A simple cup of coffee with milk could have an anti-inflammatory effect on our bodies. Suggesting this are early results of a new study from the University of Copenhagen that they hope to study the health effects in humans. The secret, researchers say, would lie in antioxidants known as polyphenols. This group of antioxidants, found in humans, plants, fruits and vegetables, is also used by the food industry to slow oxidation and deterioration of food quality and thus prevent unpleasant tastes 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. But still few studies have investigated what happens when polyphenols react with other molecules, such as proteins mixed into the foods we then consume. In this 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, studied how polyphenols behave when combined with amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. “In the study, we show that when a polyphenol reacts with an amino acid, its inhibitory effect on inflammation in immune cells is enhanced. Therefore, it is clearly conceivable that this cocktail could also have a beneficial effect on inflammation in humans,” says Professor Marianne Nissen Lund of the Department of Food Science, who led the study just published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

To study the anti-inflammatory effect of the combination of polyphenols and proteins, the researchers applied artificial inflammation to immune cells. Some cells received various 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 observed 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 had been added. Previous studies by researchers have shown that polyphenols bind to proteins in meat, milk and beer products.

In another new study, they tested whether the molecules also bind together in a coffee drink with milk. Coffee beans, in fact, are rich in polyphenols, while milk is rich in protein. “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 occurs so rapidly that it has been difficult to avoid it in all the foods we have studied so far,” says Marianne Nissen Lund.

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