The New Super Food: Sour Cherries!

Published on August 10, 2012 by Dr. Paul Hrkal

Over the past few years I have watched more and more positive research emerge supporting the health benefits of tart (sour) cherries. As a natural health advocate I am always on the look out for foods (not just supplements) that stand out from the rest as health promoting superstars. Tart cherries join blueberries, pomegranate, acai, kale and broccoli as the newest member of the elite super food club. What may distinguish tart cherries from this group is the wide range of health benefits including anti-inflammatory effects.

As a sports nutrition buff, tart cherry juice came up on my radar when a number of studies showed benefit for reducing muscle fatigue after exercise. Athletes are always looking for ways to improve their recovery time and maximize performance with various foods and supplements. One study found that tart cherry juice reduced the symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage (1). Another randomized, placebo controlled trial followed runners that drank sour cherry juice 7 days before their race. The cherry juice group had less muscle pain after their race compared to those who had a placebo drink (2). Other studies have found the similarly positive results for endurance athletes, including marathoners. (3). Reducing post exercise muscle pain and strength decreases can be extremely useful in maximizing training and performance and enhancing recovery on successive days of activity. One of the reasons that sour cherries can have a positive effect on muscle pain after exercise is that they have anti-inflammatory effects (3). Tart cherries contain flavonoids and anthocyanins, with high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (2).

The benefits of an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect can carry over to more than just sports performance. Inflammation and free radical damage has been linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. One study found that eating cherries for just 30 days reduced CRP, a well-known and commonly measured inflammatory marker. In another recent trial, twenty women aged with inflammatory osteoarthritis, consumed tart cherry juice twice daily for three weeks. The researchers found significant reductions in important inflammation markers especially in those who had the highest inflammation levels at the start of the study (5).  These findings suggest that sour cherry juice and fruit consumption may have a protective effect against common chronic diseases such as arthritis.

Just when you thought that sour cherries have done it all the latest research suggests that they may also help with sleep. A recent study found that sour cherry juice increased melatonin production and sleep quality after just 7 days (6). Improvements in sleep can have a very powerful benefit on many different health aspects.

What is most impressive about tart cherry juice is that it is not a supplement in the form of a pill or a capsule. The wide-ranging benefits can be attributed to the various polyphenols and beneficial compounds contained in the juice. As a Naturopathic doctor, I am a strong advocate of attaining health benefits from whole foods and diet rather than only supplements. Tart cherry juice is widely available at most grocery and health food stores that lower prices than refined supplements. Standardized supplements are effective in isolating the active ingredients and delivering specific effects but whole foods have the advantage of broader health benefits on multiple levels.

Sour cherries seem to be the latest elixir of super health but unlike some other supplements and super foods there is strong research supporting benefits for sports performance, cardiovascular disease, insomnia and arthritis. The research strongly suggests that adding sour cherry juice to your diet has many health benefits. To maximize potential health benefits make sure you look for tart  (or sour) cherry juice. Despite the sour taste, the juice packs a powerful health punch.

References

1) Connolly et al. Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med. 2006 Aug;40(8):679-83

2) Kuehl KS et al. Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 May 7;7:17.

3) Howatson G, et al. Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scand J MedSci Sports 2009

4) Kelley DS et al. Consumption of bing sweet cherries lowers circulating concentrations of inflammation markers in healthy men and women. J Nutr 2006, 136:981-986

5) Kuehl, Kerry. Presented at the American College of Sports Medicine Conference (ACSM), may 2012.

6) Howatson G, et al. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr. 2011 Oct 30.

  • AuntyEmm1972

    Such a fascinating article. I had no idea how anti-inflammatory cherries could be!
    But is there a difference between Sour Cherries and the whole cherries I buy at the store? If so do regular cherries have the same anti-inflammatory effects? Can you buy whole sour cherries?

  • Paul Hrkal

    Cherries are an underrated super food. There are a few studies showing the positive benefits of sweet bing cherries (organic is best since cherries can be heavily sprayed) but the vast majority of the research is on sour cherry juice. Eating cherries is a good way to get your antioxidants but the medicinal benefits I am referring to in the above article all relate to sour cherry juice . You could buy whole sour cherries but they are more difficult to find and very unpalatable. A good juice mix is organic concord grape juice, beet juice and sour cherry juice. Super combo for athletes!