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Taking This Common Supplement May Help Prevent Cognitive Decline and Dementia as You Age

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Taking a multivitamin every morning can be a great way to make sure you’re getting enough of the nutrients your body needs to function at its best — but early results from a recent clinical trial indicate that there may be another reason to start swallowing a supplement. A daily multivitamin could slow the process of cognitive decline and help keep your memory sharp as you age.

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Laura Baker, a professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine, led the trial. She presented the results, which have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal and are still under review, at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease conference last week in Boston.

Is taking a multivitamin beneficial for cognitive health?

The COSMOS-Mind study (COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study for the Mind) was a clinical trial that included more than 2,200 people 65 and older who took one of these four things every day for three years: A multivitamin, a cocoa extract supplement, a placebo, or a cocoa extract supplement and a multivitamin. At the time they enrolled in the study, none of the participants showed any signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Each year for the duration of the trial, they took a series of tests to evaluate their memory, executive functioning, and overall cognitive health.

The results? For the first two years, people who took the multivitamin, either with or without the cocoa extract supplement, showed a significant improvement in both memory and executive function. Cognitive decline slowed by approximately 60 percent, which researchers said is the equivalent of about two years. (Folks who took the placebo or the cocoa alone showed no measurable benefit.)

Too soon to say?

Some of the concerns flagged by Baker include the fact that almost 90 percent of the study participants were white — hardly an accurate representation of the general population — and that after two years, the cognitive benefits of taking the multivitamin appeared to flatline. It’s also worth noting that some of the multivitamins used were provided by Pfizer, which partially funded the trial’s parent study. (The company maintains that they did not have any part in designing either of the trials.)

Baker said that while it’s too soon to officially recommend taking a multivitamin to aid in the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, she hopes that more research will confirm the study’s findings. “I am always looking for something that is inexpensive and accessible to everyone, especially to communities that don’t have access to expensive interventions,” Baker said. “[A daily multivitamin is] already such a widely used supplement, and we need to know if it might have any benefits for cognitive function.” 

Which multivitamin is best for daily use?

While there are still questions about whether taking a daily multivitamin will help prevent you from developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease down the road, there are other great reasons to get in the habit of popping a pill every day. Studies have shown that taking multivitamins can help prevent illness, and lessen the severity if you do get sick. In the wintertime, a lack of sunshine often leads to vitamin D deficiency, which could increase your risk of breast cancer. Taking vitamin A could strengthen your bones and protect your eyesight, and vitamin K can ward off arthritis and improve heart health. (Always check with your doctor before starting any new supplement routine, however.)

The participants of this study took Centrum Silver (Buy from Amazon, $17), but if you’re looking for the best multivitamins for women over 50, there are many good ones from which to choose. Still, doctors say that healthy living is the best defense against decline of all sorts. Thomas Shea, who is the director of the Laboratory for Neuroscience at UMass Lowell and was not involved with the trial, told NBC News that no vitamin is as valuable as eating a balanced diet and staying physically and socially active as we get older.

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