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Antioxidant and B vitamin intake in relation to cognitive function in later life in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936



Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies provide some evidence for an association between intake of antioxidants and B vitamins, and cognitive function in later life, but intervention studies have not provided clear evidence of beneficial effects. The possibility that those with higher cognitive ability during earlier adult life consume more nutrient-rich diets in later life could provide an alternative explanation for the associations seen in observational studies.


Survey of 1091 men and women born in 1936 living in Edinburgh, Scotland, in whom previous cognitive ability was available from intelligence quotient (IQ) measurements at age 11 years. At age 70 years, participants carried out a range of cognitive tests and completed a semiquantitative food-frequency questionnaire (FFQ).


A total of 882 participants returned completed FFQs from which intake of β-carotene, vitamin C, B12, folate and riboflavin was estimated. IQ at age 11 years was positively associated with dietary intake of vitamin C (P=0.048) and inversely associated with dietary intake of riboflavin (P<0.001) at age 70 years, and was higher in those taking folate supplements at age 70 years (P<0.005). Weak associations between intake of vitamins B12, C, riboflavin and folate and cognitive performance at age 70 years were attenuated by adjustment for confounding variables, including IQ at age 11 years. In the fully adjusted models, the proportion of total variance in cognitive function at age 70 years accounted for by intake of these nutrients was less than 1%.


These results provide no evidence for a clinically significant beneficial association between intake of these antioxidants and B vitamins, and cognitive function at age 70 years.

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The LBC1936 data were collected by a Research Into Ageing programme grant; this research continues as part of the Age UK-funded (formerly Help the Aged) Disconnected Mind project. We thank the Scottish Council for Research in Education for allowing access to the SMS1947. We thank the LBC1936 participants; for data collection, Michelle Taylor and Caroline Cameron; and LBC1936 Study Secretary, Paula Davies. This research was supported by a PhD studentship from the Institute of Applied Health Sciences, University of Aberdeen, awarded to Xueli Jia.

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Correspondence to G McNeill.

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McNeill, G., Jia, X., Whalley, L. et al. Antioxidant and B vitamin intake in relation to cognitive function in later life in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936. Eur J Clin Nutr 65, 619–626 (2011).

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  • cognition
  • antioxidants
  • vitamin B complex
  • dietary supplements
  • aged

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