Thursday, July 27

Does taking a multivitamin help with memory?

Can a multivitamin improve your memory?

We are flooded with commercials for vitamins and supplements that claim to provide a variety of health advantages, including enhanced memory. According to a May 2023 study of senior citizens, taking a daily multivitamin can do exactly that—improve your memory to the point where it performs as if you are three years younger.

What does this mean for your daily multivitamin
Let's examine the study in more detail.

Who participated in this trial on multivitamins?
This study is a component of a large study on the impact of multivitamins and/or cocoa, the primary component of chocolate, on outcomes related to cancer and cardiovascular disease. A previous substudy discovered that taking a daily multivitamin improved thinking and memory, at least when measured through phone-based cognitive tests.

3,562 individuals in this study were willing and able to complete various tests of reasoning and memory on a home computer. The other half received a placebo, while the first half received a multivitamin.

The results might not be generalizable because the individuals identified as 93% white, 2.5% African American, and 1.4% Hispanic. Additionally, they possessed a good education; more than half had graduated from college. The average age in both groups was 71.

How did researchers test memory?
At baseline, one, two, and three years later, the researchers assessed the subjects' thinking and memory.

Participants in the memory test had to memorise 20 words that were displayed on a computer screen in order. They had to immediately put in as many words as they could recall after seeing these words (this was the main test of memory). They also filled in all the words they remembered fifteen minutes later (a secondary test of memory).

Other supplemental measures comprise:

a test for distinguishing novel objects (is this thing the same as or different from the one just shown?)
a test of executive control (is the middle arrow red or blue in a row of nine arrows?)
One, two, and three years later, the subjects took all of the exams again.

What conclusions did this study reach?
In the first year, the two groups had different immediate recalls:

When given a placebo, participants' average instantaneous recall of 7.21 words at baseline increased to 7.65 words (a change of 0.43 words).
Those who took a daily multivitamin increased their word count from 7.10 at baseline to 7.81 words (a 0.70 word increase).
Statistics showed that this outcome was significant. These minor impacts also persisted in years two and three. By the third year, the multivitamin group had an average of 8.28 words that they could recall right away, compared to 8.17 for the placebo group.

On measures of executive function and secondary memory, there were no differences between the two groups.

Why would a multivitamin help memory?

The authors point out that dementia and cognitive decline have both been associated with low levels of vitamins B12 and D. The multivitamin group's levels of these vitamins did increase in a subset of people who had blood taken.

It is conceivable that a small number of the 3,562 participants had low levels of these or other vitamins necessary for cognition and memory. The few people in the placebo group who had vitamin inadequacies would probably have a small impairment in memory after their baseline assessments. On the other hand, the few individuals taking multivitamins would have their deficiencies filled by the supplements and would consequently perform far better.

Although this is merely conjecture, it would explain the modest but obviously actual results, which mimic those of the researchers' earlier study, which employed a telephone cognitive test to demonstrate the advantages of a daily multivitamin for thinking and memory.

It's also important to keep in mind that practising memory tasks, or the "practise effect," may have contributed to the modest gains seen between baseline and years one and three.

Does taking a multivitamin help your memory?
The multivitamin's impact on short-term memory was minimal and might not even be noticed, the authors acknowledged. They did, however, make the point that at the level of a whole population, this tiny effect might be significant.

In my view? You shouldn't waste your time trying to increase your instantaneous recall of 20 words from 8.17 to 8.28 by taking a multivitamin. However, it is crucial to check with your doctor to see whether you might be lacking in vitamin B1, B6, B12, D, or any other significant vitamins. Every week, I see a number of patients in my clinic who have shockingly low levels of vitamin D and B12. These levels might need to be measured by your doctor. Or they might advise just taking a multivitamin every day.

If you decide to take a multivitamin after reading this article, consult your doctor or pharmacist to find out which one is best for you. To prevent uncommon but dangerous interactions, make sure they evaluate any other vitamins, supplements, or prescription drugs you are taking. 

1 comment

  1. I think a lot of people take multivitamin without even thinking about it. When you eat healthy you don't need them, that's what my doctor says. But I do get tested on vit.d and b every year.

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