Getting Cheery Over Cherries!

Regular readers of SRxA’s Word on Health will be familiar with the many claimed health benefits of fruit. Bananas for HIV prevention, citrus to safeguard us against stroke, berries to prevent Parkinson’s Disease and even exotic cupuaçu for improved reproductive health.

According to many, including TV’s Dr. Oz, the latest superfruit on the block is tart cherries. Extensive research has linked the delicious bright red fruit to a number of benefits, including better sleep, reduced pain from gout and arthritis, reduced post-exercise muscle and joint pain as well as reduced cholesterol, and decreased risk for atherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome.

Dr. Oz, has gone so far as to say that tart cherries are the ultimate antioxidant.

New research from Oregon Health & Science University presented last week at the American College of Sports Medicine Conference confirmed that tart cherries can help to reduce chronic inflammation and can help people with osteoarthritis manage their disease.

In a study of twenty women ages 40 – 70 with inflammatory osteoarthritis, the researchers found that drinking tart cherry juice twice daily for three weeks led to significant reductions in important inflammation markers – especially for those women who had the highest inflammation levels at the start of the study.

With millions of Americans looking for ways to naturally manage pain, it’s promising that tart cherries can help, without the possible side effects often associated with arthritis medications,” said principal study investigator Kerry Kuehl, M.D. “I’m intrigued by the potential for a real food to offer such a powerful anti-inflammatory benefit – especially for active adults.”

Often characterized as “wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. Athletes are often at a greater risk for developing the condition, given their excessive joint use that can cause a breakdown in cartilage and lead to pain and injury.

Anthocyanins – the antioxidant compounds in tart cherries – appear to reduce inflammation to levels comparable to some well-known pain medications.

Previous research on tart cherries and osteoarthritis found that a daily dose of tart cherries helped reduce osteoarthritis pain by more than 20%.

Leslie Bonci, Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center for Sports Medicine, has incorporated tart cherries into the training menu of her professional athletes. She claims they are a natural and easy way to manage pain and also taste great.

Never heard of tart cherries, or concerned that they have such a short season?  The great news is that they are available year-round in dried, frozen, powder and juice forms too.

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One thought on “Getting Cheery Over Cherries!

  1. 4-25-13
    More good news for tart cherry lovers…
    For the millions of Americans at risk for heart disease or diabetes, a diet that includes tart cherries might actually be better than what the doctor ordered, according to new animal research from the University of Michigan Health System.

    A class of drugs called PPAR agonists that help regulate fat and glucose was considered promising by doctors who prescribed them for patients with metabolic syndrome – a collection of risk factors linked to heart disease and type 2. However, studies have shown the long-term use of these drugs can also increase stroke risk, which has prevented many from securing FDA approval.
    The new research from the U-M Cardioprotection Research Laboratory suggests that tart cherries not only provide similar cardiovascular benefits as the prescribed medications, but can also reduce the risk of stroke, even when taken with these pharmaceutical options.
    The results, which were seen in stroke-prone rats, were presented Tuesday, April 23 at the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting in Boston.
    The group’s previous research has shown that intake of U.S.-produced, Montmorency tart cherries activates PPAR isoforms (peroxisome proliferator activating receptors) in many of the body’s tissues. Researchers believe that anthocyanins – the pigments that give the fruit its red color – may be responsible for PPAR activation.
    PPARs regulate genes involved in fat and glucose metabolism, and when modified can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. PPAR agonists, among them medications such as Actos (pioglitazone), act in a similar way but cardiovascular side effects have limited their use.
    “Our previous research has shown that Montmorency tart cherries can have a positive effect on cardiovascular health and can reduce risk factors like high cholesterol and diabetes,” says E. Mitchell Seymour, Ph.D., supervisor of the Cardioprotection Research Laboratory. “While prescribed drugs improve the outlook for certain risk factors, they’ve also shown to have undesirable side effects. We wanted to see if a tart cherry-rich diet might provide similar cardiovascular benefits without the risk of heart attack or stroke.”
    The researchers compared the effect of tart cherries and the drug Actos in stroke-prone rats by measuring the animals’ systolic blood pressure as well as locomotion, balance, coordination, all of which can show the aftereffects of a stroke.
    By putting the rats through various physical tests, such as walking on a tapered beam and climbing a ladder, the researchers found that compared to Actos, tart cherry intake significantly improved balance and coordination, and at the same time lowered blood pressure.
    While the research results indicate that rats who consumed only tart cherries had the best results, those who had the combination of tart cherries and Actos also did better than those who only took the drug. Seymour cautioned that the results can’t be applied directly to humans, but they are a potentially positive sign for those taking medications.
    “We weren’t sure if the risk for stroke would decline in animals taking both tart cherry and the drug,” Seymour says. “It turns out that the cherries did have a positive effect even when combined with the medication.”
    Steven Bolling, M.D., a U-M cardiac surgeon and the laboratory’s director, said the study adds to the group’s growing body of research linking cherries to positive heart health. The results provide the groundwork for continued investigation into the topic, he says.
    “This research is the first to link to cherries to a reduction in stroke-related symptoms,” Bolling says. “It gives us a good preclinical model to further explore the positive stroke-related benefits of an anthocyanin-rich diet.”

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