Study suggests that vitamins can be beneficial to memory – 05/24/2023 – Equilibrium and Health
Daily multivitamin intake for at least one year resulted in immediate (recent) memory improvement, points out a study published this Wednesday (24). The conclusion, however, is still early, in addition to the fact that the irregular use of multivitamins can lead to health complications.
In the article, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the main objective was to measure immediate memory, known for demanding the memory of something recent.
“It’s a memory that you use from seconds to minutes”, says neurologist Raphael Spera, a member of the Brazilian Academy of Neurology (ABN) and of the Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology Group (GNCC) at the Hospital das Clínicas, Faculdade de Medicina da USP , who did not sign the survey.
This memory can fail over the years, which may especially affect older people. This was the study audience, which had 3,526 participants. About half of them had access to a multivitamin and the other half to a placebo.
Before starting to take the pills, the participants needed to do activities on the computer to measure the functioning of different types of memory. One of these tasks was to write words that had just been presented to them. The objective was to conclude how many words were immediately recalled – which corresponds to the use of immediate memory.
After the first year of daily consumption of the pills, the participants repeated this activity. Then, the average of the results was compared to what had been observed in the first round of the test. In addition, the responses of those who accessed multivitamins were contrasted with those of the placebo group.
So, it was seen that the conglomerate of vitamins may have collaborated to maintain memory. That’s because the average number of words remembered among those who took the multivitamins was 7.81 after a year of taking the pills – before the beginning of the research, the average was 7.1. On the other hand, the placebo group had scored 7.21 before the study. After one year, the average was 7.65.
That is, the increase in the score was greater among those who ingested the pills with vitamins, which was maintained in the tests carried out in the third year of the study, when it ended.
The scientists observed that the ability to recall the words tested in the study drops, on average, by 0.074 each year. Considering this aspect and the difference between the placebo group and the one that consumed the vitamins, the authors concluded that it is as if the multivitamins had caused an improvement of about three years than was expected in the annual drop.
However, the placebo group itself improved the response rates. According to JoAnn Mason, from the Harvard University School of Medicine and one of the authors of the study, this can be explained by what is called the practical effect. “Participants become more comfortable taking the memory and cognition tests multiple times as they gain more experience with the tests,” she explained.
The research also investigated the effect of multivitamins beyond immediate memory. One of these is delayed memorization, “that consolidated one, which will last for hours or days”, explains Spera. In these cases, the participant needed to remember the words some time after being introduced to it, and not immediately.
Another task observed the time taken to recognize an object through clues presented to the participants. In addition, a test observed the functioning of executive functions, which involve reasoning ability, such as organization, planning and problem solving.
But unlike what was seen with immediate memory, there was no positive effect of multivitamins on these other areas of participants’ cognition. For Spera, this is a point of attention. “Why would a vitamin supplement only improve immediate memory and not delayed or other types of cognitive function? That’s weird,” she said.
Furthermore, the research would need to encompass a wider range of people to understand how generalized the conclusion can be. According to the article, the participants were basically highly educated, white people with access to the internet and computers – it was through these machines that the tests, created specifically for this research, were made.
These points, together with the fact that more studies are needed, mean that the conclusion of the research is not final. “It’s not because of this study that I would start giving multivitamins to my patients”, says Ivan Okamoto, a neurologist at the Center for Excellence in Memory (Nemo) at Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, who did not participate in the new research.
“This study needs to be replicated in different populations. That’s what the formation of evidence is”, he adds.
Some people may even imagine that the consumption of multivitamins is harmless, but this is not the reality. That’s because some types of vitamins can cause health problems. Okamoto explains that these are water-soluble products – that is, what the body does not absorb is discarded.
Still, there can be downsides. “There are cases of hypervitaminosis. So excess is not good either”, he summarizes.
In addition, people who maintain a balanced diet normally already have the necessary supply of nutrients and, therefore, supplementation would be unnecessary – and an extra expense. More specific cases, in which the use of these products is essential, need guidance and follow-up. “Vitamin replacement is not recommended without medical and nutritional guidance”, concludes Spera.