Taking a Multivitamin May Support Brain Health

By Madhavi Gupta, M.D.

Can a daily multivitamin slow down cognitive decline?

The main purpose of a multivitamin is to fill in nutritional gaps by providing micronutrients that may be missing from diet. Is it possible that taking a daily multivitamin can also slow down cognitive decline?

Recent research shows that daily use of multivitamin-mineral supplements is related to a slower rate of cognitive decline. Researchers reported that using a daily multivitamin improved global cognition, episodic memory, and executive function in older adults (1).

Laura D. Baker, PhD, a professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University, and colleagues, assessed the effects of daily administration of a multivitamin-mineral complex and cocoa extract (500 mg of flavanols) on cognition in older adults.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health. Baker and Carrillo report no relevant financial relationships.

In a large randomized two-by-two factorial, 3-year trial that included 2,262 participants (60% female, mean age 73), researchers reported that cocoa extract had no effect on global cognition, but the daily multivitamin supplementation showed a statistically significant benefit on global cognition compared with placebo. Daily multivitamin use was also associated with improvements in both executive function and episodic memory.

The researchers expected cocoa to have an effect on cognition and memory, but that turned out not to be the case. Instead, the multivitamin was associated with better cognition.

These results were not what the investigators were expecting, and it's not clear why a multivitamin might have this effect, Baker said.

Maria C. Carrillo, PhD, says that this is the first positive, long-term study of this scale that shows multivitamin supplementation may slow cognitive aging.

 

How multivitamins affect brain health

Laura D. Baker suggested that one possible explanation for the positive effects of multivitamins may be the boost in micronutrients and essential minerals provided by the multivitamins-minerals (2).

Also, Baker noted that, in general, Americans don't eat a healthy diet. Multivitamins may be filling in the missing micronutrient gaps.

"Even sub-optimum levels of micronutrients and essential minerals can have significant consequences for brain health," Baker said.

Of course, more independent confirmatory studies are needed in larger, more diverse populations. But for now, in consult with their health care providers, people can consider daily multivitamin use to possibly reduce risk of cognitive decline.

 

Future studies on multivitamins and brain health for older adults

The researchers are designing another, larger trial that would include a more diverse participant pool, beyond the mostly non-Hispanic white population used for the recent trial. The new trial will be aimed specifically at learning more about how and why multivitamins seem to offer a protective effect on cognition.

Maria Carrillo said that confirming these findings in further studies has the potential to "significantly impact public health — improving brain health, lowering health care costs and reducing caregiver burden — especially among older adults. People should talk with their health care provider about the benefits and risks of multivitamins.” (3).


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