New York, NY—Pharmacists often are asked about the usefulness of multivitamin supplementation, but the question is often difficult to answer because research on the topic has come up with varied answers.

A new study might change that when it comes to older adults, for whom maintenance of cognitive abilities is critical.

Researchers from Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University led the study to examine the effect of daily multivitamin/multimineral supplementation on memory in older adults.

“Because of our innovative approach of assessing cognitive outcomes using Internet-based tests, we were able to examine the effects of a multivitamin in thousands of study participants. The findings are promising and certainly set the stage for important follow-up studies about the impact of multivitamin supplementation on cognition,” stated Adam Brickman, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard who co-led the Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes (COSMOS)-Web study with Columbia University researchers. “Most older adults are worried about memory changes that occur with aging. Our study suggests that supplementation with multivitamins may be a simple and inexpensive way for older adults to slow down memory loss.”

The COSMOS-Web ancillary study included 3,562 older adults who were randomly assigned to a daily multivitamin supplement (i.e., Centrum Silver) or placebo. The participants were evaluated annually with an Internet-based battery of neuropsychological tests for 3 years.

The prespecified primary outcome measure was considered as change in episodic memory, operationally defined as immediate recall performance on the ModRey test, after 1 year of intervention. The results were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“Compared with placebo, participants randomly assigned to multivitamin supplementation had significantly better ModRey immediate recall at 1 year, the primary endpoint (t[5,889] = 2.25, P = 0.025), as well as across the 3 years of follow-up on average (t[5,889] = 2.54, P = .011),” the researchers advised.

On the other hand, multivitamin supplementation had no significant effects on secondary outcomes, which included changes in episodic memory over 3 years of follow-up and changes in performance on neuropsychological tasks of novel object recognition and executive function over 3 years.

“Based on cross-sectional analysis of the association between age and performance on the ModRey, we estimated that the effect of the multivitamin intervention improved memory performance above placebo by the equivalent of 3.1 years of age-related memory change,” the authors wrote.

The study concluded that daily multivitamin supplementation, compared with placebo, improves memory. “Multivitamin supplementation holds promise as a safe and accessible approach to maintaining cognitive health in older age,” the researchers suggested.

While the authors pointed out that the COSMOS-Web study provided evidence that multivitamin supplementation has cognitive benefits, they state that further research will be necessary to identify the specific nutrients contributing the most to this benefit and the underlying mechanisms involved. It also is not clear whether the findings are generalizable to a more diverse study population with lower educational levels and lower socioeconomic status.

“The findings that a daily multivitamin improved memory and slowed cognitive decline in two separate studies in the COSMOS randomized trial is remarkable, suggesting that multivitamin supplementation holds promise as a safe, accessible, and affordable approach to protecting cognitive health in older adults,” added coauthor JoAnn Manson, MD, chief of the Brigham’s Division of Preventive Medicine.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

« Click here to return to Weekly News.