Ever wonder how much good your daily
multivitamin can do? Turns out it may even put you at a lower risk of developing dementia
A new study published last week in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association suggests that daily multivitamin use for 3 years improved global cognition (orientation/attention, memory, verbal fluency, language and visuospatial ability), episodic memory (the ability to recall and mentally re-experience specific episodes from one's personal past), and executive function (a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control) in older adults. Put simply, the researchers found that taking a multivitamin supplement for only 3 years significantly improved brain function in older adults.
The researchers from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, in collaboration with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, analyzed cognitive function in older adults who were assigned to take either a cocoa extract supplement, a multivitamin, or a placebo every day for three years. The research team predicted that the cocoa extract would prove the most beneficial to brain health, according to previously held notions about the health benefits of cocoa and dark chocolate, so their findings certainly surprised them.
Laura Baker, P.h.D., author of the study and professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, told CNN, “we really believed that the cocoa extract was going to have some benefits for cognition based on prior reports of cardiovascular benefit. So we're waiting for that big reveal in our data analysis—and it was not cocoa extract that benefited cognition but rather the multivitamin.” Baker added that the research team is “excited because our findings have uncovered a new avenue for investigation—for a simple, accessible, safe, inexpensive intervention that could have the potential to provide a layer of protection against cognitive decline.”
Because the race and ethnicity of the participant cohort was not representative of older Americans, the results of this study are not definitive and cannot be generalized to the public. Another limitation important to note is the participants' medication and health histories were self-reported, which could result in some human error. In addition, it’s important to factor in each participants’ own dementia risk factors.
A healthy body and an active mind is the best way to manage risk of dementia, says Amit Sachdev, M.D., Medical Director for Neurology at Michigan State University. “This study suggests that multivitamin supplementation could be a useful part of one's efforts to sustain a healthy body.”
Memory loss and the development of dementia is likely a multifactorial process and the prospect of using a multivitamin to help this disease is reasonable, says Clifford Segil, D.O., neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. He adds that “the use of a multivitamin for patients with memory loss is something I routinely do in my own clinical neurology practice without any clinical studies to support this treatment and this study is refreshing to read, as it attempts to quantify the potential benefits of a multivitamin use in patients with memory loss.”
There are many reasons to recommend a daily multivitamin, says Dr. Sachdev. Multivitamins are usually meant to fill in nutritional gaps, and provide a hint of the vast array of healthful nutrients and chemicals naturally found in food. “Reduction in the risk of dementia is just the next reason to consider this easy step,” says Dr. Sachdev.
For elderly patients with memory loss and dementia, Dr. Segil does suggest multivitamins. “It is reasonable to use multivitamins in the clinical practice of treating elderly patients with memory loss.” However, Segil warns that multivitamin use should be used complimentary to mainstream pharmaceutical medications rather than as an alternative to mainstream pharmaceutical medications.
Considering taking a new vitamin or supplement? There’s a range of reliability when it comes to vitamin brands. Look for brands vetted as A-OK by an independent third party. Scan the labels for the symbols of the nonprofit United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or NSF International.
Vigilance is vital, since the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate vitamins the same way it regulates medications. Steer clear of products that promise a quick cure, a money-back guarantee, or treatment for a specific disease.
As a general guideline, people should look for vitamins that are:
Further studies are needed to prove the effectiveness of multivitamins for dementia prevention. According to Dr. Sachdev, the most interesting question is which ingredient in the multivitamin was the effective ingredient.
Above all, the most important thing to take away from this study is that a healthy lifestyle is important for a healthy brain, says Dr. Sachdev. So keep taking your multivitamins, but don’t consider them a cure for memory loss just yet.
Dietary supplements are products intended to supplement the diet. They are not medicines and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure diseases. Be cautious about taking dietary supplements if you are pregnant or nursing. Also, be careful about giving supplements to a child, unless recommended by their healthcare provider.