MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Dietary supplements are touted for cognitive protection, but supporting evidence is mixed. COSMOS-Mind tested whether daily administration of cocoa extract (containing 500 mg/day flavanols) versus placebo and a commercial multivitamin-mineral (MVM) versus placebo improved cognition in older women and men.

COSMOS-Mind, a large randomized two-by-two factorial 3-year trial, assessed cognition by telephone at baseline and annually. The primary outcome was a global cognition composite formed from mean standardized (z) scores (relative to baseline) from individual tests, including the Telephone Interview of Cognitive Status, Word List and Story Recall, Oral Trail-Making, Verbal Fluency, Number Span, and Digit Ordering. Using intention-to-treat, the primary endpoint was change in this composite with 3 years of cocoa extract use. The pre-specified secondary endpoint was change in the composite with 3 years of MVM supplementation. Treatment effects were also examined for executive function and memory composite scores, and in pre-specified subgroups at higher risk for cognitive decline.

A total of 2262 participants were enrolled (mean age = 73y; 60% women; 89% non-Hispanic White), and 92% completed the baseline and at least one annual assessment. Cocoa extract had no effect on global cognition (mean z-score = 0.03, 95% CI: -0.02 to 0.08; P = .28). Daily MVM supplementation, relative to placebo, resulted in a statistically significant benefit on global cognition (mean z = 0.07, 95% CI 0.02 to 0.12; P = .007), and this effect was most pronounced in participants with a history of cardiovascular disease (no history: 0.06, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.11; history: 0.14, 95% CI -0.02 to 0.31; interaction, nominal P = .01). Multivitamin-mineral benefits were also observed for memory and executive function. The cocoa extract by MVM group interaction was not significant for any of the cognitive composites.

The authors concluded that the Cocoa extract did not benefit cognition. However, COSMOS-Mind provides the first evidence from a large, long-term, pragmatic trial to support the potential efficacy of a MVM to improve cognition in older adults. Additional work is needed to confirm these findings in a more diverse cohort and to identify mechanisms to account for MVM effects.

This trial certainly has a few stunning features. For instance, its sample size was impressive and its follow-up period long. But it also has a few weak points. The study was conducted remotely via mail or telephone which means that compliance was impossible to control. Moreover, the outcome measures were subjective, and blinding was not checked. In addition, I fail to see a plausible mechanism of action. Most importantly, the generalizability of the results to the population at large seems questionable. It might make sense that older individuals many of whom might have low vitamin levels can profit from MVM. Whether this is also true for younger people who are well-nourished might be a different matter.

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