B vitamins and prevention of cognitive decline and incident dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Nutr Rev. 2022 Mar 10;80(4):931-949. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuab057.


Context: Elevation of homocysteine (Hcy) levels is well-established as a risk factor for dementia, yet controversy exists regarding whether B-vitamin-mediated reduction of homocysteine levels can benefit cognitive function.

Objective: To investigate whether B vitamin supplementation can reduce the risk of cognitive decline and incident dementia.

Data sources: The PubMed, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, and Web of Science were systematically searched for articles published from the inception dates to March 1, 2020. Randomized controlled trials (RCT) were included if B vitamins were supplied to investigate their effect on the rate of cognitive decline. Cohort studies investigating dietary intake of B vitamins and the risk of incident dementia were eligible. Cross-sectional studies comparing differences in levels of B vitamins and Hcy were included.

Data extraction: Two reviewers independently performed data extraction and assessed the study quality.

Data analysis: Random-effect or fixed-effect models, depending on the degree of heterogeneity, were performed to calculate mean differences (MDs), hazard ratios (HRs), and odds ratios (ORs).

Results: A total of 95 studies with 46175 participants (25 RCTs, 20 cohort studies, and 50 cross-sectional studies) were included in this meta-analysis. This meta-analysis supports that B vitamins can benefit cognitive function as measured by Mini-Mental State Examination score changes (6155 participants; MD, 0.14, 95%CI 0.04 to 0.23), and this result was also significant in studies where placebo groups developed cognitive decline (4211 participants; MD, 0.16, 95%CI 0.05 to 0.26), suggesting that B vitamins slow cognitive decline. For the > 12 months interventional period stratum, B vitamin supplementation decreased cognitive decline (3814 participants; MD, 0.15, 95%CI 0.05 to 0.26) compared to placebo; no such outcome was detected for the shorter interventional stratum (806 participants; MD, 0.18, 95%CI -0.25 to 0.61). In the non-dementia population, B vitamin supplementation slowed cognitive decline (3431 participants; MD, 0.15, 95%CI 0.04 to 0.25) compared to placebo; this outcome was not found for the dementia population (642 participants; MD, 0.20, 95%CI -0.35 to 0.75). Lower folate levels (but not B12 or B6 deficiency) and higher Hcy levels were significantly associated with higher risks of dementia (folate: 6654 participants; OR, 1.76, 95%CI 1.24 to 2.50; Hcy: 12665 participants; OR, 2.09, 95%CI 1.60 to 2.74) and cognitive decline (folate: 4336 participants; OR, 1.26, 95%CI 1.02 to 1.55; Hcy: 6149 participants; OR, 1.19, 95%CI 1.05 to 1.34). Among the population without dementia aged 50 years and above, the risk of incident dementia was significantly decreased among individuals with higher intake of folate (13529 participants; HR, 0.61, 95%CI 0.47 to 0.78), whereas higher intake of B12 or B6 was not associated with lower dementia risk.

Conclusions: This meta-analysis suggests that B vitamin supplementation is associated with slowing of cognitive decline, especially in populations who received early intervention and intervention of long duration; the study also indicates that higher intake of dietary folate, but not B12 or B6, is associated with a reduced risk of incident dementia in non-dementia aged population. Given the prevalence of dementia cases in many countries with aging populations, public health policies should be introduced to ensure that subgroups of the population at risk have an adequate B vitamin status.

Keywords: B vitamin supplementation; Cognitive decline; dementia; folate fortification.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / epidemiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / prevention & control
  • Dementia* / epidemiology
  • Dementia* / prevention & control
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Folic Acid
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Vitamin B 12
  • Vitamin B Complex*


  • Vitamin B Complex
  • Folic Acid
  • Vitamin B 12