A researcher who considered himself the "ultimate skeptic" about supplemental vitamins says that his own research ended up convincing him to reconsider his views.
In an interview with Insider, Columbia aging brain researcher Adam Brickman said that until six years ago, when he and his colleagues began a study that tested whether multivitamins could improve memory recall in people over the age of 60, he hadn't taken a supplement since he was a kid.
Published earlier this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study Brickman co-ran with Harvard researchers involved giving either a Centrum brand multivitamin or a placebo daily over a period of three years to more than 3,500 seniors, and having them perform common memory tests at the end of each successive year.
The results, as a Columbia press release about the study described, startled the Columbia brain scientist: even by the end of year one, those who took the active supplement scored better on the memory tests than their counterparts in the placebo group.
"I started taking multivitamins the day we ran the analyses and saw the results," Brickman told Insider, "and I take 'em every morning."
While the memory improvements were small and didn't impact conditions like Alzheimer's disease or other cognitive disorders, the evidence of even a marginal benefit from supplements, which Brickman used to think were essentially a scam, was enough to convince the researcher.
"I'm just as skeptical as anyone else when it comes to this stuff," Brickman said.
Last year, a study out of Wake Forest had similar results but involved both a daily multivitamin and daily supplements of cocoa extract, which health food types claim can improve cognition without much evidence. That study found the multivitamin did seem to have some effect on cognition, but the cocoa extract did not.
"When we start seeing that kind of consistency across well-designed studies, it certainly helps convince me — the ultimate skeptic — that we're on to something real," the Columbia researcher told Insider.
While there's still a lot more research that needs to be done to figure out why these cognitive improvements appear to be happening, Brickman and his team at Columbia have hypothesized that multivitamins may help their bodies extract important nutrients from food, which becomes more difficult as we grow older.
"There's probably something to do with absorption," he said.
Although it's not exactly a silver bullet — or pill, as the case may be — it's a striking anecdote.
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