Recent Studies

Taking a Daily Multivitamin May Protect Your Memory Later in Life

A daily multivitamin may offer a modest benefit to cognitive function among older adults, according to a new study. Kemal Yildrim/Getty Images
  • A daily multivitamin may offer a modest benefit to cognitive function, according to new research.
  • The three-year study showed an improvement in memory among subjects who took a daily multivitamin.
  • Study subjects with cardiovascular disease who took a daily multivitamin saw the greatest improvement in cognition.
  • More rigorous research is needed to determine the brain-boosting benefits of multivitamins over the long term.

A daily multivitamin or multi-mineral supplement improved memory in older adults over a three-year period, a new study shows.

If supported by future research, the findings could provide an easy and inexpensive way to slow age-related memory decline, according to researchers.

In the study, which, involved more than 3,500 adults over age 60, researchers randomly assigned participants to take a daily multivitamin supplement or an inactive placebo for three years.

At the start of the study and at the end of each year, participants took an online cognitive test at home to assess their short-term memory.

By the end of the first year, both groups saw improvements in memory, but the group taking a daily multivitamin saw a larger improvement.

The researchers estimate that the changes in the multivitamin group, which were sustained over the three years of the study, were equivalent to about three years of age-related memory decline. Still, that improvement was modest and the data does not account for the long term.

“You basically had stabilization of memory, where you held off cognitive decline across that three-year time period,” Dr. Thomas Holland, a physician scientist in the Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition at RUSH University in Chicago, who was not involved in the study, told Healthline.

The new study is part of a large clinical trial called the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS).

More research on cognitive benefits of multivitamins needed

Taking a daily multivitamin did not appear to improve other types of brain function such as memory retention, novel object recognition, and executive function — the ability to plan, focus and juggle multiple tasks.

One limitation of the study is that the majority of participants were white and more highly educated. So the results may not apply to other groups.

“I’d feel more comfortable if these results were replicated in a more generalizable cohort,” Mark A. Espeland, PhD, professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, told Healthline.

The authors of the study point out that the memory improvements experienced by the multivitamin group are small, so may not be noticed by people.

However, “even small effect sizes can result in large health benefits at the population level,” they wrote. Also, a daily multivitamin is relatively inexpensive, they added, and could be taken by most people.

How multivitamins may boost brain health

Espeland said the results are consistent with the findings of a separate COSMOS studyTrusted Source, published in 2022, which he was involved with.

In that study, which involved more than 2,200 older adults, he and his colleagues found that people who took a daily multivitamin saw an improvement in their overall cognition, memory and executive function.

As with the new study, the effect was stronger in people with cardiovascular disease, which is a risk factor for dementia.

In a separate paperTrusted Source from the COSMOS study, published earlier this year, Espeland and his colleagues also found that a daily multivitamin appeared to help people who developed dementia during the study.

“Among those people who did transition from mild cognitive impairment to dementia, if they were using multivitamins, the drop [in overall cognition and executive function] seemed to be less,” he told Healthline.

“This potentially indicates that these multivitamins might provide benefits even for people with [cognitive] disease,” he added.

Espeland cautions that additional studies are needed before widely recommending a daily multivitamin for older adults, especially since other researchTrusted Source has found no benefit of a daily multivitamin on cognitive outcomes.

Healthy diet may benefit cognitive function

Many factors influence memory and other cognitive abilities. A key one is diet.

In the new study, researchers assessed people’s dietary patterns at the beginning — both groups were similar to the average American dietTrusted Source. As a result, they don’t believe that diet affected the average memory changes seen in either group.

Some clinical trials have shown that dietary interventions can improve memory. For example, the MIND diet, which was developed by researchers at RUSH University, has been linked to better cognitive performance in older adults.

This diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets.

Holland said he expects that dietary interventions such as the MIND diet would have a bigger impact on cognition than multivitamins. However, there may still be a role for taking a pill every day, he added, especially given the high cost of fresh fish, berries and other nutrient-dense foods.

“In a multivitamin, you’re not going to have the same quantity and quality of vitamins and minerals that you would in a broad nutritious diet,” he said, “but you are bridging the gap of some of those potential [micronutrient] deficiencies.”

In addition, “if you’re not going to change your diet, bridging with a supplement is not a bad idea,” he said.

He also emphasized that a healthy diet is only one way to reduce your risk of age-related cognitive problems. It’s important to also have “physical activity, socialization, cognitive activities, and quantity and quality of sleep,” he said.

Benefits for people with heart disease

The effect of a daily multivitamin on memory in the study appeared stronger in people with cardiovascular disease, researchers found.

These people started the study with worse memory performance, but after one year of taking the multivitamin, their memory was similar to those without heart disease.

This suggests that the multivitamin is filling nutrient gaps in a person’s diet, the authors say. Other researchTrusted Source has found that some people with cardiovascular disease may have deficiencies in certain micronutrients.

The results show average changes, so some people taking a daily multivitamin saw greater improvements in memory, and others less.

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