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New research suggests that taking a daily multivitamin for three years is associated with a 60% slowdown in cognitive aging, with effects especially pronounced in cardiovascular disease (CVD) patients.

In addition to testing the effect of a daily multivitamin on cognition, the COSMOS study also examined the effect of cocoa flavanols but did not show any beneficial results.

The findings were presented at the Fourteenth Conference of Clinical Trials in Alzheimer’s Disease (CTAD). They “may have important public health implications, particularly for brain health, given the accessibility of multivitamins and minerals, and their low cost and safety,” said study researcher Laura D. Baker, Ph.D., professor of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

The trial is a sub-study of a larger trial that compared the effects of cocoa extract (500 mg/day of cocoa flavonoids) and a standard mineral multivitamin (MVM) with placebo on cardiovascular and cancer outcomes in more than 21,000 participants. 

Researchers studied 2,262 adults 65 years and older without dementia who underwent cognitive testing annually for three years. The average age at the start of the study was 73 years, and 40% were men. Most of the participants (88%) were Caucasian, and almost half (49%) had some post-college education.

The researchers had complete data on 77% of the study participants.

The study groups were balanced for demographics, CVD history, diabetes, depression, smoking, alcohol intake, chocolate intake, and prior multivitamin use. Baseline cognitive scores were also similar between study groups. 

Using a graph to show change over time, Dr. Baker concluded that cocoa did not affect global cognitive function. “We see the expected effects of practice, but there is no separation between the active and placebo groups,” she said. 

As for the multivitamin, Dr. Baker noted,

“We see a positive effect of multivitamins for the active group relative to placebo, peaking at two years and then remaining stable over time.”

The findings were also similar with multivitamins for the composite memory score and the executive function composite score.

Those with cardiovascular diseases had lower cognitive scores at the start of the study. “But,” Dr. Baker explained, “after an initial increase due to the effect of the practice, in the first year, people with a history of cardiovascular disease continue to benefit from multivitamins, while those who received multivitamins with placebo continue to decline over time.” 

She went on to add, “Daily multivitamin and mineral supplementation appears to slow cognitive aging by 60% or 1.8 years. Our study provides new evidence that daily multivitamin supplementation may benefit cognitive function in older women and men, and the effects of multivitamins may be more pronounced in participants with cardiovascular disease.”

After the presentation, session Co-Chair Suzanne Schindler, MD, Ph.D., Washington University School of Medicine, said that she and her colleagues “always monitor levels of vitamin B12 in patients with memory and cognitive difficulties.”

Then a question was posed as to whether or not study subjects with a low level or deficiency of vitamin B12 benefited from the intervention.

Dr. Baker candidly replied, ” We wonder that too. Some of this is a work in progress. We still have to look at that further to understand if it could be an improvement mechanism. I think the results on that issue are not yet known.”

The study was supported by the NIH / NIA.