Taking a daily multivitamin supplement can slow age-related memory decline, a large UK study has found.
The researchers, led by teams at Columbia University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard, say their findings show that the ageing brain may be more sensitive to nutrition than had been previously thought.
In the study, more than 3,500 adults over age 60 were randomly assigned to take a daily multivitamin supplement or placebo for three years. At the end of each year, participants performed a series of online cognitive assessments at home designed to test memory function of the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is affected by normal ageing.
By the end of the first year, memory improved for people taking a daily multivitamin, compared with those taking a placebo. The researchers estimate the improvement, which was sustained over the three-year study period, was equivalent to about three years of age-related memory decline. The effect was more pronounced in participants with underlying cardiovascular disease.
The results of the new study are consistent with another recent COSMOS study of more than 2,200 older adults that found that taking a daily multivitamin improved overall cognition, memory recall, and attention, effects that were also more pronounced in those with underlying cardiovascular disease.
“Cognitive ageing is a top health concern for older adults, and this study suggests that there may be a simple, inexpensive way to help older adults slow down memory decline,” says study leader Adam M. Brickman, PhD, professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Though the researchers did not look at whether any specific component of the multivitamin supplement was linked to the improvement in memory, the findings support growing evidence that nutrition is important for optimizing brain health as we age.
“Our study shows that the aging brain may be more sensitive to nutrition than we realized, though it may not be so important to find out which specific nutrient helps slow age-related cognitive decline,” says Lok-Kin Yeung, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in Columbia’s Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain and first author of the study.
“The finding that a daily multivitamin improved memory in two separate cognition studies in the COSMOS randomized trial is remarkable, suggesting that multivitamin supplementation holds promise as a safe, accessible, and affordable approach to protecting cognitive health in older adults,” says co-author JoAnn Manson, MD, chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“Supplementation of any kind shouldn’t take the place of more holistic ways of getting the same micronutrients,” adds Brickman. “Though multivitamins are generally safe, people should always consult a physician before taking them.”