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Coffee with Milk May Reduce Inflammation

A new study from the University of Copenhagen shows that adding milk to a cup of coffee may double the anti-inflammatory properties in immune cells.

Coffee Milk
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Coffee is a popular beverage consumed in many parts of the world. It can be enjoyed either in black or with milk. Recent studies have found that adding milk to your coffee cup may offer surprising health benefits.

A new study from the University of Copenhagen shows that adding milk to a cup of coffee may double the anti-inflammatory properties in immune cells.


Inflammation is a natural immune response to infection and cellular damage. It is the body’s attempt to protect, heal and repair itself from potentially harmful agents as well as irritants. Inflammation occurs whenever the body senses an injury, infection, or other types of foreign body, such as bacteria. The typical symptoms of inflammation include swelling, redness, pain, and hot in and around the affected areas.

Treating inflammation is important because it can prevent serious health issues from arising, improve overall health and quality of life, and even help the body heal faster after an injury.

Taking prescribed medication is one way to treat inflammation. However, antioxidants known as polyphenols found in plants, fruits, and vegetables can help reduce inflammation by suppressing oxidative stress in the human body, which gives rise to inflammation.

However, there is still a lot we don’t know about polyphenols. Only a few studies have examined how polyphenols react with other molecules, such as proteins, in foods we eat.

The Study

In a recent study, scientists from the University of Copenhagen examined how polyphenols interact with amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. The outcomes have been encouraging.

“In the study, we demonstrate that when a polyphenol interacts with an amino acid, its anti-inflammatory action on immune cells is amplified. Consequently, it is conceivable that this mixture might potentially have an anti-inflammatory impact on people. We shall continue our investigation, beginning with animals. Then, we want to secure funds for studies that will allow us to explore the impact in humans,” stated study director Professor Marianne Nissen Lund of the Department of Food Science. The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (Liu et al., 2023).

The researchers subjected immune cells to artificial inflammation to examine the anti-inflammatory activity of polyphenols combined with proteins. Polyphenols that interacted with an amino acid were given to some of the cells, whereas other cells got only polyphenols. A non-treatment group served as a control.

Coffee with Milk Reduces Inflammation Better

The investigators observed that immune cells treated with a mixture of polyphenols and amino acids exhibited twice as efficient in combating inflammation than immune cells treated with polyphenols alone.

“It’s interesting that scientists have now seen this effect in cell experiments. And, of course, this has only made us want to learn more about how these things affect health. So the next step will be to look at how it affects animals,” says Andrew Williams, associate Professor at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.

Previously, researchers have shown that polyphenols bind to the proteins in meat, milk, and beer. In another new study, the molecules were put into a coffee drink with milk to see if they were still bound together (Poojary et al., 202).

“We found that polyphenols and proteins react in some coffee beverages with milk. The reaction happens so quickly that it’s hard to prevent in any of the foods we’ve investigated so far”, says Marianne Nissen Lund.

Therefore, the researcher thought that the reaction and potentially anti-inflammatory benefit occur when other foods containing proteins and fruits or vegetables are mixed.

Marianne Nissen Lund says, “I can imagine that the same thing could happen in a meat dish with vegetables or a smoothie with some protein, like milk or yogurt.”

Both industries and researchers have noticed that polyphenols offers a number of advantageous properties. As a result, they are determining how to add the optimal amount of polyphenols to meals for optimal quality. The latest study findings are also promising.

“Many researchers are investigating methods to encapsulate polyphenols in protein structures to enhance their absorption by the body, as humans do not absorb a large amount of polyphenols. This method also enhances the anti-inflammatory properties of polyphenols,” explains Marianne Nissen Lund.

Related Publication

Liu, J., M. M. Poojary, et al. (2023). “Phenolic Acid-Amino Acid Adducts Exert Distinct Immunomodulatory Effects in Macrophages Compared to Parent Phenolic Acids.” J Agric Food Chem.

Poojary, M. M., M. Hellwig, et al. (2023). “Covalent bonding between polyphenols and proteins: Synthesis of caffeic acid-cysteine and chlorogenic acid-cysteine adducts and their quantification in dairy beverages.” Food Chem 403: 134406.


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