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Taking a daily multivitamin improves memory and slows cognitive decline

A new study has found that taking a daily multivitamin supplement could potentially slow the decline of memory that often comes with aging. This large-scale investigation was conducted by a team of researchers from Columbia University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard.

The leading scientist of this study, Dr. Adam M. Brickman, is a professor of Neuropsychology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “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,” said Brickman. 

Traditionally, many older individuals consume vitamins or dietary supplements with the belief that these will aid in the upkeep of their overall health. Nevertheless, past research analyzing whether these supplements can enhance memory and brain function have yielded inconclusive results, with very few large-scale, randomized trials carried out.

How the study was conducted

In the fresh light of this current research, the team brought together over 3,500 adults, mostly non-Hispanic white individuals over 60 years old. They were randomly asked to take a daily multivitamin supplement or a placebo for a period of three years.

An essential part of this study included the participants carrying out a series of online cognitive assessments at their homes each year. These assessments were specially designed to evaluate the memory function of the hippocampus, a brain region significantly impacted by normal aging. 

This noteworthy study, labeled as the COSMOS-Web study, falls under a larger clinical trial orchestrated by Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard. This grand trial is known as the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS).

Following the first year, a remarkable improvement in memory was observed among those who took a daily multivitamin, in comparison to the placebo group. The researchers have estimated that this improvement, which persisted throughout the three-year study duration, was equivalent to roughly three years of age-related memory decline. The effect appeared more pronounced among participants with underlying cardiovascular disease.

Good nutrition has positive impact on aging brains

The findings of this new study align consistently with another recent COSMOS study. This involved more than 2,200 older adults and concluded that daily multivitamin intake led to improved overall cognition, memory recall, and attention. Interestingly, these effects were also more noticeable in individuals with underlying cardiovascular disease.

Brickman stated, “There is evidence that people with cardiovascular disease may have lower micronutrient levels that multivitamins may correct, but we don’t really know right now why the effect is stronger in this group.”

Even though the study did not investigate whether any specific component of the multivitamin supplement was associated with the memory improvement, the results underpin the growing body of evidence that nutrition is crucial for optimal 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,” said first author Dr. Lok-Kin Yeung, a postdoctoral researcher in Columbia’s Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain.

Study co-author Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, also praised the findings: “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.”

While the benefits of multivitamins are apparent, Brickman noted that supplementation of any kind shouldn’t take the place of more holistic ways of getting the same micronutrients. “Though multivitamins are generally safe, people should always consult a physician before taking them.”

Researchers are very encouraged by the results

The results of this comprehensive study bring promising news to the field of geriatric care and cognitive health. However, it is essential to remember that supplements alone cannot replace a balanced diet and lifestyle, rich in various nutrients obtained naturally from a diverse array of food sources.

The researchers emphasize that further studies are needed to pinpoint the exact reason why these positive effects were more pronounced in individuals with underlying cardiovascular disease. Such studies will help to understand whether correcting micronutrient deficiencies in this particular group contributes to better cognitive performance.

Despite the fact that the study didn’t target the specific components in the multivitamin supplements contributing to the observed improvements, the findings undoubtedly add weight to the mounting evidence highlighting the importance of nutrition for maintaining brain health as we age.

Other lessons learned

The hope, going forward, is that this research will not only pave the way for more extensive studies but also promote awareness about the pivotal role of good nutrition in preserving cognitive health among the aging population.

The study serves as a firm reminder that, in our quest to safeguard our cognitive health, we may need to pay more attention to the nutritional aspect than we previously thought. It’s a powerful testament to how science continues to unfold the intriguing complexities of the human brain and how we can actively work to protect it.

This groundbreaking research brings us one step closer to developing affordable, safe, and easy-to-access strategies to support cognitive health in our later years, and it’s a development that will undoubtedly capture the interest of researchers, clinicians, and older adults alike.

More about health supplements

Health supplements, often in the form of vitamins, minerals, herbs, or other botanicals, can be a useful tool to fill nutritional gaps and support overall wellness. However, it’s essential to understand that they are not substitutes for a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. Rather, they complement a wholesome diet by ensuring you’re meeting your daily nutritional needs.

Each type of health supplement serves a particular purpose and has its unique mechanism of action, primarily based on the nutrient it provides.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are essential for a variety of body functions. They aid in metabolic processes, immune function, and cell growth and development. Some, like Vitamin D, are difficult to get in adequate amounts from food alone, particularly if you live in a region with limited sunlight. Others, like Folate, are crucial during specific life stages such as pregnancy.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s, found in fish oil supplements, are essential fatty acids that our body can’t produce. They are integral to cell membrane health and have anti-inflammatory properties. They’ve been linked to improved heart health, brain health, and mood.


Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that support gut health. They have been linked to improved digestion, better immune function, and even enhanced mood and mental health.

Protein Supplements

Protein powders and amino acid supplements can aid in muscle recovery and growth, particularly for athletes or those with increased protein needs.

Herbal Supplements

These use plant extracts with medicinal properties. For example, turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, while ginseng can boost energy levels.

While these supplements have potential health benefits, they are not without risks. Overconsumption can lead to adverse effects and may interfere with certain medications. It’s also worth noting that the supplement industry is not as tightly regulated as the pharmaceutical industry, which means product quality can vary.

Moreover, the science behind supplements can be complex and sometimes contradictory. While some research shows potential benefits, other studies may find minimal effects. 

For example, while some studies suggest antioxidant supplements may promote health and prevent diseases, others have found they may not have a significant impact on disease prevention.

So, while health supplements can play a role in maintaining health and filling nutritional gaps, they should be used wisely and ideally under the guidance of a healthcare provider. 

It’s crucial to consider the quality of the supplement, the credibility of its manufacturer, and whether the supplement is suitable for your specific health needs and lifestyle. Always remember that they should supplement a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle, not replace them.


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