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March 11, 2024 4 min read

The population of Americans over 65 years old is increasing and is projected to be about 25% of the American population by the year 2060. This age group is at elevated risk of cognitive decline and prone to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias

Evidence indicates that even modest deficits in cognitive function as someone gets older can predict worsened cognitive decline and an enhanced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in later life(1).

Interestingly, these initial signs of cognitive decline may be delayed through a safe, efficacious, and largely applicable intervention, such as a multivitamin-mineral supplementation.

Although there is some research on how cognitive change is affected by multivitamin-mineral supplements, there is no data on using in-person detailed neuropsychological assessments which captures small changes across multiple cognitive domains.

Most of the essential vitamins and minerals are in a typical broad-based multivitamin-mineral supplement.  Although these are at lower levels than individual supplements, they target multiple biologic pathways to support cognitive health(2).  

Although there is research indicating a positive benefit on cognitive function for multivitamin-mineral supplementation; detailed neuropsychological assessments that can measure subtle changes across multiple cognitive domains have not been utilized to confirm the effects of multivitamin-mineral supplementation on cognitive function among older adults. Recent research investigated the effects of multivitamin-mineral supplementation on cognitive change over a two-year period(3).

Major Findings

There was a significant beneficial effect of multivitamin-mineral supplementation compared with placebo on episodic memory in the study participants. Episodic memory is a type of long-term memory that involves conscious recollection of previous experiences together with their context in terms of time, place, associated emotions, etc.  

Regarding clinical importance, the effect of daily multivitamin-mineral supplementation on global cognition over a 2-3 year period may translate to a reduction in cognitive aging by 2 years compared with placebo.  

Findings from this research support the benefits of a multivitamin-mineral supplement in preventing cognitive decline among older adults.
 
There is more research needed to delineate the mechanisms of action, but a potential explanation for these findings is that these combinations of vitamins and minerals interact with multiple biologic pathways. These pathways support cognitive health, therefore mitigating the deficiencies in nutritional and micronutrients in older adults and lowering the risk of cognitive decline(4).  

At this point, we can assume that the major role that multivitamin-mineral supplementation plays is that it ensures there are no deficiencies in these micronutrients, thus enabling optimum functioning of the metabolic pathways and enzymes related to cognitive function.

Figure: Use of micronutrients depends on their extent of availability. Scarcity of micronutrient supply enforces a prioritization of allocation to functions ensuring survival. When micronutrients are sufficiently supplied throughout life, they may help to maintain brain functions as individuals age, thus potentially preventing dementia. DHA, docosahexaenoic acid; Hcy, homocysteine(4).

These findings on the cognitive benefits of multivitamin-mineral supplementation among older adults has important implications for future clinical practice and scientific research.

In clinical settings, multivitamin-mineral supplementation deserved greater consideration as a treatment strategy to prevent cognitive decrements among older adults without dementia at baseline.

Future research may look into biomarkers and characteristics linked to Alzheimer's disease and other similar memory loss conditions, like certain proteins in the brain (amyloid, tau) and other genetic factors to provide insights into the mechanisms of how taking multivitamin-mineral supplements can help stop or slow down the loss of memory and brain function and to better understand who can benefit the most from these supplements.

Summary

Multivitamin-mineral supplementation led to statistically significant more favorable change in episodic memory compared with placebo over a 2-year period.  Multivitamin-mineral supplementation demonstrated benefits for both global cognition and memory among older adults with the magnitude of this effect appearing to be equivalent to reducing cognitive aging by 2 years.

If you're looking to shore up any nutritional deficiencies, adding a multi-vitamin to your daily routine is a great idea and this research appears to confirm it.

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References:
    1.    Small BJ, Fratiglioni L, Viitanen M, et al: The course of cognitive impairment in preclinical Alzheimer disease: three- and 6-year follow-up of a population-based sample. Arch Neurol 57:839-44, 2000
    2.    Suh SW, Kim HS, Han JH, et al: Efficacy of Vitamins on Cognitive Function of Non-Demented People: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients 12, 2020
    3.    Vyas CM, Manson JE, Sesso HD, et al: Effect of multivitamin-mineral supplementation versus placebo on cognitive function: results from the clinic subcohort of the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS) randomized clinical trial and meta-analysis of 3 cognitive studies within COSMOS. Am J Clin Nutr 119:692-701, 2024
    4.    Mohajeri MH, Troesch B, Weber P: Inadequate supply of vitamins and DHA in the elderly: implications for brain aging and Alzheimer-type dementia. Nutrition 31:261-75, 2015

Dr. Paul Henning

About Dr. Paul

I'm currently an Army officer on active duty with over 15 years of experience and also run my own health and wellness business. The majority of my career in the military has focused on enhancing Warfighter health and performance. I am passionate about helping people enhance all aspects of their lives through health and wellness. Learn more about me