“I have to use the word ‘surprised,'” Baker said.
Researchers — from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, in collaboration with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston — examined the cognitive function of older adults who were assigned to take a daily cocoa extract supplement containing flavonoids, a multivitamin, or a placebo. for three years No one, not even the researchers, knew whose daily routine belonged until the results were revealed.
“We really thought cocoa extract would have some benefit for cognition based on prior reports of a cardiovascular benefit. So we’re looking for that big finding in our data analysis, and it wasn’t cocoa extract that benefited cognition, but the multivitamin,” Baker said. “We are pleased that our findings have opened up a new avenue of research for a simple, accessible, safe and inexpensive intervention that may have the potential to provide a layer of protection against cognitive decline.”
But he added that he and his team aren’t ready to immediately add a daily multivitamin to older adults’ routines based solely on these results.
“It’s too early to make these recommendations,” Baker said. “I think we need to do this in another study.”
Finding connections in brain health
In the new study, 2,262 people, over the age of 65, were enrolled between August 2016 and August 2017 and were followed for three years. Participants were tested annually by telephone to assess their cognitive function. They scored memorizing stories, showing verbal fluency and ordering numbers, among others.
The researchers looked at function, based on test scores, among those who took cocoa extract daily compared to a placebo, and among those who took a daily multivitamin compared to placebo.
Researchers found that taking multivitamins for three years slowed cognitive aging by 1.8 years, or 60%, compared to placebo. Daily cocoa extract supplementation for three years had no effect on cognitive function, the researchers wrote.
The study — supported by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health — also found that multivitamins were most beneficial for older adults with a history of cardiovascular disease.
This connection between cardiovascular and brain health means that taking steps to prevent cardiovascular disease or other chronic diseases — such as maintaining a healthy diet and exercising — may also benefit the brain, said Vossel, who was not involved in the new study.
“As we get older, the situation can get worse. Many adults our age don’t have adequate nutrition for a number of reasons,” Baker said.
“As you get older, you’re more likely to have medical conditions that can compromise micronutrient sufficiency,” she said. “The medications we take for these conditions can also affect micronutrient sufficiency, interfering with the body’s ability to absorb these essential nutrients from the diet.”
‘We’ve been down this road before’
Other studies have had mixed results on the link between certain vitamins and supplements and dementia risk, notes Vossel.
Adults should talk to their primary care physician before starting a vitamin or supplement routine, he added.
“Supplementation is usually safe, but should be carefully monitored, especially for those with memory loss, because overdosing on vitamins can be very dangerous,” Vossel said. “Vitamin E overdose or taking high levels of vitamin E can also increase the risk of bleeding. So here are some considerations.”
“There’s definitely follow-up work that we need to see, particularly independent confirmation in studies in larger and more diverse populations, but that’s encouraging,” he said. “Further research is needed to understand what might be in the multivitamin that might be of benefit.”