Scientists find 'strong and consistent' evidence cheap supplement prevents memory loss and slows ageing

Woman taking pill and man holding supplement

Multivitamins have been linked to better memory and cognition across three studies

Getty Images
Adam Chapman

By Adam Chapman


Published: 18/03/2024

- 17:04

Updated: 18/03/2024

- 17:59

The large-scale study suggests you can keep your brain sharp without breaking the bank

Supplements hold a lot of promise but many do not survive rigorous scientific scrutiny.

That is not the case for multivitamins, which have been linked to better memory and cognition across three studies.


The COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS) is a large-scale, nationwide, randomized trial rigorously testing cocoa extract and multivitamin supplements directed by researchers at Mass General Brigham.

Two previously published studies of cognition in COSMOS suggested a positive effect for a daily multivitamin. COSMOS researchers now report the results of a third study of cognition in COSMOS, which focused on participants who underwent in-person assessments, together with the results of a combined analysis from the three separate studies.

taking supplements

The over-the-counter supplement was associated with positive benefits across three large-scale studies

GETTY

The results from this latest report confirm consistent and statistically significant benefits of a daily multivitamin versus placebo for both memory and global cognition. Results are published today in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“Cognitive decline is among the top health concerns for most older adults, and a daily supplement of multivitamins has the potential as an appealing and accessible approach to slow cognitive ageing,” said first author Chirag Vyas, MBBS, MPH, instructor in investigation at the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), a founding member of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system.

In the in-clinic study, the researchers administered detailed, in-person cognitive assessments among 573 participants in the subset of COSMOS known as COSMOS-Clinic.

Within COSMOS, two previous studies tested multivitamin supplementation on cognition using telephone-based cognitive assessments (COSMOS-MIND) and online web-based cognitive assessments (COSMOS-Web). In their prespecified analyses of data from COSMOS-Clinic, investigators observed a modest benefit on the multivitamin, compared to placebo, on global cognition over two years. There was a statistically significant benefit of multivitamin supplementation for change in episodic memory, but not in executive function/attention.

The team also conducted a meta-analysis based on the three separate studies which showed strong evidence of benefits for both global cognition and episodic memory. The authors estimate that the daily multivitamin slowed global cognitive ageing by the equivalent of two years compared to placebo.

Vyas said: “The meta-analysis of three separate cognition studies provides strong and consistent evidence that taking a daily multivitamin, containing more than 20 essential micronutrients, helps prevent memory loss and slow down cognitive ageing.”

Olivia Okereke, MD SM, senior author of the report and director of Geriatric Psychiatry at MGH, added: “These findings will garner attention among many older adults who are, understandably, very interested in ways to preserve brain health, as they provide evidence for the role of a daily multivitamin in supporting better cognitive ageing.”

JoAnn Manson, co-author of the report and Chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at BWH, commented: “The finding that a daily multivitamin improved memory and slowed cognitive ageing in three separate placebo-controlled studies in COSMOS is exciting and further supports the promise of multivitamins as a safe, accessible and affordable approach to protecting cognitive health in older adults.”

Sesso, also a co-author and the associate director of the BWH Division of Preventive Medicine, added: “With these three studies using different approaches for assessing cognition in COSMOS, each providing support for a daily multivitamin, it is now critical to understand the mechanisms by which a daily multivitamin may protect against memory loss and cognitive decline with a focus on nutritional status and other ageing-related factors. For example, the modifying role of baseline nutritional status on protecting against cognitive decline has been shown for the COSMOS cocoa extract intervention. A typical multivitamin such as that tested in COSMOS contains many essential vitamins and minerals that could explain its potential benefits.”

SupplementsSupplements can help with longevity PA

Editor's take

The new findings are encouraging but we have only a handful of rigorous scientific studies on the benefits of multivitamins.

While they may help, supplements alone will not keep you sharp. For that, you must eat a healthy, balanced diet and engage in regular exercise.

These are the essential building blocks for a long and disease-free life.

You may like