A daily multivitamin and mineral supplement may slow cognitive decline in older adults, the first US study to suggest that they may benefit the aging brain.
The trial, which involved more than 2,200 people over the age of 65, found that a daily supplement could reduce cognitive decline by 60%, or nearly two years, with a significant benefit in older adults with a history of cardiovascular disease.
But while experts in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are encouraged by the findings, they caution that larger studies are needed to confirm the results before recommending a daily multivitamin to prevent cognitive decline in older adults. Previous studies of dietary supplements had no effect on the disease.
“We provide the first evidence in a randomized controlled trial in older women and men that daily use of a safe, readily available, and low-cost multivitamin-mineral improves cognition,” the researchers wrote. Alzheimer’s and dementia, Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. “This finding may have important public health implications for mental health and future resilience to cognitive decline.”
As populations around the world age, dementia has become one of the leading global health challenges, but there are no drugs that can cure any of the common types. Around 850,000 people in the UK live with dementia, most of which is Alzheimer’s disease or “vascular dementia”. Those who are over 65 and have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression are at risk.
Researchers at Wake Forest University in North Carolina and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston examined whether daily cocoa or a multivitamin improved memory and other mental functions in 2,262 people 65 and older. The researchers rated the participants’ “global knowledge” before and during the three-year experiment on vocabulary lists, number problems, word fluency and story recall.
Cocoa extract is rich in substances called flavanols, which previous studies have suggested may be beneficial for brain function. But a recent trial found that daily cocoa supplements made no difference to people’s cognitive performance. Daily multivitamin-mineral supplements, however, appeared to improve cognitive outcomes, particularly in those with cardiovascular disease, a risk factor for dementia. The results suggest “greater relative improvement or greater protection from cardiovascular disease-related cognitive decline,” the authors wrote.
Professor Laura Baker, co-principal investigator of the Cosmos study at Wake Forest University, says it’s too early to recommend daily multivitamins to prevent cognitive decline. “While these initial findings are promising, more research is needed in larger and more diverse populations. “We also have work to do to better understand why multivitamins may benefit cognitive function in older adults,” she says.
UK team leader Professor Tara Spears-Jones Dementia A research institute at the University of Edinburgh stated that the study was well conducted, but that most of the participants were highly educated white people.
“It’s important to make sure the results hold up in the wider population,” she said. “Also, it’s not clear whether multivitamin use can prevent cognitive problems like Alzheimer’s disease in this study. Several dietary supplements have been tested as treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, and none have been effective so far.
“This is the first positive, large-scale, long-term study to show that a multivitamin mineral supplement in older adults may slow cognitive aging,” said Dr. Maria Carrillo, chief scientific officer of the Alzheimer’s Association. Although the Alzheimer’s Association is encouraged by these results, we are not ready to recommend the widespread use of multivitamin supplements to reduce the risk of cognitive decline in older adults.
“Independent validation studies in larger and more diverse study populations are needed,” she added. “It is important that future treatments and prevention are effective in all populations.”