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Large-scale trial shows multivitamins are good for memory

The large-scale, long-term COSMOS study has spun off three smaller sub cohorts focused on cognitive function. The data from those shows that multivitamins can play a key role in helping preserve memory in older adults.

Hank Schultz

January 25, 2024

5 Min Read

At a Glance

  • COSMOS is a large trial that looked at multivitamins, cocoa flavanols and cancer, cardiovascular disease risk reduction.
  • Sub groups of this trial looked at the effects of multivitamins used by seniors.
  • Result: Study found a daily multivitamin helped preserve memory function in health older adults.

A new analysis of data from the large, long-term COSMOS trial indicates a daily multivitamin can help preserve memory in older adults. 

The new analysis, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN), was part of the larger Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS). 

The overall COSMOS trial, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Pfizer Consumer Healthcare (now part of GSK Consumer Healthcare) and Mars Edge, included more than 21,000 participants. More than 7,000 participants were included in ancillary studies such as this latest multivitamin research. 

Participants were randomly assigned to a daily multivitamin supplement (Centrum Silver) or a placebo. 

Centrum Silver (manufactured by Pfizer) is a typical multivitamin in that it contains a full suite of vitamins present in 125% or more of the daily value (DV) in most cases. Centrum Silver also contains a lengthy list of minerals as well as 250 micrograms (mcg) of lutein and 300 mcg of lycopene. 

Latest study includes data from three sub groups 

This latest study looked at the results for 573 patients of the original clinic sub cohort of the COSMOS study who completed all cognitive tests administered at baseline.   

In addition, the new study added a metanalysis of all three COSMOS substudies that focused on cognitive enpoints. One, done in a clinic setting and including 573 subjects, reported its results for the first time in this latest paper. The other two were done in survey-fashion. One, called COSMOS-Mind, included 2,158 subjects, which the other, COSMOS-Web, featured 2,472 subjects. 

Related:Study: Multivitamins slow cognitive aging by 60%

These sub-studies focused on specific compartments of memory. For example, in COSMOS-Web, which was published in 2023, the primary outcome the researchers evaluated was a change in episodic memory. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines this type of memory as “the ability to learn, store and retrieve information about unique personal experiences that occur in daily life. These memories typically include information about the time and place of an event, as well as detailed information about the event itself.” 

According to the NIH, “It is well known that aging affects episodic memory function more severely than other types of memory including semantic memory.” 

The COSMOS Web study found that a multivitamin used daily unequivocally improved memory function in older adults. 

COSMOS Mind, which was termed a “pragmatic” study, used phone calls and mail responses to assess how well a daily multivitamin supplement preserved memory. 

Related:Studies Tout Benefits of Cocoa Flavanols

Conclusion: Multis help preserve memory 

“In COSMOS-Clinic, daily MVM supplementation led to a significantly more favorable 2-year change in episodic memory,” the authors of the latest study concluded. “The meta-analysis within COSMOS cognitive sub-studies indicated that daily MVM significantly benefited both global cognition and episodic memory. These findings within the COSMOS trial support the benefits of a daily MVM in preventing cognitive decline among older adults.” 

Longtime expert: data supporting daily multi usage piling up 

Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., a professor emeritus at Tufts University who studied multivitamins and their effects for more than four decades, said this latest COSMOS result is a welcome addition to the growing pile of evidence suggesting that multivitamin use is a prudent health practice.   

(Disclosure: Blumberg sits on the scientific advisory board of Haleon, the Pfizer subsidiary that houses the Centrum brand.) 

“I think taking a multivitamin is a really prudent, proactive, positive health behavior. There are lots of studies that show they clearly fill in the nutrient gaps in people’s diets,” Blumberg said. 

Blumberg said the results of this latest trial are especially exciting because this was a cohort of “normal” people, so the results could be generalized to any older American adult. And the design of the study, using three slightly different groups, helps “triangulate” the data, raising confidence in the results. 

“They weren’t overlapping groups, so these were different people,” he added. “These were not malnourished people; those people were excluded from the trial. By normal American standards, this was a healthy cohort of older adults.” 

Industry groups laud results 

Duffy MacKay, senior vice president of dietary supplements at the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), said the results are good news for the industry and consumers, too. 

“These results are certainly important, as they show how supplements can support certain aging adults in meeting their daily nutrient needs for better cognitive function – a critical part of healthy aging for the mind and body,” MacKay said. 

“While there is no proven prevention or treatment for cognitive decline, scientific evidence grows in increments, and seeing positive results emerge from this study once again reinforces the beneficial role safe, accessible and affordable vitamins and supplements can play in optimizing health through responsible self-care,” he added. 

Jeff Ventura, vice president of communications at the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), echoed MacKay’s enthusiasm. 

“CRN is impressed by this recently published research further demonstrating the benefits of multivitamin supplementation on memory and cognitive aging,” Ventura said. “CRN agrees with the study authors that the results are stunning and consistent.” 

He added, “CRN’s annual survey finds that 74 percent of Americans use dietary supplements, most frequently a multivitamin. These results should strengthen consumer confidence in the value of daily multivitamin supplementation.” 

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About the Author(s)

Hank Schultz

Senior Editor, Informa

Hank Schultz has been the senior editor of Natural Products Insider since early 2023. He can be reached at [email protected]

Prior to joining the Informa team. he was an editor at NutraIngredients-USA, a William Reed Business Media publication.

His approach to industry journalism was formed via a long career in the daily newspaper field. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and German, Hank was an editor at the Tempe Daily News in Arizona. He followed that with a long stint working at the Rocky Mountain News, a now defunct daily newspaper in Denver, where he rose to be one of the city editors. The newspaper won two Pulitzer Prizes during his time there.

The changing landscape of the newspaper industry led him to explore other career paths. He began his career in the natural products industry more than a decade ago at New Hope Natural Media, which was then part of Penton and now is an Informa brand. Hank formed friendships and partnerships within the industry that still inform his work to this day, which helps him to bring an insider’s perspective, tempered with an objective journalist’s sensibility, to his in-depth reporting.

Harkening back to his newspaper days, Hank considers the readers to be the primary stakeholders whose needs must be met. Report the news quickly, comprehensively and above all, fairly, and readership and sponsorships will follow.

In 2015, Hank was recognized by the American Herbal Products Association with a Special Award for Journalistic Excellence.

When he’s not reporting on the supplement industry, Hank enjoys many outside pursuits. Those include long distance bicycle touring, mountain climbing, sailing, kayaking and fishing. Less strenuous pastimes include travel, reading (novels and nonfiction), studying German, noodling on a harmonica, sketching and a daily dose of word puzzles in The New York Times.

Last but far from least, Hank is a lifelong fan and part owner of the Green Bay Packers.

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