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Jan 10, 2014

Multivitamins Fail to Improve Memory in Older Men

Study findings suggest that daily multivitamins fail to prevent cognitive decline in older adults.

More than one-third of Americans take multivitamins in hope that these supplements will improve mental health down the road. After all, many multivitamins claim to help prevent cognitive decline—problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment—which can lead to dementia later in life. But according to a 12-year study, daily multivitamins do not improve memory in older adults.

This research was part of The Physicians Health Study II, a large clinical trial designed to test the long-term effects of common multivitamins in the prevention of chronic disease. Nearly 6,000 older, male physicians participated in this study—half of which received a daily multivitamin, while the other half received a pill with no active ingredients (placebo). Researchers used a variety of tests to assess participants’ memory and cognitive function throughout the study and compared test results between those receiving the active vs. inactive multivitamins. After following participants for 12 years, researchers failed to find any meaningful difference in the memory of participants.

These findings conflict with past studies suggesting that multivitamins help slow cognitive decline as adults get older. However, The Physicians Health Study II is considered the gold-standard when it comes to research, as participants were randomly selected to receive active vs. inactive treatment and neither the investigators nor participants knew which treatment they were receiving. This intricate design helps achieve the most accurate and reliable results and prevent certain errors in study findings.

Still, authors acknowledge a few limitations of the study. Since subjects had to be 65 years of age or older to participate in the study, it’s possible that it was too late to see any real cognitive benefits from the multivitamins at that age. Also, it’s possible that the doses of vitamins were too low or that participants had such healthy habits (eating healthy and staying active) that the multivitamins failed to provide any added benefit.

Whether or not multivitamins prevent cognitive decline as we age has yet to be determined, but authors hope that additional research will help provide insight into this question. And in the meantime, authors discourage readers from writing multivitamins off altogether. Daily multivitamins may have other health benefits, like reducing risk for chronic disease and cancer, and further research is needed to truly understand the long-term effects of multivitamin supplementation.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is cognitive decline?
  • Cognitive decline involves problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment. Although some decline in cognitive ability is natural as we age, some individuals may experience greater than normal age-related changes, which may be a sign of dementia.
  • Should I take a daily multivitamin?
  • Research suggests that multivitamins may offer certain benefits, like improved mental and physical health. However, the true health benefits of multivitamins are unclear and may vary between individuals.

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