A new breakthrough study has found an affordable way to stave off memory decline: take a daily multivitamin.


The three-year-long study – conducted by scientists at Columbia University, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard University, USA – found that taking multivitamins for as little as one year can delay age-related memory loss by three years.

“Losing aspects of cognition and thinking ability is one of the things that most bothers people about ageing. Despite that, there are really very few strategies that we know of that can mitigate the effects of ageing on cognition or thinking abilities,” Dr Adam M Brickman – leader of the study and professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University in New York – told BBC Science Focus.

“What’s really exciting is that, according to our study, multivitamin supplementation can maintain aspects of cognitive health with ageing – even though the effects are relatively modest.”

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Compared to cognitive exercises found in 'brain training' apps, Brickman said that a good diet and dietary supplementation can have a more direct effect on the brain, “keeping it healthier as we age".

This could make us less prone to diseases like Alzheimer’s, though this particular study did not examine neurodegenerative diseases but rather normal age-related cognitive decline.

Cognitive exercises like learning other languages may not have a direct impact on brain health, according to Brickman, but might instead mitigate the impacts of outcomes like dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Published in the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, the study surveyed over 3,500 adults over the age of 60. Subjects were randomly assigned to take either multivitamins or placebos every day for three years.

At the end of each year the participants had to take a series of cognitive assessments to test their memory. It didn't take long to notice an effect: in the first year, researchers identified memory improvements in the multivitamin group.

In fact, those who took the multivitamins were about three years 'younger' than their estimated memory health levels, while the placebo-takers were on track.

The researchers found that the improvement in memory was even more pronounced for people with underlying cardiovascular diseases.

“[This suggests that] people with cardiovascular disease may have lower micronutrient levels that multivitamins may correct. But we don’t really know right now why the effect is stronger in this group,” says Brickman.

Echoing the labels of most multivitamin bottles, the researchers warn people that vitamin supplements are not good substitutes for a well-balanced diet. Brickman also advises people to consult their doctor before taking them – though for most people they are likely to be safe – or if they have serious concerns about their memory.

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The sample population in this study were ethnically and racially similar – mostly comprised of white people of European descent. The next step for the research team will be studying the effect of multivitamins on cognition in more diverse people.


“We really need to have a more inclusive trial design to see how well this effect generalises to a more representative population," said Brickman.

About our expert

Dr Adam M Brickman is a professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University in New York, USA. His research has been published in the journals Neurology, Alzheimer’s & Dementia, and Acta Neuropathologica Communications.

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Noa LeachNews editor, BBC Science Focus

Noa Leach is the News editor at BBC Science Focus. With an MPhil degree in Criticism & Culture from the University of Cambridge, Noa has studied cultural responses to the climate crisis, wildlife, and toxicity. Before joining BBC Science Focus, Noa was the Editor of The Wildlife Trust BCN’s magazine Local Wildlife. Her writing has been shortlisted for the Future Places Environmental Essay Prize.