Do Multivitamins work? The Crucial Role of Multivitamins in Older Adults

November 10, 2023 9 mins to read
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Just how important are multi-vitamins? and do they provide any real benefit? As a student in college for integrative nutrition and a health and wellness blogger, I’ve done some research on the topic…so in this article I investigate the role that multi-vitamins play in our health, and just how valuable they can be for older and aging adults.

The Necessity of Multivitamins in Modern Diets

It’s a well-known fact that food should be our primary source of nutrients. However many studies show that due to modern agriculture and things like monocropping, our food is anywhere from 10-50% less nutrient dense than it was when our grandparents ate the same food. Combined this with chemicals like pesticides and herbicides, GMOs, food additives, preservatives and fillers… and you have toxic, nutrient poor food that not only fails to meet our nutritional requirements, but tends to make us sicker, rather than better. Nutritional deficiencies are even more applicable to adults over 60, where the body lowers production of many key nutrients, and digestion is less than optimal for absorption from what we eat. This is where high quality multi-vitamins can “supplement” or be a great addition to our diets, helping ensure adequate nutrient intake.

What’s the big deal with nutrient deficiencies?

Nutrient deficiencies can lead to a wide range of nutritional deficiency diseases (click that link for a self-evaluation questionnaire), many of which can be avoided with proper nutrition. This comes from research by a pioneer in nutritional deficiency diseases Dr. Joel Wallach. But quality and quantity of nutrients in a multi-vitamin does matter.

COSMOS-Web Study: A Glimpse into Cognitive Benefits

The Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study Web (COSMOS-Web, a double blind placebo controlled and peer reviewed study) and related research, have established a link between daily multivitamin intake and improved brain function. This consistency across well-designed studies adds weight to the potential cognitive (brain function) benefits of multivitamins. In other words, multi-vitamins can improve brain performance, and potentially reduce age related cognitive decline. Even skeptics like Professor Adam Brickman of Columbia University, involved in these studies, acknowledged this promising discovery in support of multi-vitamins.

Harvard and Columbia Universities’ Findings on Memory Enhancement

In a remarkable study by scientists from Harvard Medical School and Columbia University, showed older adults taking a multivitamin supplement had notable memory improvements. This study, involving more than 3,500 older adults, revealed that those on multivitamins had better immediate recall over a three-year period, with the most significant effects observed in individuals with cardiovascular (heart) disease. So yes, multi-vitamins can improve memory and brain function! And honestly, who doesn’t want better memory? Just look at the rise of Alzheimer’s and Dementia…brain health is important.

Researchers estimated that multivitamin intake equated to reversing 3.1 years of age-related memory decline compared to a placebo. This finding suggests that multivitamins not only help maintain but potentially enhance cognitive function in later life, making them a cost-effective and accessible preventative measure for cognitive health in aging adults. Really anyone that wants to take a proactive approach to their brain health, memory and cognitive function as they age, could, according to this study, greatly benefit from a daily multi-vitamin.

Exploring Cognitive Benefits Further

Another study with over 2,200 participants aged around 73 examined the effects of multivitamins on cognition. The results were impressive, showing a 60% slowing in cognitive decline over three years, equivalent to about 1.8 years. Benefits were observed across various cognitive domains, again with pronounced effects in people with cardiovascular (heart) disease. This is a wide sample size of older adults, and over a 50% reduction in cognitive decline is incredible. Even if it was only a fraction of the benefit shown in this study, it would be worth the meager investment of a multi-vitamin.

Multivitamins and Cancer Risk Reduction

Beyond cognitive benefits, the larger COSMOS study explored the impact of cocoa extract and multivitamin supplementation on heart disease and cancer risk. While cocoa flavanol didn’t significantly impact cardiovascular events, multivitamins showed potential in reducing lung cancer risk by 38% and in improving several nutritional biomarkers. Prior research also supports the role of daily multivitamin supplementation’s ability to significantly reducing total cancer risk in older men.

