Daily multivitamin supplement may improve cognition and protect older adults against decline

A new large-scale study provides evidence that taking a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement has the potential to improve or protect cognitive function for older women and men. The findings were recently published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of cases. Though there is no one known cause of Alzheimer’s, a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors is thought to play a role. Currently, more than 6.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and 1 in 3 seniors die with the disease or another form of dementia.

“There’s an urgent need for safe and affordable interventions to protect cognition against decline in older adults,” said study author Laura D. Baker, a professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

For the new study, the researchers examined data from The COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study for the Mind (COSMOS-Mind), funded by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health.

In COSMOS-Mind, researchers tested whether daily administration of cocoa extract versus placebo and a multivitamin-mineral supplement versus placebo improved cognition in older adults. More than 2,200 participants, ages 65 and older, enrolled and were followed for three years. Participants completed tests over the telephone at baseline and annually to evaluate memory and other cognitive abilities.

The researchers were interested in examining cocoa extract because it is rich in compounds called flavanols, which past research has suggested can positively impact cognition. The multivitamin-mineral supplement was examined because several micronutrients and minerals are needed to support normal body and brain function, and deficiencies in older adults may increase the risk for cognitive decline and dementia.

The researchers found no evidence that cocoa extract had a positive impact on cognition. However, they noted that “it is possible that the COSMOS-Mind cocoa flavanol dose was too low to provide cognitive benefit within the study observation period.”

Daily multivitamin-mineral supplementation, on the other hand, resulted in cognitive improvement. “This is the first evidence of cognitive benefit in a large longer-term study of multivitamin supplementation in older adults,” Baker said.

According to the researchers, three years of multivitamin supplementation roughly translated to a 60% slowing of cognitive decline. The benefits were relatively more pronounced in participants with significant cardiovascular disease, which is important because these individuals are already at increased risk for cognitive impairment and decline.

“It’s too early to recommend daily multivitamin supplementation to prevent cognitive decline,” Baker said. “While these preliminary findings are promising, additional research is needed in a larger and more diverse group of people. Also, we still have work to do to better understand why the multivitamin might benefit cognition in older adults.”

The study, “Effects of cocoa extract and a multivitamin on cognitive function: A randomized clinical trial“, was authored by Laura D. Baker, Joann E. Manson, Stephen R. Rapp, Howard D. Sesso, Sarah A. Gaussoin, Sally A. Shumaker, and Mark A. Espeland.