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The effects of cocoa on the immune system.

Pérez-Cano FJ, Massot-Cladera M, Franch A, Castellote C, Castell M.

Front Pharmacol. 2013 Jun 4;4:71.

Departament de Fisiologia, Facultat de Farmàcia, Universitat de Barcelona Barcelona, Spain ; Institut de Recerca en Nutrició i Seguretat Alimentària, Universitat de Barcelona Barcelona, Spain.

 

Abstract

Cocoa is a food relatively rich in polyphenols, which makes it a potent antioxidant. Due to its activity as an antioxidant, as well as through other mechanisms, cocoa consumption has been reported to be beneficial for cardiovascular health, brain functions, and cancer prevention. Furthermore,cocoa influences the immune system, in particular the inflammatory innate response and the systemic and intestinal adaptive immune response. Preclinical studies have demonstrated that a cocoa-enriched diet modifies T cell functions that conduce to a modulation of the synthesis of systemic and gut antibodies. In this regard, it seems that a cocoa diet in rats produces changes in the lymphocyte composition of secondary lymphoid tissues and the cytokines secreted by T cells. These results suggest that it is possible that cocoa could inhibit the function of T helper type 2 cells, and in line with this, the preventive effect of cocoa on IgE synthesis in a rat allergy model has been reported, which opens up new perspectives when considering the beneficial effects of cocoa compounds. On the other hand, cocoa intake modifies the functionality of gut-associated lymphoid tissue by means of modulating IgA secretion and intestinal microbiota. The mechanisms involved in these influences are discussed here. Further research may elucidate the cocoa compounds involved in such an effect and also the possible medical approaches to these repercussions.

 

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Additional Information

Cocoa is the main compound of chocolate, a food that many people enjoy. Half the world craves cocoa derivatives in the soluble form, in biscuits or as delicious chocolates. Cocoa contains carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and also fibre, minerals such as magnesium, and polyphenols, mainly as flavonoids. These last components give the dark colour and the typical bitter taste of chocolate. In addition they have the ability to neutralize oxidative substances, thus resulting in a potent antioxidant. Due to this activity or perhaps through other mechanisms, cocoa consumption has been reported to be beneficial for cardiovascular health, decreasing blood pressure, and brain function, increasing cognitive processes. In addition, some in vitro studies have shown the antiproliferative power of cocoa flavonoids.

Furthermore, our research has come to the conclusion that cocoa influences the organic system responsible for our defences, namely the immune system. In particular, a cocoa-enriched diet in rats is able to modify some aspects of the functions of the immune system. Among cocoa’s effects, it is worth noting that cocoa-enriched diets can attenuate some aspects of inflammatory response. On the other hand, cocoa can also influence the function of lymphocytes. By means of preclinical studies we have demonstrated that a cocoa-enriched diet in rats modifies T-cell functions that lead to a modulation of the synthesis of antibodies. In particular, rats fed cocoa produce lower amounts of certain classes of antibodies and, among these are those related to allergic reactions, which opens up new perspectives when considering the beneficial effects of cocoa compounds.

Other effects of a cocoa diet are found in the immune system located in the intestine. In particular, a cocoa-enriched diet in rat modifies the functionality of gut-associated lymphoid tissue. This influence seems to be due, at least partially, to the effect of some cocoa compounds, such as fibre or flavonoids, on intestinal microbiota.

Further research should be conducted to complete our understanding of the overall physiological effects of eating chocolate and its possible medical applications.

 

The effects of cocoa on the immune system