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Nutrition Feature: Health Benefits of Tart Cherry Juice

March 05, 2012

New research indicates that the consumption of tart cherry juice is associated with a host of health benefits. Of particular interest to athletes, it has been associated with a decrease in pain and aid in muscle recovery time.

What is Tart Cherry Juice?

Cherries are generally classified as either tart or sweet. Most are familiar with Bing and Lambert Cherries, but tart cherries such as Montmorency have been the subject of recent research and have shown some promising health benefits. The juice is a much more concentrated form of the fruit, so you are able to intake more of the important nutrients than if you just ate the cherries themselves.
 
Muscle Recovery

In a study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers tested the efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage in 14 male college students. Researchers from the University of Vermont reported that in a placebo controlled study, subjects drank 12 oz. of tart cherry juice twice daily for eight days. The subjects drinking the tart cherry juice significantly reduced the loss of strength and pain caused by eccentric elbow flexion contractions.

In May 2010, researchers from the Oregon Health Science University conducted a randomized, double-blind placebo controlled trial of 54 runners who ran an average of 26.3 km over a 24 hour period. Daily for a week before the event and on the day of the event, study participants drank about 12 oz. of tart cherry juice or placebo. Participants who drank the tart cherry juice reported significantly less pain than runners who received the placebo. It was concluded that the runners that used tart cherry juice had less inflammation and faster muscle strength recovery time.

In fact, due to its anti-inflammatory properties, tart cherry juice is being investigated for its use with arthritis, gout and even asthma.

Powerful Antioxidant

The health benefits don’t stop there. Tart cherries are an excellent source of antioxidants. Antioxidants reduce damage done by oxygen and other free radical substances to the cells in our bodies. Oxidative damage leads to a greater susceptibility to atherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and many common disease of aging. Tart cherries contain an abundance of antioxidants including Anthocyanin 1 and 2.  Anthocyanin pigments are responsible for the red, blue and purple colors of many fruits and vegetables. Tart cherries yield about 90 percent more Anthocyanin 1 and 2 than raspberries, blueberries, cranberries and elderberries. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2009, investigators studied the effects of the anthocyanins in tart cherry juice in reducing oxidative stress in older adults. The results indicated that the consumption of tart cherry juice significantly reduced oxidative stress thus providing older adults greater protection against the development of age related diseases such as heart disease, cancer and cognitive decline.

Phytonutrients

Phytonutrients or phytochemicals are basically plant compounds which are thought to have health protection qualities. It has been proposed that the antioxidant activities of fruits and vegetables come from the additive and synergistic effects of their phytonutrients and that isolated dietary supplements do not exhibit these same benefits. Although it is important from a research point of view to isolate these compounds it is often believed that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, rather than a pill, is the best way to have a reduced risk of many chronic diseases.

Improved Sleep Quality

Tart cherries are also one of the only known food sources that contain melatonin – a  potent antioxidant that helps regulate our circadian rhythms and natural sleep patterns. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study by the School of Life Sciences in the UK, 20 subjects consumed either a placebo or tart cherry juice concentrate for seven days. The results indicated total melatonin was significantly elevated for the tart cherry juice group with a significant increase in total sleep duration and quality. Every athlete knows how important a good night sleep is in optimizing performance.   

Additional research is needed, particularly larger human studies, but the results thus far are very promising. So say cheers to cherries and a healthier you!

Kristen Logue RD, LDN

Kristen is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist. She is a graduate of Cornell University and specializes in vegetarian, pediatric and sports nutrition. She currently resides in Philadelphia with her husband and three boys.  

References


1. Burkhardt S, Tan DX, Manchester LC, Hardeland R, Reiter RJ. Detection and quantification of the antioxidant melatonin in Montmorency and Balaton tart cherries (Prunus cerasus). J Agric Food Chem. 2001; 49(10):4898-4902.

2. Connolly DA, McHugh MP, Padilla-Zakour OI, Carlson L, Sayers SP. Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med. 2006; 40(8):679-683; discussion 683.

 3. Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHigh MP, Ellis J.  Effect of tart cherry juice on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Eur J Nutr.  2011:Oct. 30 [E pub ahead of print].

4. Kim DO, Heo HJ, Kim YJ, Yang HS, Lee CY. Sweet and sour cherry phenolics and their protective effects on neuronal cells. J Agric Food Chem. 2005; 53(26):9921-9927.

5. Kuehl KS, Perrier ET, Elliot DL, Chesnutt JC. Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010; 7:17.

6. Schor, J. (2011, Aug 2). Health Effects of Tart Cherries .Retrieved 1/24/2011, Natural MedicineJournal.com:http://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/article_content.asp?article=227

7. Seeram NP, Momin RA, Nair MG, Bourquin LD. Cyclooxygenase inhibitory and antioxidant cyanidin glycosides in cherries and berries. Phytomedicine. 2001; 8(5):362-369.

8. Traustadóttir T, Davies SS, Stock AA, et al. Tart cherry juice decreases oxidative stress in healthy older men and women. J Nutr. 2009; 139(10):1896-1900.

9.  Turcotte, M. (2011, Mar 9). The Health Benefits of Tart Cherry Juice. Retrieved 1/19/2012, Livestrong.com: http://www.livestrong.com/article/24160-health-benefits-tart-cherry-juice/

10.  Wong, C. (2006, June29). What are Tart Cherries? Retrieved 1/20/2012, About.com:
http://altmedicine.about.com/od/completeazindex/a/tart_cherry.htm

Kristen Logue RD, LDN

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