Impact of cocoa polyphenol extracts on the immune system and microbiota in two strains of young rats

Br J Nutr. 2014 Dec 28;112(12):1944-54. doi: 10.1017/S0007114514003080. Epub 2014 Oct 27.


A diet containing 10% cocoa, a rich source of polyphenols and fibre, is able to modify intestinal immune status as well as microbiota composition. The present study was aimed at investigating whether cocoa flavonoid content is uniquely responsible for these modulatory effects of cocoa, and to establish whether these effects depend on the rat strain. To this end, 3-week-old Wistar and Brown Norway rats were fed, for 4 weeks, either a standard diet or the following three isoenergetic diets containing increasing proportions of cocoa flavonoids from different sources: one with 0.2% polyphenols (from conventional defatted cocoa), and two others with 0.4 and 0.8% polyphenols (from non-fermented cocoa, very rich in polyphenols). Serum Ig concentrations, faecal IgA levels, microbiota composition and IgA-coating bacterial proportion were evaluated at the beginning and at the end of the study. After the nutritional intervention, the composition of lymphocytes in Peyer's patches and mesenteric lymph nodes was evaluated. In some respects, the Wistar strain was more sensitive to the impact of the cocoa diets than the Brown Norway strain. After 4 weeks of dietary intervention, similar modulatory effects of the diets containing 0.2 and 0.8% polyphenols on mucosal IgA levels and microbiota composition were found, although the 0.2% diet, with a higher proportion of theobromine and fibre, had more impact, suggesting that polyphenols are not the only components involved in such effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cacao / chemistry*
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Fiber / pharmacology
  • Feces
  • Female
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology
  • Immunoglobulin A / metabolism*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / drug effects*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / microbiology
  • Lymph Nodes / drug effects
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Mesentery
  • Microbiota / drug effects
  • Peyer's Patches / drug effects
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Polyphenols / pharmacology*
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Theobromine / pharmacology


  • Dietary Fiber
  • Flavonoids
  • Immunoglobulin A
  • Plant Extracts
  • Polyphenols
  • Theobromine