Cacao extract may improve atopic dermatitis-like symptoms, rodent study

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock/bridex
Photo: iStock/bridex

Related tags Allergy Chocolate Asthma

Researchers in South Korea studied how the polyphenols in Theobroma cacao extract may reduce atopic dermatitis-like symptoms.

After inducing atopic dermatitis-like symptoms using dust mite [Dermatophagoides farinae​] extract on mice, researchers from Seoul National University, the University of Massachusetts, and the Lotte R&D Center analyzed the skin lesion, dermatitis score, and skin thickness when impacted by Theobroma cacao ​extract supplementation.

“Cacao beans from Theobroma cacao are an abundant source of polyphenols, particularly flavonoids. Previous studies demonstrated that cacao flavanols decrease pro-inflammatory cytokines resulting in the alleviation of allergic symptoms,”​ the researchers wrote in their study​ published in Food Chemistry.

Literature on how cacao bean extract may benefit the skin has been building. (The lead scientists of the study previously looked at how cacao bean extract may help protect skin from wrinkles​).

They wrote that because corticosteroids—the most prevalent way of treating atopic dermatitis—have many “undesirable side effects,​” there is “considerable unmet need [that] exists for development of safer and more effective [atopic dermatitis] treatment.”

Supplementing cacao beans to mice

Forty three-week old male mice were divided into five groups, with eight in each. The first group was not induced with atopic dermatitis and fed a standard diet, the second was induced and given a standard diet, a third was induced and given cacao extract at 0.25% with a standard diet, the fourth was induced and given 1% cacao extract with a standard diet, and the final group was induced and given the immunosuppressant tacrolimus topically, common to treat eczema, with a standard diet.

Theobroma cacao ​extract used was provided by Belgian chocolate giant Barry Callebaut. The beans were roasted and ground to make cacao liquor, which was separated from cacao butter, to produce cacao cakes. The cakes were then ground and extracted using ethanol. 

The standard diet fed to mice was an AIN-93G formulation, known to not have detectable concentrations of polyphenols that may interfere with the study. The extract was added to the appropriate altered AIN-93G diet, done by reducing the amount of carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and fiber by the related percentage of cacao extract (0%, 0.25% or 1%). The mice were fed this diet for six weeks.

For the groups that were given atopic dermatitis symptoms, extract of dust mites were added to a cream, which was then applied topically on shaved mice, twice per week for three weeks.

“Cacao extract suppressed the development of atopic dermatitis-like symptoms”

An analysis of the cacao bean extract revealed that it contained 71.5 mg/g of flavanol, procyanidin B1, catechin, and epicatechin. “Through our result, we demonstrated that [cacao extract] diet could down-regulate inflammatory chemokines while protecting water loss form skin surface,” ​thus relieving the symptoms of atopic dermatitis, the researchers wrote.

They also observed that cacao extract supplementation led to decreases in epidermal thickness, attenuation of immune cell infiltration into lesion areas, and reductions in inflammatory chemokines.

Though visible changes were more apparent in the mice treated with tacrolimus, the 1% cacao extract group’s skin has less lesions and dryness compared to the 0.25% group, and significantly less than the group only fed with a standard diet and no supplementation.

“These results suggest that the intake of sufficient quantities of cacao extract may be useful for the treatment of atopic dermatitis by modifying the balance of Th1 and Th2 cytokine production,”​ they wrote, adding that further experiments are needed to determine the precise compounds and molecular mechanisms in cacao extract that lead to these effects.

Source:​ Food Chemistry

Published online ahead of print,

Theobroma cacao extract attenuates the development of Dermatophagoides farinae-induced atopic dermatitis-like symptoms in NC/Nga mice

Authors: J. E. Kim, et al

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