The Science Behind Tart Cherries

After years in the shadow of other fruit, tart cherries are emerging as a major Super Fruit. A substantial and growing body of scientific research has linked tart cherries to anti-inflammatory benefits, reduced pain from gout and arthritis and an extensive list of heart health benefits. Recent studies even suggest tart cherries can help reduce post-exercise muscle and joint pain. Homegrown and long a part of America’s history, cherries are truly an American favorite. Technically known as Prunus cerasus, tart cherries’ nutrition, unique flavor and naturally functional properties are right on target with today’s new food and beverage trends.


Tart cherries are packed with powerful antioxidants. In fact, they have among the highest levels of antioxidants of other super foods. Tart cherries ranked 14 in the top 50 foods for highest antioxidant content per serving size — surpassing well-known leaders such as red wine, prunes, dark chocolate and orange juice, according to one recent study.


Tart cherries have as much, if not more, antioxidants than many other fruits. More than 9 out of 10 Americans want to know where their food comes from, and nearly 80 percent say they are purchasing “locally produced” products — or those made in America. Natural or unprocessed foods, super foods and foods containing antioxidants have been some of the most important product attributes Americans seek out to maintain good health. Even more important than antioxidant levels alone, the natural compounds in tart cherries may work synergistically to deliver powerful health benefits, according to research from the University of Michigan. The researchers isolated individual cherry phytonutrients and tested the antioxidant power alone, or paired together. They found that the “whole” was greater than the sum of its parts — specific compounds worked together to boost antioxidant power more than would be expected for any compound on its own. Anthocyanins are the key antioxidant compounds in cherries. Along with providing the bright red pigment to tart cherries, these phytonutrients have been specifically linked to high antioxidant capacity and reduced inflammation, at levels comparable to some well-known pain medications. Tart cherries are also sources of other phenolic compounds, such as gallic acid, p-coumaric acid, kaempferol, and quercetin, all of which are potent antioxidants. An extensive and growing body of research suggests that the powerful antioxidants in tart cherries that give the super fruit its bright red color are also responsible for their anti-inflammatory properties and health benefits. A number of studies have specifically linked tart cherry consumption and cherry anthocyanins to decreased inflammation and inflammatory-related conditions. One study from University of Michigan researchers revealed a cherry-enriched diet reduced inflammation markers in animals by up to 50 percent 43 and another found drinking eight ounces of tart cherry juice daily for four weeks significantly reduced important markers of inflammation in overweight and obese adults. This inflammatory benefit is behind cherries’ ability to reduce risk for arthritis and gout, promote cardiovascular health and most recently to aid muscle recovery and reduce oxidative stress in athletes.


Tart cherry consumption has been linked to a number of cardiovascular benefits — from overall anti-inflammation to reductions in cholesterol levels, to decreased risk for atherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome — all important heart disease risk factors. Research from the University of Michigan has found that cherry-enriched diets in animals lowered multiple risk factors for heart disease, from lowering total blood cholesterol levels to reducing total body weight and fat, in particular the “belly fat” that is most often associated with heart disease risk.49-51 A recent study found that a cherry diet (at 1 percent of diet as tart cherry powder) reduced C-reactive protein and other markers of inflammation by up to 36 percent and lowered levels of total cholesterol by 26 percent in a five-month mouse study. The mice fed a cherry diet had a 65 percent reduction in early death, likely due to improved cardiovascular health. The University of Michigan researchers also found the cherry-enriched diets reduced not only overall body inflammation, but inflammation at key sites (belly fat, heart) known to affect heart disease risk in obese, at-risk rats. tart cherryThe anthocyanins in tart cherries may also lower blood lipid levels. In an animal study, rats who were fed tart cherry-enriched diets for 90 days demonstrated significantly lower plasma triglyceride and total cholesterol, fasting glucose and insulin, and a plasma marker of oxidative damage. They also had slightly higher high-density lipoproteins (HDL – the “good” cholesterol) and significantly elevated blood antioxidant capacity.


The same RED compounds linked to cherries’ arthritis and cardiovascular benefits have now shown promise for athletes and sports recovery to help relieve muscle and joint soreness. Tart cherries could help athletes reduce muscle damage to recover faster from a tough workout, according to a growing body of research. A study conducted at the University of Vermont gave 12 ounces of cherry juice or a placebo twice a day for eight days to 14 college men. On the fourth day, the men were asked to perform strenuous weight lifting of two sets of 20 repetitions each. Strength loss after exercise was only 4 percent with the juice compared to 22 percent with the other beverage, and pain significantly decreased after cherry juice consumption. The researchers concluded that “consumption of tart cherry juice before and after eccentric exercise significantly reduced symptoms of muscle damage.” Diet can play a key role in managing post-exercise pain. Experts urge athletes to help manage inflammation with natural anti-inflammatory foods, like cherries. Other research supports the pain relief benefits of incorporating tart cherries in a training routine. In one study, runners who drank cherry juice twice a day for seven days prior to and on the day of a long-distance relay had significantly less muscle pain following the race. A similar study in marathoners found that runners who drank cherry juice 5 days before, the day of and 2 days after running a marathon experienced a faster recovery of strength, increased total antioxidant capacity and reduced inflammation and lipid peroxidation compared to a non-cherry beverage. Add Tart Cherry Ultima Replenisher to your training regimen to reap some of these benefits. This article is excerpt from The Red Report. Visit the website to learn more about Tart Cherries as well as to see full references for all scientific data.