WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Could the secret to a sharp brain in old age be as simple as taking a daily multivitamin? New joint research from Wake Forest University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital suggests as much. Scientists conclude that multivitamins can improve thinking skills in older individuals and help stave off cognitive decline.
Study authors note that the findings are still preliminary and require further confirmation before any concrete health recommendations can be made. Nonetheless, establishing a new, affordable such as taking a daily multivitamin way to fight cognitive decline and dementia in old age could potentially benefit millions. Today, over 6.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia), and a staggering one in three senior citizens pass away with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
“There’s an urgent need for safe and affordable interventions to protect cognition against decline in older adults,” says Dr. Laura D. Baker, a professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and co-principal investigator of the trial, in a statement. Baker worked alongside Dr. Mark Espeland, also a professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest.
Multivitamins versus cocoa extract
This project, named the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study for the Mind (COSMOS-Mind), was funded by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health. Participants include 21,442 men and women living all over the United States.
Researchers investigated if taking either a daily cocoa extract supplement or a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement would influence health outcomes and risk profiles in relation to heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other health issues. Why cocoa extract? Prof. Baker explains cocoa extract is rich in compounds known as flavanols. Prior research suggests flavanols may have a positive influence on cognition. Moreover, deficiencies in several essential micronutrients and minerals among older adults may increase the risk for cognitive decline and dementia.
The research team tested the daly intake of a placebo versus a cocoa extract supplement, as well as the daily intake of a multivitamin-mineral versus a placebo. Over 2,200 participants, all aged 65 years and older, were tracked for a period of three years. Additionally, subjects completed memory and cognition tests over the phone at baseline and on an annual basis.
‘First evidence of cognitive benefit in large longer-term study’
“Our study showed that although cocoa extract did not affect cognition, daily multivitamin-mineral supplementation resulted in statistically significant cognitive improvement,” Prof. Baker explains. “This is the first evidence of cognitive benefit in a large longer-term study of multivitamin supplementation in older adults.”
Study authors estimate taking a multivitamin for three years roughly translates to a “60 percent slowing of cognitive decline (about 1.8 years)”. They also note the benefits were especially pronounced among those with significant cardiovascular disease.
“It’s too early to recommend daily multivitamin supplementation to prevent cognitive decline,” Baker concludes. “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 is published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.