A cup of coffee with the addition of a little milk, perhaps until today we have always thought it was a gluttony, but now we know that we are drinking a mix with a powerful anti-inflammatory action. Oh yes, because the coffee antioxidants and milk proteins mix and react, forming compounds with an even greater anti-inflammatory action than the ingredients taken individually. This is the result of a very recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry by a Danish team from the University of Copenhagen (Liu et al, J Agric Food Chem, 2023).
What is inflammation
What is inflammation? Inflammation is our defense mechanism. When viruses, bacteria or toxins enter the body, the immune system is activated and this is the inflammatory response. The blood vessels dilate to allow more blood flow and the arrival of white blood cells in the area where the pathogen has been located. In these cases we can experience pain and redness but also fever, caused by inflammatory mediators. This is the acute inflammatory response and is an absolutely normal and protective mechanism. However, when the threat has passed, so must the inflammation. Unfortunately, sometimes, this does not happen and a low-level chronic inflammation remains, nourished by stress, an unbalanced diet, drug or alcohol abuse, just to name a few. This constant long-term inflammation weakens the immune system and increases the risk of developing depression, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurodegeneration and cellular degeneration. Hence the importance of counteracting chronic inflammation.
Coffee and milk, the anti-inflammatory synergy
The study we are talking about today adds a very interesting piece to the great puzzle that represents our fight against chronic inflammation. Food combinations are a known fact. Substances which, by themselves, have an antioxidant or anti-inflammatory power, but when they are placed in contact they combine and create a synergy in which the properties are maximized and are much greater than the simple sum of the effects of the substances taken individually. Well, Danish scientists have managed to understand a new, very important food combination with an anti-inflammatory action given by the union of coffee antioxidants, chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid, and milk proteins, in particular cysteine, which is an amino acid of which proteins are made. To test the synergy given by coffee and milk, scientists have developed a study performed in the laboratory. Cells of the immune system were brought into contact with sites of inflammation. A part of these immune cells was then placed in contact with caffeic and chlorogenic acid previously combined with the amino acid cysteine of milk. Another portion of cells was placed in contact with antioxidants alone not combined with cysteine, and one portion received nothing. What has been observed is that the cells of the immune system placed in contact with the combination given by antioxidants and amino acids had an anti-inflammatory action even double compared to the cells that had not been treated with this synergy of compounds.
From today we know that a cup of coffee with milk is not only a moment of joy for the senses but also for our immune system, which is strengthened by the powerful anti-inflammatory action that arises from the combination of coffee antioxidants and milk. The same authors of the study hypothesize that this synergy between antioxidants and proteins could also be found in other food combinations, such as the association between meat, a source of protein, and a side dish of vegetables, a source of antioxidants, or as in the case of the smoothie, in which are combined fruit and vegetables, rich in antioxidants, and a source of protein such as milk or yogurt. Certainly the study must continue and shed light on these aspects as well, verifying what are currently only hypotheses, but the path has been traced and the results seen today are truly promising from the perspective of prevention with diet.