Adding milk to coffee doubles its anti-inflammatory power

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Coffee lovers rejoice, because a simple cup of joe with milk may protect your body from harmful inflammation, according to researchers from the University of Copenhagen. Their study finds that adding milk to coffee doubles the protective power of the immune cells.

When things that don’t belong in the body find their way inside, the body reacts by releasing white blood cells and other substances to take protective action in the form of triggering inflammation. This also happens when we overwhelm our muscles and tendons, and also has a link to diseases like arthritis. Meanwhile, antioxidants called polyphenols are common in fruits and vegetables, and help reduce cellular stress in the case of inflammation.

Although there have been many studies into antioxidants, it’s still unclear what happens when polyphenols react with other molecules eaten in food, like protein. Researchers from the Department of Food Science and the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences conducted a study to address this gap in knowledge, examining how polyphenols behave in combination with amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.

“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,” says Professor Marianne Nissen Lund from the Department of Food Science in a university release.

Coffee beans are full of antioxidants

To do this work, the team artificially enflamed immune cells and administered various doses of polyphenols that reacted with an amino acid, while others only received polyphenols. A control group received neither. Results show that immune cells treated with both polyphenols and amino acids were twice as effective at fighting inflammation as the cells receiving only polyphenols.

Previous findings by this team have found similar results. They’ve found that polyphenols are capable of binding to milk and meat. This is great news for coffee lovers because coffee beans are full of antioxidants while milk is full of protein.

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“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,” Lund explains. “I can imagine that something similar happens in, for example, a meat dish with vegetables or a smoothie, if you make sure to add some protein like milk or yogurt.”

The food industry and food science research community are working toward putting polyphenols to best use, figuring out how to add them to food in just the right amounts in order to maximize their impact.

The findings are published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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  1. Is this true only for dairy milks, or would the same effect be observed with “alternative” milk products, such as oatmilk (my fave!) or almond milk?

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