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Daily Multivitamin Might Help Aging Brains
  • Posted January 18, 2024

Daily Multivitamin Might Help Aging Brains

A daily multivitamin could help people keep their brains healthy as they age, a new trial finds.

Results suggest taking multivitamins could help prevent memory loss and slow cognitive aging among older adults, researchers report in the Jan. 18 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The effect was measurable: A daily multivitamin slowed brain aging by the equivalent of two years compared to placebo.

Still, experts expressed some skepticism, and wondered if simply eating healthy might not bring about the same results.

“Taking a multivitamin supplement is probably good for you, but we don't know if it's likely to have a big impact in people who have a healthy diet,” Dr. Richard Caselli, a professor emeritus of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, told NBC News.

“I still maintain a bit of skepticism as far as what magnitude of impact this makes,” he added. “I'm doubtful the difference would be really big.”

The new study was led by Dr. Chirag Vyas, an instructor in investigation at Massachusetts General Hospital's Department of Psychiatry.

“Cognitive decline is among the top health concerns for most older adults, and a daily supplement of multivitamins has the potential as an appealing and accessible approach to slow cognitive aging,” he said.

The Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS) is a large-scale, randomized trial performed in collaboration by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Brigham and Women's Hospital, Columbia University and Wake Forest University. It looked at whether a special cocoa extract supplement, a daily multivitamin (in this case Centrum Silver) or both might help boost health.

The clinical trials were funded by the National Institutes of Health and candy and snack manufacturer Mars Inc. Pfizer donated both the multivitamins and placebo tables used in the trials. Neither company had any role in the design of the trials.

Analysis of more than 5,000 participants in three separate, but related, COSMOS clinical trials found strong evidence of benefits for both brain function and memory from taking daily multivitamins for two to three years, researchers said.

“The meta-analysis of three separate cognition studies provides strong and consistent evidence that taking a daily multivitamin, containing more than 20 essential micronutrients, helps prevent memory loss and slow down cognitive aging,” Yvas said in a MGH news release.

A closer look at a smaller group of 573 people found a statistically significant benefit from multivitamins for memory, but not brain function, the researchers added.

“These findings will garner attention among many older adults who are, understandably, very interested in ways to preserve brain health, as they provide evidence for the role of a daily multivitamin in supporting better cognitive aging,” said senior researcher Dr. Olivia Okereke, director of geriatric psychiatry at MGH.

COSMOS overall co-lead, Brigham and Women's Hospital Associate Director of Preventive Medicine Howard Sesso, said that “it is now critical to understand the mechanisms by which a daily multivitamin may protect against memory loss and cognitive decline with a focus on nutritional status and other aging-related factors.”

Dr. Zaldy Tan is a geriatric medicine physician at the Cedars Sinai Jona Goldrich Center for Alzheimer's and Memory Disorders in Los Angeles. Reviewing the findings, he said that some individuals probably have more to gain from multivitamins than others.

“Certainly a subset of people who are vitamin-deficient in their diets could benefit in general from a multivitamin and potentially from a cognitive standpoint,” Tan told NBC News. “But it's hard to say right now if it's the multivitamin causing the improvement or something else.”

For his part, Caselli believes that an overall healthy lifestyle, not a supplement, is the best way to ensure your brain stays healthy.

“A general rule of thumb is that everything that is bad for your body is bad for your brain and everything that is good for your body is good for your brain,” he said.

He recommends staying socially active, engaging in exercise and mentally challenging tasks, and eating a healthy diet. If people believe they aren't getting the nutrients they need from their diet, it's possible a multivitamin may help, Caselli said.

Researcher Sesso has received grants from supplement maker Pure Encapsulations and Pfizer, according to disclosures. He also has financial ties to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a nutritional supplement trade group.

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more about multivitamins.

SOURCE: Mass General Brigham, news release, Jan. 18, 2024; NBC News

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