Promising Evidence for Tart Cherries on Recovery

Wed, 10 Oct. 2012 - 1:24 a.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

Sour red cherries, also known as tart cherries, have been scrutinized more closely in recent years for their anti-inflammatory properties. In 2009, research published in Europe found that tart cherry juice appears to provide a viable means to aid muscle-function recovery following strenuous exercise by increasing total antioxidative capacity and reducing inflammation and lipid peroxidation.
The study was funded by CherryPharm, Inc., the makers of the health beverage Cheribundi. Still, the study was accepted and published in the peer-reviewed Scandinavian Journal of Medicine in Science in Sports. (Many studies are funded by corporations with an interest in the outcome, without procedural bias.) It consisted of just 20 subjects, randomly assigned to placebo or cherry juice, to be consumed five days prior to a marathon, the day of, and 48 hours following it.
The placebo group took 8 ounces of fruit-flavored concentrate twice a day; the cherry juice group took two 8-ounce bottles of a commercially available tart cherry juice blend, a mixture of freshly prepared tart cherry juice with commercially available apple juice, and the equivalent of  50 to 60 cherries per 8 ounces. 
 
A small study’s results
Markers of muscle damage (creatine kinase, lactate dehydrogenase, muscle soreness and isometric strength), inflammation, total antioxidant status, and oxidative stress were examined
before and following the race. Isometric strength recovered significantly faster in the cherry juice
group. No other damage indices were significantly different. Inflammation was reduced in the cherry juice group. With respect to markers of muscle damage, the cherry juice group
had a more rapid return of isometric knee extension strength than the placebo group, but none of the other markers showed differences between groups. Despite this, markers of inflammation were significantly smaller in the cherry juice group compared with the placebo group. And total antioxidant capacity was increased and lipid peroxidation decreased in the cherry juice
group compared with the placebo group; however, serum protein carbonyl concentration was not different between groups.
 
The fact that post-race strength loss was similar between groups, with a more rapid return of strength in the cherry juice group vs. placebo, indicates that consumption of the cherry juice may have served to blunt the secondary muscle damage response.
Dieticians get on board
More studies are clearly called for; some are underway already. At this year’s Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition meeting in Baltimore, cherries were again a big topic. SCAN is a 30-year-old dietary practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and enjoys the membership of 450 registered dieticians.
SCAN reports other research that has studied the effects of drinking 21 ounces of tart cherry juice per day for 1 to 3 weeks, the equivalent of eating 90 tart cherries per day. This time, the research looked at individuals who suffer from the pain and inflammation associated with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. SCAN says that consuming tart cherry juice (two 10.5-ounce bottles per day for 10 days) reduced the muscle soreness associated with “fibro-flares” and enhanced recovery rate. Similar findings occurred in people suffering from osteoarthritis, for whom drinking tart cherry juice for three weeks reduced arthritis pain. 
Tart cherries are the kind used to bake pies, not the sweet cherries we associate with healthy snacking. Other foods high in antioxidants and promising for their anti-inflammatory properties include similarly colored fruits like raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Just do note that in the case of all juices, calories add up very quickly—21 ounces of tart cherry juice, for example, adds 260 calories to your energy intake; reduce other fruits or foods to make space for this.
Such a dietary swap has its benefits. A comparison of main nutrients using the USDA National Nutrient Database reveals that sour cherries have many times the amount of niacin than sweet cherries, though other than the significant difference in this major vitamin, most of the magic of sour cherries occurs at the antioxidant level. 
Tart cherry nutrients
Anthocyanins help reduce inflammation and inhibit tumor growth.
Flavonols improve blood flow, heart and brain health, and lowers blood pressure.
Phenolic Acids are powerful antioxidants.  
Phytochemicals are associated with reducing the risk of major chronic diseases.  
Terpenes are essential oils from plant elements.
 
In one 2006 study, 8 ounces of tart cherry juice was found to contain:
 
“[at] least 600 mg phenolic compounds, expressed as gallic acid equivalents, 32 g carbohydrate, and at least 40 mg anthocyanins, calculated as cyanidin-3-glucoside equivalents by the pH differential (Connolly et al., 2006). The remaining 560 mg of compounds is comprised of other flavonoid compounds, such as the flavonols quercetin, kaempferol, and isoramnetin, and their glucosides; flavonols such as catechin, epicatechin, and procyanidins, and their glucosides; and phenolic acids such as neochlorogenic acid, 3-coumaroylquinic acid, chlorogenic acid, and ellagic acid.”
A very cherry vacation?
If you’re thinking of adding more tart cherries to your diet to aid in muscle recovery and want to explore your options, the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, MI, is being held July 7 through 14. Featuring live bands, a Blue Angels air show, arts and crafts, every imaginable type of cherry-based recipe, pie cook-offs, and a 15K race, you’ll have summer fun and learn a lot about a food with health properties we’re only just beginning to discover. 
Traverse City is the cherry growing capital of the U.S., and the festival dates back to at least 1910, when growers and businesses first partnered informally to promote the cherry farming industry. The National Cherry Festival set a world record by baking the world's largest cherry pie on July 25, 1987. The pie was 17 feet, 6 inches and weighed 28,350 pounds. Imagine the antioxidants within that one.
 
Scand. J. Med. & Sci. Sports, June 25, 2009, http://www.cherrypharm.com/HOWATSON.MarathonStudySJMSS.pdf
 
SCAN Baltimore, April 2012, http://www.scandpg.org/
 
National Cherry Festival, http://www.cherryfestival.org/
 
USDA National Nutrient Database, Sweet Raw Cherries, http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2283?fg=Fruits+and+Fruit+Juices&man=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=0&sort=&qlookup=cherry+juice
 
USDA National Nutrient Database, Sour Red Raw Cherries, http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2277?fg=Fruits+and+Fruit+Juices&man=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=0&sort=&qlookup=cherry+juice

 
(RUNNING & FITNEWS® May / June 2012 • Volume 30, Number 3)

 



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