A new study suggests that the regular intake of a multivitamin may be linked to enhanced brain function in elderly individuals, with particularly pronounced effects in those who possess a history of cardiovascular disease.
This revelation was met with surprise from the research team, with Laura Baker — an author of the study and professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University in North Carolina — remarking on their astonishment.
“I have to use the word ‘shocked,’ ” Baker said.
Researchers from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in collaboration with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston analyzed cognitive function in older adults who were randomly assigned to take either a cocoa extract supplement containing flavonoids, a multivitamin, or a placebo every day for three years.
All participants and researchers were unaware of which daily routine each individual was assigned to until the results were revealed.
“We really believed that the cocoa extract was going to have some benefits for cognition based on prior reports of cardiovascular benefit. So we’re waiting for that big reveal in our data analysis – and it was not cocoa extract that benefited cognition but rather the multivitamin,” Baker said.
“We are excited because our findings have uncovered a new avenue for investigation – for a simple, accessible, safe, inexpensive intervention that could have the potential to provide a layer of protection against cognitive decline.”
This study included 2,262 participants aged 65 and over enrolled between August 2016 and August 2017 and followed up for three years. Cognitive function was evaluated through phone-based tests, including story recall, verbal fluency, and ordering digits among others.
The researchers assessed the cognitive function of those who were taking cocoa extract daily against that of a placebo group as well as those taking a daily multivitamin compared to another placebo group.
The results showed that the daily intake of a multivitamin slowed cognitive aging by 1.8 years or 60% compared to the placebo group; however, there was no evidence that taking cocoa extract had any effect on cognitive function.
“It’s well-known that those with cardiovascular risk factors could have lower levels in their blood of vitamins and minerals. So supplementing those vitamins and minerals could improve cardiovascular health and, by virtue of that, improve cognitive health – and we know that there’s a strong connection between cardiovascular health and brain health,” said Dr. Keith Vossel, a professor of neurology and director of the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Research and Care at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Vossel, who was not involved in the new study, noted that there is a link between cardiovascular and brain health, which means that taking steps to guard against cardiovascular disease or other chronic illnesses – such as eating nutritiously and exercising – can also benefit the brain.
“If we can really eliminate or really prevent chronic diseases, we could prevent dementias,” he said. “Roughly up to 40% of dementia could be prevented with just better preventative measures throughout life’s span.”