According to a new study, a combination of proteins and antioxidants in milky coffee doubles the anti-inflammatory properties immune cells.
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, have found that adding milk to a cup of coffee combines proteins and antioxidants which doubles the anti-inflammatory properties in immune cells.
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 food quality and thereby avoid off flavours and rancidity. Polyphenols are also known to be healthy for humans, as they help reduce oxidative stress in the body that gives rise to inflammation. Indeed, coffee beans are filled with polyphenols, while milk is rich in proteins.
But much remains unknown about polyphenols. Relatively few studies have investigated what happens when polyphenols react with other molecules, such as proteins mixed into foods that we then consume.
In a new study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers at the Department of Food Science, in collaboration with researchers from the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, at University of Copenhagen investigated how polyphenols behave when combined with amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. The results have been promising.
“In the study, we show that as a polyphenol reacts with an amino acid, its inhibitory effect on inflammation in immune cells is enhanced. As such, it is clearly imaginable that this cocktail could also have a beneficial effect on inflammation in humans. We will now investigate further, initially in animals. After that, we hope to receive research funding which will allow us to study the effect in humans,” said Professor Marianne Nissen Lund from the Department of Food Science, who headed the study.
To investigate the anti-inflammatory effect of combining polyphenols with proteins, the researchers applied artificial inflammation to immune cells. Some of the cells received various doses of polyphenols that had reacted with an amino acid, while others only received polyphenols in the same doses. A control group received nothing.
The researchers observed that immune cells treated with the combination of polyphenols and amino acids were twice as effective at fighting inflammation as the cells to which only polyphenols were added.
“Our result demonstrates that the reaction between polyphenols and proteins also happens in some of the coffee drinks with milk that we studied. In fact, the reaction happens so quickly that it has been difficult to avoid in any of the foods that we’ve studied so far,” says Marianne Nissen Lund.
Therefore, the researcher does not find it difficult to imagine that the reaction and potentially beneficial anti-inflammatory effect also occur when other foods consisting of proteins and fruits or vegetables are combined.
Industry and the research community have both taken note of the major advantages of polyphenols. As such, they are working on how to add the right quantities of polyphenols in foods to achieve the best quality. The new research results are promising in this context as well:
“Because humans do not absorb that much polyphenol, many researchers are studying how to encapsulate polyphenols in protein structures which improve their absorption in the body. This strategy has the added advantage of enhancing the anti-inflammatory effects of polyphenols,” explained Marianne Nissen Lund.