Previous studies in young rats reported the impact of cocoa intake on healthy immune status and allow suggesting it may have a role in the prevention of some immune-mediated diseases. The aim of this study was to ascertain the effect of a cocoa diet in a model of allergy in young rats. Three-week-old Brown Norway rats were immunized by i.p. injection of ovalbumin (OVA) with alum as adjuvant and Bordetella pertussis toxin. During the next 4 weeks rats received either a cocoa diet (containing 0.2% polyphenols, w/w) or a standard diet. Animals fed a standard diet showed high concentrations of anti-OVA IgG1, IgG2a, IgG2b and high anti-OVA IgE titres, which is the antibody involved in allergic response. In contrast, animals fed a cocoa diet showed significantly lower concentrations of anti-OVA IgG1 and IgG2a antibodies. Interestingly, the cocoa diet prevented anti-OVA IgE synthesis and decreased total serum IgE concentration. Analysis of cytokine production in lymph node cells at the end of the study revealed that, in this compartment, the cocoa diet decreased the tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α and the interleukin (IL)-10 secretion but not IL-4 production. In conclusion, a cocoa-enriched diet in young rats produces an immunomodulatory effect that prevents anti-allergen IgE synthesis, suggesting a potential role for cocoa flavonoids in the prevention or treatment of allergic diseases.
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