Multivitamin May Improve Memory In Older Adults

Daily multivitamin supplementation improved memory in older adults compared to a placebo, a study finds.

Some memory decline is a normal part of aging and affects almost 40% of people 65 years and older. Previous studies have associated memory loss prevention with certain lifestyle choices — from running to a diet rich in antioxidants flavonols and even positive attitudes toward aging.

The new study led by researchers at Columbia University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard looked at multivitamin impact on memory. Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the research included 3,562 adults over the age of 60 who were mainly non-Hispanic white. They were randomly assigned to take a daily multivitamin supplement or placebo for three years. Each year, they performed a series of online cognitive assessments at home.

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Those taking multivitamin supplements scored significantly better at the test evaluating episodic memory, also known as immediate recall performance, after the first year. Episodic memory is what most people think of as memory and includes information about past events and experiences. It is controlled by the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is affected by normal aging.

According to the study, the improved memory performance is equivalent to 3.1 years of age-related memory change. The improvement in episodic memory continued to be significant across the three years of follow-up. However, multivitamin supplementation had no significant effects on performance on neuropsychological tasks of novel object recognition and executive function over three years.

"Cognitive aging 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," study leader Adam M. Brickman, Ph.D., professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, says in a press release.

Biotechnology company Pfizer provided supplements for the study. In addition, the study’s co-author Howard D. Sesso received investigator-initiated grants from Pure Encapsulations, a supplement company, and Pfizer.

Some scientists argue that supplements may be a waste of money for most people and recommend receiving micronutrients from whole fruits and vegetables instead. For example, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) guidelines conclude that the current evidence is insufficient to "assess the balance of benefits and harms of the use of multivitamin supplements for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer."

Micronutrients that come in isolation — supplement pills — may act differently in the body than when naturally packaged with a host of other dietary components, such as fruits and vegetables, according to the Northwestern University blog post.

Although the study suggests that multivitamin supplements could be a safe approach to maintaining cognitive health in older age, the researchers say people should always consult a physician before taking them.

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