More Evidence Shows Multivitamins Could Protect Memory, Slow Cognitive Aging in Seniors


Taking a daily multivitamin might help slow memory loss, a new study finds.1

The new research, published earlier this month in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that adults over 60 who took a daily multivitamin for two years had less cognitive aging as compared to a placebo group.1

The findings build off of three sub-studies from the COSMOS (COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study) trial.1 It examined whether daily multivitamins, cocoa extract supplements, or both could be protective against heart disease, cancer, and more.2

Though each of the three sub-studies was designed slightly differently, they had similar conclusions, said JoAnn E. Manson, MD, MPH, DrPH, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and co-author and co-director of the COSMOS Trial.

The meta-analysis of all three studies showed strong and consistent benefits of multivitamins on episodic memory, which is the ability to recall day-to-day memories. It also showed benefits for global cognition, which includes being able to pay attention, practice reasoning, and plan ahead, Manson explained.

“The finding that a daily multivitamin improved memory and slowed cognitive aging in three separate placebo-controlled studies in COSMOS is compelling and exciting, further supporting the promise of multivitamins as a safe, accessible, and affordable approach to protecting cognitive health in older adults,” Manson told Health.

Here’s what to experts had to say about the new research, how brain health and multivitamins may be linked, and other ways to protect cognition as we age.

Establishing the Connection Between Brain Health and Multivitamins

The COSMOS trial tested for memory and cognition using three separate approaches: telephone-based in COSMOS-MIND, online-based in COSMOS-Web, and traditionally, via in-person detailed assessments in COSMOS-Clinic.

They conducted their final study to ensure they were thorough.

“This was to allow for assessment of consistency of findings across the different methods, testing slightly different domains of memory and cognition,” said Manson. “And to be able to assess large numbers of participants in these three separate placebo-controlled studies.”

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Mars Edge—a branch of the food company Mars, Inc. Additionally, Haleon, the maker of Centrum Silver, donated the vitamins.3 None of the sponsors were involved in the design of the study or analysis of the results.

COSMOS-Clinic, this final study, included 573 adults aged 60 and older. Participants either took a Centrum Silver multivitamin or a placebo every day for two years. Researchers evaluated their cognitive function with a series of tests at the beginning and the end of each study.1

These cognitive tests included recalling word lists both immediately and after a delay, subtracting numbers backward, and naming vegetables and animals, Manson explained.

By the end of the study, the two groups had relatively similar executive function—or, the ability to stay focused, self-controlled, and mentally flexible.4 However, the authors did note “a significantly more favorable change in episodic memory” for participants who took the multivitamin.1

This means those taking the multivitamin were better able to store and recall information about events in their daily lives.5

In general, compared to participants who took the placebo, those who took the Centrum Silver multivitamin saw a “modest benefit” on global cognition overall.1

“The differences between the multivitamin and placebo group at follow-up were the equivalent of slowing memory loss and cognitive aging by roughly two years,” said Manson.

Learning More About Supplements and Aging

The results of the meta-analysis provide a deeper understanding of how these multivitamins—which contain vitamins and 20 essential micronutrients—can keep aging brains healthy.

Researchers believe the connection could be explained by vitamins’ ability to prevent or protect against the natural deterioration of brain cells that happens as people age.

Other research has shown that specific vitamins and nutrients can have brain-boosting benefits for aging people. One study found that people on average tend to absorb less B12 as they age, while another found that vitamin E may be able to slow mild cognitive impairment.67

However, more research needs to be done.

First and foremost, it’s not clear if any specific vitamins or minerals in the multivitamin itself caused this cognitive protection. Additionally, the population of the study was a limitation of this research, Mason said.

“We would like to pursue testing of younger age groups, such as in midlife, and populations with greater racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity,” she added.

This added research could help inform supplement guidelines going forward—multivitamins will never be a substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle, however, they could have a complementary role, Manson said.

This is especially true because other research has also found links between taking multivitamins and slowed aging.

“Guidelines committees should look at these findings and decide if guidelines for multivitamin use, especially in older adults, should be modified,” said Manson.

One of Many Ways to Protect Cognition 

Beyond multivitamins, people should try to take advantage of other ways to boost their memory and brain health as they age.

Easy strategies to do that include maintaining a social life, and staying mentally and physically active, Kimberly Johnson Hatchett, MD, board-certified neurologist and interim chief medical officer at the Kansas City VA Medical Center, told Health.

In particular, she recommended “trying new hobbies, because you’re creating new neuro-connections by learning something new.”

People should practice these hobbies frequently, especially those that incorporate mind and body connections, such as learning Tai Chi or dancing, Hackett said.

Other research found that doing activities such as crossword puzzles or card games can lead to a delay or reduction in the decline of memory or verbal fluency.8

“Giving your mind something that makes you happy and brings joy or pleasure can stimulate these areas, improving your cognition by stimulating more neurons,” said Hackett.

Engaging in these pastimes with friends or family is even better for the brain—research has found that both loneliness and social isolation can put people at higher risk for memory and cognition issues, so experts recommend doing activities with others.9

Beyond hobbies, people can also make small lifestyle changes to boost their memory, including limiting drinking, volunteering, and using calendars or notes as reminders.

So, how soon should you start?

“No real time frame,” said Hatchett. “Start now before you have a cognitive problem. If you are starting to have cognitive problems then start right away. Make this part of your treatment plan to slow the decline.”

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