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As the global population ages, the number of people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia increases. A robust and growing body of evidence indicates that lifestyle influences the risk of developing dementia. A recent study found that multivitamin/mineral supplements improve memory and slow cognitive aging in older adults – roughly equivalent to reducing cognitive aging by two years.

Researchers investigated the effects of multivitamin/mineral supplementation on cognitive function in a subset of participants enrolled in the COSMOS study, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving more than 21,000 older adults (60 years or older) in the U.S. Participants in COSMOS were randomly assigned to receive one of three interventions: cocoa extract (providing 500 milligrams of flavanols daily, including 80 milligrams of epicatechin), a multivitamin/mineral supplement, or both, daily for two years. A fourth group received a placebo. In the subset, called COSMOS-Clinic, 573 participants underwent extensive brain function tests before and after the study and again two years later.

They found that multivitamin/mineral supplementation conferred modest improvements in overall cognitive function over two years in participants enrolled in the subset, particularly in episodic memory – the ability to recall specific events, experiences, and contextual details from one’s past. They did not observe improvements in the participants' executive function or attention. However, a meta-analysis involving more than 5,000 participants from the COSMOS-Clinic, COSMOS-Mind, and COSMOS-Web studies demonstrated that multivitamin/mineral supplementation markedly improved overall cognition and episodic memory.

These findings from the COSMOS trials suggest that multivitamin/mineral supplementation – a low-cost, low-effort intervention – improves cognitive function in older adults. They also highlight the role of adequate nutrition throughout the lifespan and support the “micronutrient triage theory” – the idea that the body prioritizes the utilization of micronutrients for metabolic pathways needed for survival and reproduction over those used for long-term health. Learn more about micronutrient triage theory in this clip featuring Dr. Bruce Ames.

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