Want to Stay Sharp With Age? Consider a Multivitamin, Suggests New Research

John Egan - The Upside Blog

by | Updated: January 29th, 2023 | Read time: 4 minutes

Could a multivitamin a day keep the cognitive problems away?

A new study from Wake Forest University’s medical school suggests taking a daily multivitamin may improve cognition in older adults, including those with Alzheimer’s disease. However, the researchers point out that more studies need to be undertaken to confirm this finding.

Middle-Aged Women Trying Cognitive Health Solutions Reading While Eating Breakfast at Kitchen Counter Table

Cognitive health & multivitamins: What the study showed

The study, carried out in collaboration with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, focused on more than 2,200 participants ages 65 and above. Some participants took a multivitamin or a cocoa-based nutrition supplement during a three-year span, while others took a placebo. The cocoa supplement contains flavanols, which previous research indicates may improve cognition.

The study found that while the cocoa supplement and placebos didn’t affect cognition, the multivitamin (Centrum Silver) resulted in a 60% reduction of cognitive decline over the course of three years. The benefit was especially pronounced in people with major cardiovascular disease. People with cardiovascular disease are at great risk of cognitive impairment and decline.

Researcher Laura Baker, professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest, says the study is the first long-term study of older adults supplementing their diet with multivitamins. The study was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“It’s too early to recommend daily multivitamin supplementation to prevent cognitive decline,” Baker says in a news release. “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 National Institutes of Health, which funded the multivitamin study, says normal brain function relies on an array of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Deficiencies in these nutrients may boost the risk for cognitive decline and dementia as people age, the institute says, yet clinical trials of the effect of nutrients on cognition have generated mixed results.

Around 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association says it is encouraged by the study’s findings, but it repeated Baker’s cautionary note that widespread use of multivitamins to curb cognitive decline in older adults isn’t recommended at the moment. Before taking multivitamins and other dietary supplements, people should discuss the benefits and risks with their health care providers, the association says.

In reporting on the study, Harvard Health Publishing stresses that participants had an average age of 73, were mostly white (89%), were mostly female (60%) and were tracked for just three years. All of those factors could have skewed the results. However, the study was a randomized, double-blind clinical trial, which is considered the gold standard in medical research.

Haleon, the maker of Centrum vitamins, and Mars Edge, a producer of cocoa-based nutrition supplements, contributed supplies for the study.

Cognitive health solutions: Who might benefit from multivitamins?

At this point, only two major clinical trials have tested the health benefits of multivitamins. The Wake Forest study was associated with one of those trials. Therefore, research about the effectiveness of multivitamins is inconclusive.

Harvard Health Publishing advises that if you’re unsure about whether to take a multivitamin, you should visit with a registered dietitian to assess which nutrients are missing in your diet. The dietitian might then recommend a multivitamin to supplement your diet.

Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute suggests the following people consider taking a daily multivitamin:

  • Women of childbearing age
  • Pregnant and lactating women
  • People who consume less than 1,200 calories a day
  • Obese people
  • Older adults
  • People with low socioeconomic status
  • Patients who have undergone bariatric weight-loss surgery
  • Vegans
  • People whose diets don’t adhere to federal nutrition guidelines

Food and nutrition scientist Taylor Wallace advocates taking a daily multivitamin, just as he does.

“Research shows the risks are low, and there are real benefits for most people,” Wallace wrote in a Forbes article. “Taking a daily multivitamin is a cost-effective way to insure against hidden micronutrient insufficiencies that can sap your immunity, health and long-term vitality.”

“Taking a supplement every day will not let you off the hook when it comes to eating well, and multivitamins aren’t a magic pill nor a substitute for a healthy lifestyle,” Wallace adds. “Their purpose is to fill nutritional gaps that you may not know exist. That’s why I take one every day — just in case.”

These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.