(CNN) — According to a recent study, older adults who took a multivitamin daily for three years experienced a slight improvement in their memory after one year, compared to people who took a placebo, or sugar pill.
At the start of the study, 3,560 adults over the age of 60 were asked to learn 20 words in a computer program. Study participants had three seconds to study each word before the next appeared. Immediately afterward, the participants were asked to type in as many words as they could remember.
At the end of the first year, the study found that people who continued to take a daily multivitamin were able to remember, on average, almost one more word than those who took a placebo. Although the effect was small, it was statistically significant, according to the study published Wednesday in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
According to Adam Brickman, lead author of the study and Professor of Neuropsychology at the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and Brain Aging at Columbia University, New York, the memory improvement was sustained throughout the study and was greatest in people with a cardiovascular history.
The results mirrored those of an earlier study, published in September 2022, which found improved memory, general cognition and attention in people taking a multivitamin, especially those with a history of cardiovascular disease. The 2022 study was conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, in Boston, and Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“In science, this type of replication is one of the principles of ‘believe your findings,’ unquote. So we’re very excited about this replication because it adds a little more confidence to what we’re looking at,” Brickman said.
“It’s an interesting study, but it’s not about big differences,” said Dr. Jeffrey Linder, chief of general internal medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, who was not involved in the study.
“I’m also concerned that taking a multivitamin might distract people from doing things that we know are more beneficial for cognitive function, such as eating right, exercising, socializing, and getting good sleep,” Linder said.
Although the improvement of less than one word was statistically significant, it would be hard to know if such a small change would improve a person’s life, said Dr. Richard Isaacson, an Alzheimer’s disease researcher and preventive neurologist at the Florida Institute of Neurodegenerative Diseases. .
“It goes with my mantra that ‘there is no magic pill’ for preventing cognitive decline,” said Isaacson, who was not involved in the new study. “In my clinic, we check blood nutritional measures and personally tailor interventions, and in doing so we typically don’t recommend multivitamins as we address individual deficiencies.”
Derived from a larger study
Both the new study and the Wake Forest-Harvard study were additional analyzes of a much larger study of more than 21,000 adults called the Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study, or COSMOS. That study was designed to separately test the impact of dietary flavanols from a cocoa extract (not chocolate) supplement on reducing cardiovascular disease and of a multivitamin on cancer prevention.
(Results from the COSMOS study on cocoa, published in March 2022, revealed a 15% reduction in adverse cardiac events, such as heart attacks, and a 27% reduction in deaths. The COSMOS study on daily multivitamin use found no no benefit in cancer prevention). In the COSMOS study, the vitamins were provided by Pfizer, an international biopharmaceutical company, while the grant money was provided by Mars Edge, a segment of Mars Inc., and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). ).
Brickman and his coauthors from Columbia University, the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Brigham/Harvard Medical School followed study participants for three years, repeating cognitive tests at annual intervals.
The raw data only showed a statistically significant impact on memory at the end of the first year, and not over the next two years, during which the placebo group also improved, Linder said.
“We’re talking about the difference between remembering 8.28 words in the group that took a multivitamin versus 8.17 words in the placebo group. It doesn’t seem clinically significant to me,” he said.
The study team used a computer model to extrapolate and average the data, Brickman explained.
“Because we had a large age distribution in the study, we were able to make a correlation between age and performance on this test. It’s a rough estimate, based on the data at hand,” Brickman said.
“We estimated that the effect of the multivitamin at the end of the study was equivalent to slowing cognitive aging by about three years,” he said.
Pills vs. Lifestyle Modifications
The study could not determine which of the vitamins or minerals in the multivitamin might have contributed to the effect, Brickman said. Future research is needed to test the individual components and see if the improvement is sustained over time.
“Previous studies have shown an association between blood levels of vitamins such as B12 and cognition. However, clinical trials on the beneficial effects of vitamins on memory and cognition have yielded a mix of negative and positive results,” says Rudy Tanzi, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of the Genetics and Aging research unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Tanzi was not involved in the study.
The US Preventive Services Task Force released its latest recommendations on the use of vitamin and mineral supplements in June 2022. Despite reviewing 84 studies involving more than 700,000 people, the task force reached the same conclusion as in 2014: Vitamin, mineral, and multivitamin supplements are not likely to protect against cancer, heart disease, or overall mortality. .
“Everyone is looking for the magic pill that is going to help them live longer, live better and prevent disease,” Linder said. “Guess what? It’s exercise. It’s the most important thing people should do.”