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Valentine’s Day Chocolate Contains Chemical, Potential Alzheimer’s Treatment

R. Scott Turner

“We can't yet say whether there’s a benefit, but if so, the amount of resveratrol we’re studying far exceeds what could be gained eating a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates," says R. Scott Turner, director of Georgetown's Memory Disorders Program.

February 12, 2013 – One of the most popular items on Valentine’s Day –chocolate – contains a chemical that a Georgetown doctor is examining for its effect on Alzheimer’s patients with mild to moderate dementia.

Georgetown’s Dr. R. Scott Turner is leading the national clinical trial on the effects of resveratrol (found in chocolate and other foods) for which the university and more than two dozen other academic institutions have just finished recruiting volunteers.

Previous research studies have suggested the compound may ward off memory loss and cardiovascular disease, but this is the first definitive study of any of these effects in humans.

Researching Daily Doses

“This clinical trial will determine if daily doses of pure resveratrol can delay or alter memory deterioration and daily functioning in people with mild to moderate dementia due to Alzheimer’s,” says Turner, director of Georgetown University Medical Center’s Memory Disorders Program. “We can’t yet say whether there’s a benefit, but if so, the amount of resveratrol we’re studying far exceeds what could be gained eating a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates."

The resveratrol study is being conducted at 26 U.S. academic institutions affiliated with the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study, which is sponsoring the research through a grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

Resveratrol is also found in red grapes, red grape juice, red wine, tomatoes and peanuts.

Molecular Mechanisms

Turner says age increases the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes, and animal studies have suggested that resveratrol may impede the molecular mechanisms of aging.

But he notes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved resveratrol for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, and it is not yet known if resveratrol can change the course of the disease.

“The study also examines the safety and tolerance level of resveratrol when it is given twice daily with a dose increase planned at three-month intervals,” Turner explains. “We’re beginning to look at the early data from the study. Hopefully we will be able to release some of the results later this year.”

Placebo Control

According to the National Institute of Aging, more than 5.3 million people in the U.S. are suffering from Alzheimer’s, and every 70 seconds, another person develops the disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are approximately 80,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia in the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia.

Not everyone who enrolls in the study will receive resveratrol. Half of the participants will receive a placebo (a sugar pill that looks like resveratrol).

Neither the patient nor the clinical staff will know if the study participant is receiving the placebo or resveratrol until the end of the study to allow greater objectivity in assessing possible benefits.

For more information visit the Memory Disorders Program’s website.

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