Approximately half of all Americans take supplements, the most common being a multivitamin. In fact, one-third of the U.S. population takes a daily multivitamin — and with good reason.
There are multiple benefits to taking a multivitamin. Most importantly, they provide a nutritional safety net. Let’s face it, no matter how balanced and healthful your diet, it’s still likely that you’re not getting all the vitamins and minerals you need every day. Conventional farming practices leave our soils depleted and our produce lacking in vital nutrients, and on-the-go lifestyles cause many Americans to rely on fast food or processed snacks for quick pick-me-ups. Thankfully, multivitamins can help fill the nutritional voids in your diet.
What’s more, newly published research shows another benefit to taking a daily multivitamin: It could help to improve your memory.
While prior research has indicated that multivitamins can help improve health in various different ways, there was no clear consensus as to whether they could prevent cognitive decline or improve mental functioning.
So in a systemic review of 10 randomized controlled studies that included a total of 3,200 participants, researchers aimed to find out what effect multivitamins had on cognitive performance. They looked at studies in which multivitamins contained three or more micronutrients, excluding those that included omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to support brain health.
Of seven major memory tests performed in these 10 studies, the researchers’ meta-analysis indicated that multivitamins were most effective at improving immediate free recall memory when given regularly to individuals who had healthy brain function.
Immediate free recall refers to the retrieval of information right away. For instance, if you are given a list of words to remember, and then asked to repeat those words immediately after the list has been read to you.
Multivitamins did not, however, appear to help with delayed free recall memory, which is the same type of memory test, but instead of repeating the list immediately, you wait for a few minutes.
While researchers are not sure exactly what it is about multivitamins that helps immediate free recall memory, they believe it might have to do with the antioxidant protection they provide by counteracting oxidative stress in the brain.
Not All Multivitamins Are Created Equal
Researchers acknowledged that not all multivitamins are equal in terms of quality and formulation. Obviously, if you take a multivitamin, you want to make sure that high-quality ingredients are used in the manufacturing process. (If you’re looking for a high-quality multivitamin, you can click here.)
Also, make sure that it contains at least 30 mg of zinc, since zinc has been shown to support memory formation and cognitive stability.
Other Ways to Improve Your Memory
In addition to taking a multivitamin, there are several things you should be doing to keep your brain healthy and protected from cognitive decline and dementia. For instance, exercise — even just walking — can improve memory, so make sure to fit some exercise into your daily routine.
Also, be sure to challenge your brain often. Just like your heart needs exercise to stay strong, your brain needs stimulation to perform at its peak. Some excellent brain-challenging games include crossword puzzles, word finds, Sudoku, and word-building games like Scrabble or, if you have a smartphone, Words With Friends.
Other activities that keep the brain active include reading, writing or journaling, learning a new language, sewing and crocheting. Really, the list is endless. Just trying things that you’ve never done before is enough give your brain a great workout.
Finally, it may seem obvious, but make sleep a priority. Getting plenty of shut-eye will help your brain rest and rejuvenate.
 Bailey RL et al. Dietary supplement use in the United States, 2003–2006. J Nutr. 2011;141(2):261-6.
 Grima NA et al. The effects of multivitamins on cognitive performance: a systemic review and meta-analysis. J Alzheimers Dis. 2012 Feb 13. [Epub ahead of print.]