A daily multivitamin helps keep people over the age of 65 mentally sharp, and may also protect against dementia. Researchers estimated supplementation for three years roughly translated to a 60% slowing of cognitive decline, equating to nearly two years of normal mental capacity.

There are currently around 5.6 million people with Alzheimer’s and related dementia in the United States. In Great Britain the number is 900,000, but it’s projected to rise to 1.6 million people by 2040.

This study involved a big cohort of 21,000 men and women across the United States in order to investigate whether taking a daily cocoa extract supplement or a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement reduced the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, cancer and other health outcomes.

A smaller trial done on the same cohort was based around the idea that cocoa extract is rich in compounds called flavanols, and previous research suggests that the compounds may positively impact cognition.

“There’s an urgent need for safe and affordable interventions to protect cognition against decline in older adults,” said study co-principal investigator Professor Laura Baker.

She also explained that several micronutrients and minerals are needed to support normal body and brain function, and deficiencies in older adults may increase the risk for cognitive decline and dementia.

In the trial researchers tested whether daily administration of cocoa extract compared to a placebo and a multivitamin-mineral compared to a placebo improved cognition in older adults.

2,200 participants from the cohort aged 65 or older completed tests over the telephone at the beginning and annually to evaluate memory and other cognitive skills.

“Our study showed that although cocoa extract did not affect cognition, daily multivitamin-mineral supplementation resulted in statistically significant cognitive improvement,” added Dr. Baker, of Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

“This is the first evidence of cognitive benefit in a large longer-term study of multivitamin supplementation in older adults.”

The research team estimated that three years of multivitamin supplementation roughly translated to a 60% slowing of cognitive decline, equating to around 1.8 years of normal mental capacity.

They said that the benefits were relatively more pronounced in participants with “significant” cardiovascular disease, which is important because those people are already at increased risk for cognitive impairment and decline.

“While these preliminary findings are promising, additional research is needed in a larger and more diverse group of people. Also, we still have work to do to better understand why the multivitamin might benefit cognition in older adults.”