Taking a daily multivitamin pill was like to slower cognitive aging in older adults, especially those with cardiovascular disease, according to a new study presented at the 14th Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease conference and described in an article at Medscape.
The study whose results were presented at the conference, known as COSMOS-Mind, also looked at the effects of taking a supplement containing 500 milligrams of flavonoids derived from cocoa. These compounds, which are naturally present in cocoa and chocolate as well as many other plant foods, are known to have beneficial antioxidant effects — effectively helping your body repair cell damage. Both the multivitamin and flavonoid supplements were compared with a placebo (inactive pill) in 2,262 adults ages 65 and older (the average age was 73) who didn’t have dementia at the beginning of the study. These participants went through cognitive testing at the beginning of the study then each year for three years.
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Participants were randomly assigned to take either the multivitamin, the flavonoid supplement, or the placebo for the duration of the study. Each of these three groups was balanced based on several factors, including demographics like age and ethnic background, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, alcohol and tobacco use, reported chocolate consumption, and previously taking a multivitamin. Cognitive scores at the beginning of the study were also similar in each of the three study groups.
Multivitamin use linked to slowed cognitive aging
The researchers found that while cognitive scores increased somewhat in each of the study groups — a phenomenon known as the “practice effect” since people often get better at cognitive testing the more they do it — there was no significant difference between the overall scores in the placebo group and those in the flavonoid group. Members of the multivitamin group, on the other hand, had significantly better cognitive scores than those in the placebo group — an effect equivalent to slowing cognitive aging by about 60%, or 1.8 years within a span of three years.
Among people with cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study, the benefits of taking a multivitamin were even more pronounced. While these participants tended to have lower cognitive scores overall — and members of both the placebo and multivitamin groups with cardiovascular disease saw an increase in scores at year one due to the practice effect — after this, in years two and three, cognitive scores went down in the placebo group, while they remained higher in the multivitamin group.
The researchers noted that only one previous study, known as the Physicians Health Study II, looked at the effects of taking a multivitamin supplement on cognitive aging — and found no effect. But since that study included only older male doctors as its participants, and cognitive testing began 2.5 years after the start of the study, it’s possible that the effects of multivitamins were missed if they tended to have the greatest benefit early on or in groups that weren’t represented in that study.
It’s possible, the researchers noted, that certain components or even a single component of the multivitamin used in the study could be responsible for the beneficial effect seen on cognitive performance. For example, they speculated that certain participants could have been deficient in vitamin B12 at the beginning of the study, and taking a multivitamin corrected this deficiency. More research is needed to look at what components of multivitamins may have the greatest benefit on cognitive health and performance in older adults.
Want to learn more about maintaining cognitive health with diabetes? Read “Nine Tips to Keep Your Memory With Diabetes,” “Staying Sharp: Seven Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy With Diabetes,” “Keeping Your Brain Strong With Diabetes” and “Memory Fitness: How to Get It, How to Keep It.”