A daily multivitamin might help keep your brain free from any decline in thinking skills, a new study suggests.
In a trial of more than 21,000 men and women, the study authors reported that cocoa had no benefit on thinking skills but taking a multivitamin every day did improve cognition among the 2,000 participants. All were aged 65 and older.
"Our results are promising as they point to a potentially highly accessible, safe and inexpensive intervention that may provide a layer of protection against thinking declines in older adults. But more work is needed before widespread recommendations about regular use can be made," said lead researcher Laura Baker. She is a professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Baker's team found that taking a multivitamin over the course of three years reduced thinking declines by about 60%. The benefits were greater among people with heart disease, which is important because they are already at risk for thinking declines, the researchers noted.
Cocoa's effect on brain power was a main focus of the study, but it flopped. On the other hand, the multivitamin was associated with better cognition.
These results were not what the investigators were expecting, and it's not clear why a multivitamin might have this effect, Baker said.
The researchers assumed that older adults were well-nourished, but they didn't take into account the other medical conditions older people can suffer from or the medications they take.
Also, Baker noted that Americans in general don't eat a healthy diet, so they may be missing some important nutrients that multivitamins help replace.
Other studies assessing the value of taking a multivitamin have found no benefit. But Baker added that most of these studies were done among men and women who are professionals and more likely to have healthy diets.
Maria Carrillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer's Association, said that although the results are encouraging, the association is not recommending the use of a multivitamin to reduce the risk of thinking declines in older adults.
"Before any recommendation, independent confirmatory studies are needed in larger, more diverse study populations. It is critical that future treatments and preventions are effective in all populations," Carrillo said.
Baker noted that they plan to test their findings in a larger trial among a diverse population.
"We're really going to work hard to reach far away from the hospitals and get into rural communities and get a better representation so that we can make a general statement about all people, not just people who are white," Baker said.
But she also isn't recommending that people start taking a multivitamin in hopes of preventing thinking declines just yet.
"We're not in a position where this work is ready for a general recommendation, because there's a lot of things that are unknown at this point," Baker added.
If these findings can be confirmed, Carrillo said, it has the potential to "significantly impact public health — improving brain health, lowering health care costs and reducing caregiver burden — especially among older adults. People should talk with their health care provider about the benefits and risks of ... multivitamins."
The report was published online Sept. 14 in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia.
For more on Alzheimer's disease, head to the Alzheimer's Association.
SOURCES: Laura Baker, PhD, professor, gerontology and geriatric medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Maria Carrillo, PhD, chief science officer, Alzheimer's Association; Alzheimer's & Dementia, Sept. 14, 2022, online