Multivitamins help prevent memory loss, according to a major study

image of the brain made of multivitamins
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Multivitamins have dropped a lot of scrutiny in recent years, as numerous studies have failed to confirm that they protect against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or other common ailments. In fact, the medical community is divided on whether or not to take them. Some doctors state that healthy adults who eat a relatively well-balanced diet don’t need supplements. Others continue to recommend them in the belief that larger, more rigorous studies may yet reveal that multivitamins provide significant health benefits.

Now a new study by Columbia and Harvard scientists lends credence to the idea that multivitamins have hidden value, finding evidence that they may slow the pace of age-related memory loss. The study, led by Columbia neuropsychologist Adam Brickman, is considered consequential because it was a randomized controlled trial that was the gold standard of health and medical research. More than 3,500 people over the age of sixty were randomly assigned to take a standard multivitamin or placebo every day for three years and had memory tests done every year. TThose who took the daily multivitamin performed much better on tests at the end of the first year, and had been spared the equivalent of three years of predicted age-related memory decline by the end of the study.

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The benefits we observed would seem subtle to someone experiencing them, but statistically, the effect was very clear, very powerful, says Brickman, whose paper appears in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Importantly, the Columbia study replicates the results of another large clinical trial on the memory-boosting potential of multivitamins in the elderly, completed last year. by Harvard and Wake Forest scientists. Despite using different methods, the two studies produced remarkably similar results, both finding that people with a history of cardiovascular disease experienced the most pronounced cognitive benefits from taking a multivitamin, a finding the researchers say could be a sign that these individuals were eating less. – eat healthy or absorb less nutrients and therefore have more nutritional deficiencies to fill. Both studies used a popular multivitamin, Centrum Silver, though the researchers say any high-quality multivitamin is likely to produce the same results.

More research is needed to identify the specific nutrients that have boosted people’s memory, but Brickman says previous lab experiments point to the B vitamins, vitamin D, zinc and magnesium as likely candidates. It may be that there isn’t just one magic bullet but that these nutrients and others are working together to maintain brain function as we age, she says.

Should doctors now be recommending multivitamins to all their patients? Not yet. We don’t yet know how long the benefits we’ve observed will last or if they will affect whether someone develops dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other serious memory problems, says Brickman, a professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. These are vital questions.

Still, his team’s latest finding is rare heartening news for millions of people already taking multivitamins, including about 40 percent of all Americans over the age of sixty. Until now, multivitamins had been shown to help prevent only a small number of medical conditions, including cataracts and macular degeneration. Brickman, who is 49, says the prospect of avoiding memory loss by a few years was enough to inspire him to start taking a daily multivitamin. I haven’t had one since I was a kid, he says. But as soon as I saw our data, I started again.

To others considering a similar course of action, he offers some notes of caution. Me firstIt’s important to consult a doctor before taking any dietary supplements, including daily multivitamins, in part to make sure they don’t interact with medications you’re taking such as some blood thinners, antibiotics, and cancer drugs. And don’t consume more than the recommended daily amounts of any essential nutrient. A common mistake people make is assuming that while it’s good for you to take 100 milligrams of a particular vitamin a day, it’s even better for you to take ten or twenty times that amount. But it’s not. It can actually be dangerous. Also, it’s best to get your essential nutrients from food rather than dietary supplements whenever possible. The body is more adept at processing micronutrients in the same forms and combinations found in nature, he says. Supplements may provide a level of protection against some deficiencies, but they are not a substitute for a healthy diet.

And the brain, it seems, requires an unusually robust nutrient supply. Perhaps this is the most important lesson to be learned from our new research: that the brain is even more sensitive to nutrition than we previously thought, says Brickman, who is an expert on the organ’s neuronal and vascular structure. It may need high levels of various vitamins as it ages to continue to function properly.

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