too soon, however, to say whether people should be taking a multivitamin as a strategy to prevent cognitive decline as they age. You should speak with your doctor if you have questions about whether a multivitamin supplement is right for you.


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