Dr. Wallach’s research on cancer confirms what some of these studies show on multi-vitamins and cancer …based on Dr. Wallach’s analysis on thousands of dead bodies (animal and human) with cancer, he concluded that in most cases, cancer largely results from: numerous prolonged nutritional deficiencies, combined with excessive exposure to free radicals and oxidative damage, in the absence of adequate antioxidant intake. Keeping in mind there is a cascade effect to nutritional deficiencies and a weakened immune system which can lay the groundwork for parasitic infection and fungal overgrowth (to name a few).

The Role of B Vitamins in Brain Health

Many multivitamins include B-complex vitamins, crucial for neurotransmitter production and brain health. Vitamins B6, B9 (folate), and B12 are particularly important in supporting cognitive function and in the development of dementia. Research suggests that these multi-vitamins, by lowering homocysteine levels, may slow brain aging and are vital for improving vitamin B status in the elderly.

Nicotinamide Riboside: A Trace Nutrient for Brain Health

Nicotinamide riboside (NR), a form of vitamin B3, is a precursor of NAD+ that declines in the brain with age. NR supplementation has shown great promise in boosting NAD+ levels, potentially warding off cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Some multi-vitamins contain this form of B3 or even include NAD+, which can support cognitive health. With Alzheimer’s on the rise, B3 supplementation seems like a no brainer (pun intended).

Why Older Adults May Need Nutritional Supplementation

Older adults are particularly susceptible to micronutrient deficiencies due to factors which include:

  • Decreased nutrient absorption due to digestive issues
  • Decreased production of certain hormones and nutrients by the body (like DHEA and Testosterone)
  • Changes in gastrointestinal pH and affect digestion
  • Lifestyle changes and a more sedentary lifestyle (including less sunlight)
  • Medication use e.g. statins which can lower things like COQ10 and Vitamin D
  • and more…

The Best Multivitamin | Dr. Wallachs Youngevity

As an integrative nutrition student, I have tried more brands of multi-vitamins and supplements than most people will in their entire lifetimes. I also have college education in which forms of nutrients are best and which are the best absorbed…I’ve looked at countless studies, brands and research from a range of Doctors before I settled on research and formulas by nutritional deficiency expert and pioneer Dr. Wallach. Dr. Wallach formulated the perfect ratios of all 91 essential nutrients needed for optimal health into The Mighty 90 by his brand Youngevity, which is part of his 90 for Life plan – a 3 product bundle with everything all-in-one. I personally use Dr. Wallach’s supplements daily, and his is the only brand I trust.

The reason I trust Dr. Wallach and his Youngevity brand, is largely because most supplement brands are in fact owned by pharmaceutical companies Vs. Dr. Wallach which fought the FDA 4 times in court, and won, to legally recognize 4 diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies (honestly the world needs more people like Dr. Wallach); he’s about as anti-BigPharma as any doctor can get. Based on my research of Dr. Wallachs formulas I have not seen a supplement formula anywhere near as comprehensive, and his ingredients are some of the best quality I have seen – his labels are accurate and his ingredients are well absorbed. Unlike other cheap multi-vitamins Dr. Wallach doesn’t cut his supplements with fillers, because he genuinely wants to help people heal (like me). Which is why his formulas have transformed the health and lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals (myself included) and which is why I recommend them. More info or to buy click here.

Conclusion

While whole, nutrient-dense foods should be our primary source of nutrients, due to modern agriculture supplementation is mandatory to ensure optimal nutrient intake and health, especially in older adults. Multivitamins can play an essential and supporting role in maintaining physical and brain health as we age. While multi-vitamins are widely used, with about a third of U.S. adults taking them, there are significant differences in quality of different brands. When choosing a multivitamin, it’s important to select a high-quality product and consider taking half your dose in the morning and the other half with your main meal for optimal absorption. Personally I like taking half my multi-vitamin dose right before bed with a small snack, to give my body the nutrients it needs during it’s nightly repair operations (this is my own theory). But however you take them, there will be some benefit to your health.

References

Disclaimer

The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any health care agency or government entity in Canada or the United States.

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