New research suggests that a daily multivitamin could actually improve brain function for older adults

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The next time you’re at the airport, restaurant, supermarket, sporting event or other gathering, take a look around. According to estimates from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1 in 2 people you see take some type of dietary supplement. About 30% of these people take multivitamins.

While there are definite pros and cons to getting these “insurance plan” pills, Eating Well dietitians agree with the current scientific consensus that supplements do not replace a healthy diet. Still, among certain populations, they can be a great help in covering deficiencies, such as for vegans (who struggle to get enough vitamin B12) and pregnant women (who benefit from more folic acid).

According to a new study published on September 14 in the journal Alzheimer’s Association Alzheimer’s and dementia, it might be time to add another population to the supplement consideration list. After three years of taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement, older adults experienced better memory and executive function (which helps with planning, focus, attention, memory and sorting tasks), signs of cognitive improvement.

Read on for more details on this new research, plus other ways to stay in shape as you age.

Related: The No. 1 tip for keeping your brain sharp as you age, according to neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta

What this brain health study found

Almost all older adults (and, TBH, all humans) experience occasional memory lapses. The National Institute on Aging confirms that some age-related cognitive decline, like overlooking an appointment you didn’t put on your calendar or forgetting a word for a certain item for a minute or two, is completely normal when it is mild and quite infrequent. . But severe cognitive impairment can be a sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. About 10% to 15% of all cases of mild cognitive impairment progress to dementia each year, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and that means the decline in brain function is significant enough to affect quality of life. of life

With 1 in 9 American adults age 65 and older now having dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and rates only expected to rise as we tend to live longer, scientists they strive to try to understand how to slow the hands of time.

For this study, researchers gathered a group of 2,602 adults with an average age of 73 to participate. To be eligible, each person needed to have no history of heart attacks or any serious illness at the time of the study. Nor could they have allergies to cocoa or caffeine.

The researchers randomly assigned each person to one of three groups to follow these instructions daily for three years:

  1. Take a 500-milligram cocoa extract supplement (which contains a polyphenol called a flavanol)

  2. Take a multivitamin-mineral supplement

  3. Take a placebo pill

Related: 7-Day Meal Plan for Healthy Aging from the Inside Out

During an initial baseline telephone interview and at least one assessment per year, participants completed several standard scientific cognitive tests, including word and story recall, number sequence recall, and assessment of verbal fluency (e.g. , the ability to accurately describe in words what is happening in an image).

At the end of the three-year study, the scientists crunched the numbers and noticed no significant difference between the cocoa extract and placebo groups. Daily multivitamin use, however, was associated with better cognition, executive function, and episodic memory. The biggest benefit was seen among about 200 people who had a history of some form of heart disease at the start of the study.

Larger, longer, and more diverse studies (only 11% of participants were people of color, the authors noted) are needed to confirm these results. In addition, the pill groups reported whether they followed the supplement plan or not; some might have gone as far as to say that they remembered every day.

Still, this is a nugget of knowledge that adds to previous data related to the impact of micronutrients on brain health. However, it is extremely difficult to make universal supplement recommendations for all older adults, especially since they are likely to be helpful only for those with vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

The bottom line

This study suggests that a daily multivitamin, but not a cocoa extract supplement, could help boost older adults’ brains as they age; just as the main cognitive decline sets in.

More research is needed to show that supplements are actually beneficial for more adults (and not a waste of money), but there are several things we know for sure that can help keep brains younger than their age biological:

And if you do Feel inspired to make a pill part of your aging plan, be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new supplement or medication. And remember: most supplements are not fully regulated; this is the best way to know if what you are considering is safe.

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