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Vitamins help boost memory

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,
July 2011

Vitamins help boost memory

Adults who take vitamin and mineral supplements for almost a decade perform better on one type of memory test than those who don't take such supplements.

Some people - especially those who are deficient in vitamins and minerals - might get a memory benefit from boosting the nutrients in their diet. The question is, does the cognitive performance depend on the diet, or does the diet depend on the cognitive performance. It's possible that people who have better thinking and memory skills might pay closer attention to what they're eating. To try to get a clearer picture of the association, researchers studied 4,447 French men and women.

In 1994, when the study participants were 45 to 60 years old, researchers split them randomly into two groups. Half of them took a daily supplement that included vitamins C and E, selenium, zinc, and beta-carotene for eight years. The others took a nutrient-free placebo pill each day. None of the participants knew whether they were taking the vitamin or the sham pills. When the eight years were up, researchers stopped giving participants their assigned pills, and they could choose on their own whether or not to take vitamin supplements. Six years after that, they brought them back to the lab for a round of memory tests. The tests included word and number problems to measure different types of memory and mental flexibility.

It was found that while the supplement and placebo groups performed similarly on most tests, the nutrient-boosted participants beat their peers on one test of long-term memory in which participants had to recall words in different categories.

The findings support a beneficial effect of a well-balanced intake of antioxidant nutrients at nutritional doses for maintaining cognitive performance, especially verbal memory. Most people could get the vitamin and nutrient doses used in the study through tweaks in their diet - for example, drinking fruit juice to get Vitamin C and using plant oil, which is a good source of Vitamin E. Taking supplements should be a last alternative.

Vitamins and minerals are important for memory, but they're not the only thing that's important. The most important thing is eating a healthy diet, being active, and keeping your brain sharp. Although the findings suggest that getting enough nutrients could aid thinking and memory skills as people get older, further studies are, however, needed to confirm the results.

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