Lab rats fed a cocoa-enriched diet displayed significantly lower levels of compounds associated with the progression of arthritis, according to findings published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
“These changes are not enough to significantly decrease chronic articular swelling, although a tendency to its modulation is observed at the end of the study,” wrote researchers from the University of Barcelona in Spain.
“[W]e can conclude that a cocoa diet channels the organism to develop an ‘anti-inflammatory environment’.
“Other studies need to be performed in order to establish the effect of cocoa in autoimmune arthritic models and its potential as an accompaniment of anti-inflammatory drugs,” they added.
The health benefits of polyphenols from cocoa have been gathering increasing column inches in the national media. To date studies have reported potential benefits for cardiovascular health, skin health, and even brain health.
The meta-analysis supports findings from another meta-analysis by researchers from the University Hospital of Cologne that found that consumption of cocoa had significant positive effects on hypertension.
Writing in the Archives of Internal Medicine (2007, Vol. 167, pp. 626-634), the Cologne-based scientists: “The magnitude of the hypotensive effects of cocoa is clinically noteworthy; it is in the range that is usually achieved with monotherapy of beta-blockers or antiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors.”
The majority of science into the potential benefits of cocoa have revolved around cardiovascular benefits of the flavanols (also known as flavan-3-ols or catechins), and particularly the monomeric flavanol (-)epicatechin.
The Barcelona-based researchers investigated the effects of diets enriched with 5 or 10% cocoa in rats that were subjected to an injection to induce arthritis in their hind paws.
Results showed no statistically significant effect on swelling in the hind paws of the animals, but a tendency towards swelling reduction was noted.
On the other hand, the researchers did note a reduction in a number of markers of inflammation and arthritis progression, including pro-inflammatory prostaglandin E2, and blood levels of T-helper (Th) lymphocytes.
“The cocoa-enriched diets during AA were not able to significantly decrease joint inflammation but modified Th-cell proportions and prevented specific antibody synthesis,” wrote the researchers.
Results of a recent human study also indicated the potential anti-inflammatory activity of cocoa. According to data published in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, consuming 40 grams of polyphenol-rich cocoa powder was associated with a significant reduction in the activation of a protein called NF-kappaB, which is known to be play a key role in some inflammatory pathways.
Source: British Journal of Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, FirstView Article, doi: 10.1017/S0007114511003035
“Effect of cocoa-enriched diets on lymphocytes involved in adjuvant arthritis in rats”
Authors: S. Ramos-Romero, F.J. Perez-Cano, C. Castellote, M. Castell, A. Franch