- Researchers say a new study indicates that taking a multivitamin daily may help slow cognitive decline in older adults.
- They reported, however, that cocoa extra supplements did not seem to improve cognitive functions.
- Experts say there is some validity to the theory that vitamins can help with cognitive function, but they add that other therapies should be used in conjunction with the supplements.
The study involved more than 2,200 people over 65 without signs or diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease at the start of the study. Each participant was blindly assigned a group taking:
- Cocoa extract supplements
- Multivitamin and cocoa extract supplements
Participants agreed to take the supplement daily for three years. They were assessed annually for overall cognitive, memory, and executive functions.
The researchers said that benefits plateaued at the end of the second year. At the end of two years, those who took the multivitamin showed improved memory and executive function compared to the other groups. The multivitamin also slowed cognitive decline by around 60% or 1.8 years.
“The use of a multivitamin for patients with memory loss is something I routinely do in my neurology practice,” Dr. Clifford Segil, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, told Healthline. “This study is refreshing to read as it attempts to quantify the potential benefits of multivitamins in patients with memory loss.”
The researchers said they did not notice any significant effect on cognition from cocoa supplements.
Deficiencies in B12 are associated with cognitive decline, according to the
So, it’s possible that those helped received a benefit from B12 rather than the multivitamin.
Laura Baker, Ph.D., a study researcher and a professor of gerontology and geriatric Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, says the matter of B12 is still an unresolved issue.
“We still need to look at that more in-depth to understand whether it might be a mechanism for improvement. I think the results are still out on that topic,” she said in a statement.
Yvette A McFarlane, NP, an internal medicine specialist at NYU Langone Medical Associates – West Palm Beach in Florida, agrees.
“I am usually cautious to make generalized recommendations regarding the use of multivitamins. Instead, my approach has focused on measurable deficiencies, such as vitamin D or B12,” she told Healthline.
Around 10 percent of the study participants were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. Researchers said having cardiovascular disease can lead to an increased risk of cognitive decline.
At baseline, these participants scored lower than average. Those who received a multivitamin significantly improved during the study, with scores equaling those without cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study. Participants with cardiovascular disease who received placebos continued to decline throughout the study, the researchers reported.
Although the researchers mentioned improvements in executive function, Segil urges caution.
“As a practicing neurologist, it concerns me that a claim is being made that a multivitamin can improve executive function, as this is a claim that is not justified by the data I reviewed for the study,” he said.
The study researchers did note that multivitamins should not be a treatment all on their own, a position Segil supports.
Treating cognitive decline takes a multimodal approach, believes McFarlane.
“This study underscores several schools of thought regarding the use of multivitamins for not only cognitive preservation but also mood, energy, and vitality,” she said. “Without hesitance, I support a more holistic approach which includes a balanced diet, physical activity, good sleep hygiene, preventive health/maintenance, and social interaction.”
It is important to note that Pfizer funded the study and supplied some multivitamins, and Mars provided the cocoa extract.
However, under “conflicts of interest,” the study states, “Neither the National Institutes of Health, Mars, nor Pfizer contributed to any aspect of the trial including design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; or decision to submit the manuscript for publication. The authors have no competing interests to report.”