A whopping 4 out of 5 Americans (86%) take a daily multivitamin, perhaps as a precaution in case their diet lacks vital nutrients. Some also believe nutritional supplements can enhance their immunity, cognitive abilities, and metabolic function to protect them from illness. These notions may stem from advertisements that tout broad health advantages, although most lack the substantial proof to support their assertions.
The effectiveness of multivitamins in promoting good health has been inconclusive. In 2021, the US Preventive Services Task Force, a highly respected source on preventative healthcare, analyzed 90 of the most reliable studies on supplements and vitamins. They found that these products did not protect against cardiovascular disease, cancer, or all-cause mortality for healthy adults who did not have nutritional deficiencies.
Could exploring various dosages, supplement combinations, or groups of people lead to a different outcome? The answer is yes, and a recent study centered on memory and brain function suggests that it may have already occurred.
Daily multivitamins improving brain function – do they help?
According to the CDC, one out of nine adult Americans have subjective cognitive decline, making it a public health issue. Just about all of us know of at least one elderly person with dementia.
With these kinds of numbers, there is no wonder why the interest in the possibility of taking a multivitamin, is substantial. Currently, however, there are only a few ways to enhance brain health. These include engaging in regular exercise, maintaining an optimal weight, and following a heart-healthy diet can improve cardiovascular health and decrease the risk of certain types of dementia, like dementia caused by strokes. However, apart from these practical steps, no medications, supplements, or therapies can consistently enhance brain function over an extended period, despite what advertisements may suggest.
Scientists have investigated for decades whether some foods or supplements can be beneficial. For the first time, a recent study published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia involving over 2,200 participants aged 65 and above, may have an answer. Each participant in the study was randomly assigned the following three scenarios for three years:
- Taking a cocoa or a placebo
- Taking a multivitamin or a placebo
- Taking both cocoa and a multivitamin
The multivitamin used in this study was Centrum Silver, a well-known and respected multivitamin brand, contains 27 different vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in varying quantities.
After the trial, cognitive tests were analyzed. The group that consumed cocoa did not display any improvement in their results. However, the group assigned to take a multivitamin by itself improved their test scores of the following:
- Overall brain function (especially in people with cardiovascular disease)
- Executive function (tasks such as planning or remembering instructions).
The researchers have concluded that taking multivitamins for three years can reduce the decline in brain function associated with aging by up to 60%.
It is worth noting that most participants in the study were Caucasian (89%) with an average age of 73, and over half of them were female (60%). The study lasted three years, during which the participants were closely monitored. The study was conducted using a randomized, double-blind trial, which is widely regarded as the most robust form of study design.
Should everyone be taking multivitamins?
It is important to note that this study does not provide enough evidence to recommend the regular use of multivitamins for individuals of all ages. The observed benefits for older adults in this study could be attributed to some participants’ nutrient deficiencies. However, it is still being determined whether this is the case, as it was not investigated as part of the study.
It’s possible that the reported benefits discussed in this article may not have a significant impact in real life, diminish over time, or may not prevent certain types of dementia. Additionally, a larger and longer randomized, placebo-controlled trial conducted on male physicians aged 65 and above taking multivitamins found no improvement in brain function, which cannot be ignored.
However, this does not necessarily mean that we have all the answers. Further investigation is necessary to determine who would benefit the most from taking multivitamins, the optimal dosage, and which multivitamin components are the most vital. Larger, longer-lasting trials that involve a more diverse group of participants are needed. Additionally, it is essential to distinguish between enhancing cognitive function and preventing dementia. It is still unclear whether conditions like Alzheimer’s disease can be prevented by taking multivitamins or other supplements.
As with any scientific research, it’s best to understand the outcome. Everywhere you turn, there are claims that supplements can enhance brain health. However, scientific evidence to support these claims is scarce. This new study is crucial because, if validated, it suggests that a safe, readily available, and affordable vitamin supplement can enhance the quality of life for millions of aging individuals.
As always, before starting a multivitamin, check with your doctor first. In the meantime, refrain from relying solely on the multivitamin do all the work to protect brain health. Put in the effort of eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, reduce stress, get adequate sleep, and keep socially active with friends and family. Together, these may be the best solutions of better brain health and cognitive functioning as we grow older.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.