MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Scott A. Small, MD
Boris and Rose Katz Professor of Neurology
Division of Aging and Dementia
Director, Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center
Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain Department of Neurology, Columbia University New York, NY
Medical Research: What is the background for this study?
Dr. Small: Previous work, including from my lab, had shown that changes in a specific part of the brain—the dentate gyrus—are associated with age-related memory decline. Until now, however, the evidence in humans showed only a correlational link, not a causal one. To see if the dentate gyrus is the source of age-related memory decline in humans, we tested whether compounds called cocoa flavanols can improve the function of this brain region and improve memory. Flavanols extracted from cocoa beans had previously been found to improve neuronal connections in the dentate gyrus of mice.
Medical Research: What are the main findings?
Dr. Small: Our study subjects were randomized into two groups. One group consumed the drink high in cocoa flavanols every day, while the other group had a low-flavanol drink. Brain imaging and memory tests were administered to each participant before and after the study.
We found that high consumption of cocoa flavanols by research subjects for three months increased blood flow in the brain and enhanced memory, compared with the results for those on the low-flavanol diet. Participants who had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study had the memory of a typical 30-or 40-year-old at the end of the three months.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Small: More studies are needed before any recommendations can be made. The next step will be to replicate the findings and to demonstrate the benefits in a larger study, which I and my team plan to initiate soon.