Pooling the data on multivitamins and memory
In the review, researchers performed a meta-analysis of the pooled data from ten trials, in which healthy adults were given a daily multivitamin supplement or placebo for one month or more and changes in cognitive function were measured. The multivitamins varied among the studies, but in general they had some combination of B-complex vitamins and small amounts of other nutrients such as minerals, antioxidants, and herbal extracts.
Multivitamins help us remember what we just learned
The report noted the following findings:
- People taking multivitamins performed better on immediate free recall memory tests. In these tests, people are presented with a list of items and then asked immediately to recall them. The diminishing ability to recall recently learned information is a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.
- Two of the studies in the review tested number facility by having participants count forward and backward in series (for example, by threes). Both studies found that number facility improved more in people taking multivitamins, however a clear effect could not be established through the meta-analysis because the pool of data was too small.
The researchers found that there was not enough data looking at the effects of multivitamins on general cognition, reasoning, or mental speed to demonstrate clear benefits.
"Based on the evidence, it appears that multivitamin supplements may be useful in improving free recall memory in healthy adults," said lead study author Dr. Natalie Grima of Monash University in Clayton, Australia. "Given that the recall of recently learned information is a core clinical feature of probable Alzheimer's disease, future research should investigate the effects of multivitamins in those diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease."
Based on the findings from this review, taking a multivitamin every morning may be one way to maintain a youthful memory. Here are some other things you can do to protect brain function as you age:
- Stay active. Remember to give your brain and your body regular workouts.
- Eat fish. Preliminary research suggests that the omega-3 fats from fish might help to protect brain function.
- Go for greens. Colorful fruits and vegetables, whether they are green, orange, yellow, red, blue, or purple, provide antioxidant nutrients that are believed to slow age-related changes in cells throughout the body, including in the brain.
- Consider ginkgo. A number of studies have found that ginkgo can improve memory in people with age-related cognitive decline.
(J Alzheimers Dis 2012;29:561-9)