Overview: Adding a splash of milk to your cup of coffee may have anti-inflammatory effects, a new study reports. Researchers say the combination of polyphenols and proteins doubles the anti-inflammatory properties in immune cells.
Source: University of Copenhagen
Can something as simple as a cup of coffee with milk have an anti-inflammatory effect in humans? Apparently so, according to a new study from the University of Copenhagen.
A combination of proteins and antioxidants doubles the anti-inflammatory properties in immune cells. The researchers hope to be able to study the health effects on humans.
Whenever bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances enter the body, our immune system responds by deploying white blood cells and chemicals to protect us. This response, commonly known as inflammation, also occurs when we overload tendons and muscles and is characteristic of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Antioxidants, known as polyphenols, are found in humans, plants, fruits and vegetables. This group of antioxidants is also used by the food industry to slow the oxidation and deterioration of the quality of food, thus preventing unpleasant flavors and rancidity. Polyphenols are also known to be healthy for humans as they help reduce oxidative stress in the body that causes inflammation.
But much is still unknown about polyphenols. Relatively few studies have examined what happens when polyphenols react with other molecules, such as proteins mixed into food that we then consume.
In a new study, researchers from the Department of Food Science, in collaboration with researchers from the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, at the University of Copenhagen, investigated how polyphenols behave when combined with amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. The results are promising.
“In the study we show that when a polyphenol reacts with an amino acid, the inhibitory effect on inflammation in immune cells is enhanced. It is therefore quite conceivable that this cocktail could also have a beneficial effect on inflammation in humans.
“We are now going to investigate it further, initially in animals. After that, we hope to receive research funding that will allow us to study the effect in humans,” says Professor Marianne Nissen Lund from the Department of Food Sciences, who led the study.
The study has just been published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Twice as good at fighting inflammation
To investigate the anti-inflammatory effect of combining polyphenols with proteins, the researchers applied artificial inflammation to immune cells. Some cells received different doses of polyphenols that had reacted with an amino acid, while others received only polyphenols in the same doses. A control group received nothing.
The researchers found that immune cells treated with the combination of polyphenols and amino acids were twice as effective at fighting inflammation as those cells that had been given polyphenols alone.
“It is interesting to have now observed the anti-inflammatory effect in cell experiments. And of course, this has only made us more interested in understanding these health effects in more detail. So the next step will be to study the effects in animals,” says Associate Professor Andrew Williams of the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences in the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, who is also a senior author of the study.
Found in coffee with milk
Previous studies by the researchers showed that polyphenols bind to proteins in meat products, milk and beer. In another new study, they tested whether the molecules also bind to each other in a coffee drink with milk. Coffee beans are filled with polyphenols, while milk is rich in proteins.
“Our result shows that the reaction between polyphenols and proteins also occurs in some of the coffee drinks with milk that we studied. In fact, the reaction happens so fast that it’s been hard to avoid it in any of the foods we’ve studied so far,” says Marianne Nissen Lund.
The researcher therefore finds it not difficult to imagine that the reaction and the potentially beneficial anti-inflammatory effect also occur when other foods consisting of proteins and fruits or vegetables are combined.
“I can imagine something similar happening in, for example, a meat dish with vegetables or a smoothie, as long as you add some protein such as milk or yogurt,” says Marianne Nissen Lund.
Both the industry and the research community have recognized the great benefits of polyphenols. As such, they work to add the right amounts of polyphenols to foods to achieve the best quality. The new research results are also promising in this context:
“Since humans don’t absorb as much polyphenol, many researchers are investigating how polyphenols can be encapsulated in protein structures that improve their absorption in the body. This strategy has the added benefit of enhancing the anti-inflammatory effects of polyphenols,” explains Marianne Nissen Lund.
The research is funded by Independent Research Fund Denmark and conducted in collaboration with the Technical University of Dresden in Germany.
Facts about polyphenols
- Polyphenols are a group of naturally occurring antioxidants that are important to humans.
- They prevent and slow the oxidation of healthy chemicals and organs in our body, protecting them from damage or destruction.
- Polyphenols are found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, tea, coffee, red wine and beer.
- Due to their antioxidant properties, polyphenols are used in the food industry, in particular to minimize the oxidation of fats and the deterioration of the quality of foodstuffs, to prevent off-flavors and rancidity.
About this inflammation research news
Writer: Michael Jensen
Source: University of Copenhagen
Contact: Michael Jensen – University of Copenhagen
Image: The image is in the public domain
Original research: The findings appear in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry