Cocoa-rich diet may boost thymus antioxidant defences

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Antioxidant

A diet rich in cocoa flavonoids could boost one's antioxidant
defences, particularly in the thymus, suggests a new Spanish study
on rats.

Writing in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry​, lead author Emma Ramiro-Puig and co-workers from the University of Barcelona report that feeding young Wistar rats cocoa-enriched diets resulted in increased activity of the body's antioxidant enzyme defences. The health benefits of antioxidant-rich chocolate have received much recognition in recent years, with positive findings from a number of studies impacting on consumer awareness. Chocolate manufacturers are using high cocoa content (over 70 per cent) as a means of differentiation, and cocoa has also received attention for its potential in functional food applications. The researchers fed the rats a diet enriched with natural cocoa (four and 10 per cent) for three weeks and then measured antioxidant capacity of the plasma and tissues, including the liver and lymphoid organs. They report that feeding on the cocoa-enriched diet led to significant increases in the total antioxidant capacity in all the body tissues, particularly in the thymus - the organ situated in the upper part of the chest and responsible for the production of certain hormones that stimulate cells used in an immune response. A dose-dependent increase in the thymus activties of the antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase, with respect to cocoa supplementation, said the researchers. SOD has a different mode of action to vitamins. Dubbed 'the enzyme of life' when first discovered in 1968, it is the first antioxidant mobilised by the cell for defence. It is thought to be more powerful than antioxidant vitamins as it activates the body's production of its own antioxidants, including catalase and glutathione peroxidase. The researchers also looked at whether the improved antioxidant system in the thymus was reflected in the composition of cells present, and found and increase in the percentage of thymocytes in advanced development stage. "In summary, cocoa diet enhances thymus antioxidant defences and influences thymocyte differentiation,"​ they said. Significant additional study is needed to examine if such benefits would be observed in humans. The majority of studies to date using flavonoid-rich cocoa have focussed on potential benefits for cardiovascular health, while a small number of studies have reported benefits for diabetes and skin health. Source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry​ Volume 55, Number 16, Pages 6431-6438. doi: 10.1021/jf070487w S0021-8561(07)00487-6 "Cocoa-Enriched Diet Enhances Antioxidant Enzyme Activity and Modulates Lymphocyte Composition in Thymus from Young Rats" ​Authors: E. Ramiro-Puig, M Urpi-Sarda, F.J. Perez-Cano, A. Franch, C. Castellote, C. Anders-Lacueva, M. Izquierdo-Pulido, and M. Castell

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