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Can cocoa shells reduce inflammation?

A recent study reveals key components that reduce inflammation and insulin resistance in cocoa shells.

Chocolate contains chemicals known as phenols, which have many potential health benefits. Cocoa shells are a by-product of chocolate production and are considered a waste product. A recent study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research examined the components of cocoa shells, and how they might be put to good use.

Researchers from Spain and the United States found that cocoa shells contain components similar to those found in chocolate and green tea. These chemicals are called natural phenols and they are famous for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The researchers created a water-based mixture of three cocoa-shell specific phenols and used it to treat mouse fat cells, called adipocytes. These cells have damaged mitochondria (the cell’s source of energy), increased inflammatory markers, and overall poor health. When treated with the phenolic mixture, fat-cell mitochondria were repaired and the cells accumulated less fat.

The researchers then explored whether cocoa shell extract can influence the communication between the fat cells and inflammatory cells, called macrophages. A characteristic pathological process of too much fat molecules accumulating in fat-cells triggers macrophage activation. This, in turn, leads to chronic inflammation, contributing to insulin resistance, glucose intolerance and eventually type II diabetes. The scientists induced macrophage-caused inflammatory reaction in fat cells and observed oxidative damage to their mitochondria. They then treated the fat cell with cocoa shell extracted phenols and observed a reversal of the damage. Dr. Rebollo-Hernanz further explains: “We observed that the extract was able to maintain the mitochondria and their function, modulating the inflammatory process and maintaining the adipocytes’ sensitivity to insulin. Assuming that these phenolics were the main actors in this extract, we can say that consuming them could prevent mitochondrial dysfunction in adipose tissue.”

The results of this study offer new insight into whether and how cocoa shell extract can reduce inflammation.

Written by Marina Chemerovski-Glikman, PhD

Reference: Rebollo‐Hernanz, M., Zhang, Q., Aguilera, Y., Martín‐Cabrejas, M.A., Gonzalez de Mejia, E. Cocoa Shell Aqueous Phenolic Extract Preserves Mitochondrial Function and Insulin Sensitivity by Attenuating Inflammation between Macrophages and Adipocytes In Vitro.  Mol Nutr Food Res, 2019.

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