Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Does a vitamin a day keep Alzheimer's at bay?

As regular readers of these posts know, I am generally not a big fan of using vitamins and supplements for healthy people who eat a reasonable diet. There is little solid data that these improve your health. A recent study has caused me to reconsider.

We all lose some memory function with aging, even those of us who will never develop dementia. Annoying “senior moments,” such as forgetting where we put the car keys or who wrote our favorite book, become increasingly common. What helps? Aerobic exercise has some benefit, while crossword puzzles, sudoku, etc. do not seem to do much. How about a pill?

A group of investigators from New York and Boston recently published the results of a trial studying the effects of a daily multivitamin (Centrum Silver) on memory in older adults. The trial was designed to test the effects of cocoa extract and multivitamins on cancer risk and cardiovascular outcomes but they used the trial to test other outcomes as well. It was a large trial: 12,666 women 65 or older and 8776 men 60 or older were enrolled.

The memory study used an internet-based battery of neuropsychological tests at baseline and repeated annually for 3 years. Importantly, the study used a memory test designed for healthy people.

You may recall the ridicule faced by Donald Trump in the summer of 2020 when he claimed to “have aced” a “really difficult test” that proved how smart he was. That test was the mini-mental status test (or something very similar), specifically designed to screen for dementia. Its weakness in studying healthy people is that it is so easy that most get high scores and subtle changes are hard to detect.

This study used a test called the ModRey test that is much harder and was designed to study memory changes in people without major memory impairment.

At both 1 and 3 years after they enrolled, people who were randomly assigned to take the multivitamin had significantly better memory scores than those assigned to placebo. The researchers estimated that the multivitamin improved memory performance over placebo by the equivalent of 3 years.

Since the treatment, an over-the-counter multivitamin, is harmless and cheap, it seems prudent to consider adding this to your daily routine. I plan to do so (when I remember).

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1 comment:

  1. I also am skeptical about vitamins, especially multivitamins. The whole Vitamin C rage (I read Linus Pauling's book) turned out to be wrong. But if the study found 3 years(!) added, I'm going to add Centrum to my regimen! Thank you for reporting on this amazing result.