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Adults over age 60 who want to stave off memory loss could benefit from taking a daily multivitamin supplement, suggests a recent study from Columbia University in New York and Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard in Boston.
“Daily multivitamin supplementation improved memory in older adults after one year, an effect that was sustained, on average, over the three years of follow up,” Adam M. Brickman, PhD, professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, told Fox News Digital.
During the study — published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition — more than 3,500 adults over age 60 were randomly assigned to take either a daily multivitamin or a placebo for a three-year period.
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At the end of each year, the participants completed self-administered cognitive tests to determine the strength of their memory.
After the first year, those taking the multivitamin showed memory improvement compared to the placebo group — an effect that continued over the entire course of the study.
In a previous 2022 study published in the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Journal, researchers found that older adults who took daily multivitamins experienced improved cognition, memory and executive function.
Study marked by some limitations
The effects of the multivitamin were seen only in certain aspects of memory, pointed out Dr. Owen Deland from the division of geriatrics at the Center for Healthy Senior Living at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. (He was not involved in the study.)
“Improvements were seen in specific areas of memory like immediate recall, but not in executive function (decision-making) or object recognition in the multivitamin group compared with placebo,” Deland told Fox News Digital.
“There are risk factors that we don’t know about yet, and I believe nutrition is a significant one.”
There was also a sampling bias, with the bulk of the patients in the study falling into a certain demographic, as lead researcher Brickman pointed out.
“The study participants were predominantly White with high education, and therefore not representative of the U.S. population,” he told Fox News Digital.
“The demographic composition of the participants limits our ability to generalize the findings.”
Additionally, the participants were in generally good health without heart disease, cancer or history of stroke, Deland pointed out.
“Whether or not these observations can be applied to the general public remains to be studied,” he said.
People who had cardiovascular disease experienced a bigger memory boost from the multivitamins, the study found.
The heart disease link was particularly interesting to Dr. Donna Raziano, a geriatrician and medical director at Inspira LIFE in New Jersey, who did not work on the study.
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“There are many different types of dementia — vascular, Alzheimer’s, Lewy-Body and mixed,” she told Fox News Digital. “The fact that this study shows prevention of cognitive decline with underlying cardiovascular disease shows that [the multivitamins could] prevent vascular dementia.”
Vascular dementia is a type of cognitive decline caused by impaired blood flow to the brain, per the Mayo Clinic.
While it often occurs after a stroke, it can also result from other conditions that interrupt the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
Multivitamins not always essential, but can be beneficial
While it may seem that multivitamins are beneficial to everyone, “the common thinking in the past has been that they don’t benefit older adults, especially in the setting of a healthy, balanced diet,” according to Hackensack’s Deland.
“However, the increasing prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. suggests that there are risk factors we don’t know about yet, and I believe nutrition is a significant one,” he went on.
Given that numerous studies have suggested that diets low in nutrient density or high in highly processed ingredients can increase the chances of someone developing cognitive impairment, Deland believes that supplementing the diet with multivitamins may help preserve cognitive function.
“This is especially important in the care of our elderly population, for whom access to fresh, nutritious food is limited by availability, accessibility and cost,” Deland said.
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“I’ve found that it’s easier to get patient buy-in through suggesting vitamin supplementation rather than just saying, ‘Eat better’ — not to mention that it’s simpler to take one multivitamin than numerous individual vitamin supplements,” he added.
As far as specific vitamins and minerals that actually deliver the memory boost, Deland noted that large review studies suggest that B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and zinc are most relevant to cognitive performance — and that a deficiency in them is relatively common.
“And while they are not technically vitamins, the compounds resveratrol (found in grapes, berries and red wine), quercetin (found in unprocessed fruits and vegetables) and curcumin may all have benefit in preserving cognition into later life,” he added.
Vitamin D deficiency is linked to worse cognition in later life, Deland said, while omega-3 fatty acid intake has been shown to aid in memory and cognitive function.
Doctor input is key
Older adults who are considering taking a daily multivitamin should talk to their physicians about whether supplementation is appropriate for them, Brickman noted.
This study was geared toward cognitive or memory changes that occur with normal aging, the researcher pointed out.
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“Our data do not suggest a treatment or preventative strategy for diseases that affect memory, like Alzheimer’s disease,” he clarified.
“If older adults are concerned about their memory, they should seek an evaluation by a memory specialist and/or speak to their doctors about their concerns.”
Particularly for adults who are already taking other supplements, it’s important to check with a doctor before adding a multivitamin to the mix, Raziano noted.
Too many vitamins could cause “toxicity and a potential overdose.”
“There’s always the risk of polypharmacy,” she warned. “We don’t want [people] taking too much of anything, which could lead to vitamin toxicity and a potential overdose.”
Deland agreed with this. “Always discuss supplementation and dietary changes with your doctor,” he said. “While there is a potential benefit to multivitamin supplementation, other supplements may have important interactions with medications or medical conditions.”
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One benefit of multivitamins, however, is that the contents of the pills are pretty tightly controlled, Raziano pointed out.
She recommends going with a high-quality Centrum brand-name multivitamin; check to make sure it’s a fresh, non-expired bottle.
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In addition to potentially taking multivitamins, Deland stressed the importance of prioritizing fresh, unprocessed foods and getting frequent aerobic exercise totaling at least 150 minutes weekly, “to preserve your independence and your mind.”