Could something as simple as a latte have a beneficial anti-inflammatory effect? According to a study, since this drink combines proteins and antioxidants, it also doubles the anti-inflammatory properties in human immune cells.
When bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances enter our body, the immune system responds by deploying white blood cells and chemicals that protect us, a reaction called inflammation. It also occurs when overloading tendons and muscles or in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Antioxidants or polyphenols, found in humans, plants, fruits and vegetables, are used in the food industry to slow oxidation and make food last longer. They are also healthy for humans, because they help reduce oxidative stress in the body that causes inflammation.
Despite their benefits, very little is known about polyphenols. Few studies have investigated what happens when polyphenols react with other molecules, such as proteins found in some foods.
A new study from the University of Copenhagen has researched the anti-inflammatory effect of combining polyphenols and proteins, and the results have been promising. “We have shown that when a polyphenol reacts with an amino acid, its inflammation-inhibiting effect on immune cells is enhanced. It is clearly conceivable that this cocktail could also have a beneficial effect on inflammation in humans”, explains Marianne Nissen Lund, who has led the research. The study was published last Monday in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Causing artificial inflammation
The researchers caused artificial inflammation to immune cells. Afterwards, some received various doses of polyphenols that had reacted with an amino acid, others received only polyphenols, and a control group received nothing.
They found that immune cells treated with the combination of polyphenols and amino acids were twice as effective in fighting inflammation as cells to which only polyphenols were added.
Previous studies by this team had shown that polyphenols bind to proteins in meat products, milk, and beer. For this study, they tested whether the molecules also bind to each other when mixing coffee with milk. Coffee is full of polyphenols and milk is rich in protein. “Our result shows that the reaction between polyphenols and proteins also occurs in the latte we studied. The reaction occurs so quickly that it has been difficult to avoid in any of the foods we have studied so far”, says Marianne Nissen Lund.
This researcher is convinced that this reaction and the potentially beneficial anti-inflammatory effect also occur when combining other protein foods and fruits or vegetables. The industry and the research community, who know the great benefits of polyphenols, are studying how to add the right amounts of polyphenols in food to achieve the best quality. “Since humans do not absorb so many polyphenols, many researchers are studying how to encapsulate them in protein structures that improve their absorption in the body. This strategy has the added advantage of enhancing the anti-inflammatory effects of polyphenols”, concludes the researcher.