Research shows that one particular type of juice can be so good for you that some folks argue it practically has super powers: The pain-relief power of aspirin. Remarkably powerful antioxidant effects. Significant anti-heart disease benefits. The ability to tamp down muscle soreness.
Researchers have attributed all of these benefits to tart cherry juice. As a result, the fruit and its juice have been enjoying some well-deserved publicity. The scientists investigating tart cherry juice often spout superlatives you might think more fitting for a medicine-show barker than medical investigators.
For example, a study at the Oregon Health & Science University shows that tart cherries may help reduce the chronic inflammation that produces the debilitating joint pain of arthritis. These researchers believe that tart cherries (not sweet cherries) possess “the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food” and could be a key component for helping people control their osteoarthritis.
As the scientists note, the pigments that provide the red color for tart cherries, natural chemicals called anthocyanins, have been specifically linked to the cherries’ high antioxidant capacity. These antioxidants may reduce inflammation at levels comparable to well-known pain medications.
This kind of research motivates the director of sports nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center for Sports Medicine, Leslie Bonci, to urge the inclusion of tart cherries into the training menu of athletes. She says: “Why not (consume tart cherries) when there’s so much science to support the anti-inflammatory benefits of this Super Fruit? And for athletes whose palates prefer the tart-sweet flavor profile of tart cherries, it’s the optimal ingredient.”
When researchers at the Sports and Exercise Science Research Center at London South Bank University in the United Kingdom gave 10 trained athletes an ounce of packed tart cherry juice concentrate twice daily for seven days prior to and two days after an intense round of strength training, the athletes recovered significantly faster compared to when they drank juice without the same phytonutrient content of cherry juice.
After drinking cherry juice, the athletes returned to 90 percent of normal muscle force in a day, compared to only 85 percent of normal strength at the same time point without the juice. Researchers suggest that the powerful antioxidant compounds in cherry juice likely decreased oxidative damage to the athletes’ muscles (the damage that normally occurs when muscles are worked to their capacity), allowing the muscles to recover more quickly.
Tart cherries and tart cherry juice have another benefit that could be especially helpful for the millions of Americans who have trouble sleeping: They are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that lowers your risk of insomnia.
A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that when adults had two daily glasses of tart cherry juice, they slept 39 minutes longer, on average, and had up to a 6 percent increase in overall sleep efficiency (significantly less non-sleep time in bed).
Melatonin (which your body also produces) is a powerful antioxidant critical for regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Each serving of the tart cherry juice concentrate used in this study was estimated to contain the equivalent of 90 to 100 tart cherries, providing a significant level of melatonin in the juice and ultimately in the bodies of the participants.
Previous research has also supported the benefits of tart cherries as a sleep aid. This is a potentially wide-reaching benefit since nearly one-third of all Americans suffer from sleep disturbances that can compromise health and immunity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans spend more than $84 million on over-the-counter sleep aids every year and are often dissatisfied with the results. The scientists who conducted this study say that, while more research is necessary to establish the best way to use tart cherry juice as a sleep helper, tart cherry juice concentrate could be a viable “adjunct intervention for disturbed sleep across a number of scenarios.”
The antioxidants in tart cherry juice may also help protect the cardiovascular system from harm. Research performed by scientists at University of Michigan, University of Arizona and Brunswick Labs find that tart cherry juice can:
- Reduce chances of cardiovascular problems and slow inflammation. Eight ounces of tart cherry juice daily for a month reduced markers of inflammation in the blood of 10 overweight and obese people. Many of the people in this study experienced lower levels of uric acid (linked to gout and inflammation) and triglycerides (blood fats that contribute to heart disease).
- Reduce risk of atherosclerosis: When researchers used tart cherry powder as 1 percent of the diet in lab tests, it reduced inflammation markers in the blood like C reactive protein, an important sign of potential heart disease risk. These markers dropped by up to 36 percent. Lab animals used in these tests had a 65 percent reduction in early death, likely due to improved cardiovascular health.
- Offer impressive antioxidant benefits. About one cup of freeze-dried tart cherries has an ORAC (oxygen reactive absorbance capacity) of more than 10,000, and it contains a diverse combination of antioxidant compounds and phytochemicals that researchers believe can convey crucial health benefits. ORAC is a measurement of an antioxidant’s ability to absorb harmful free radicals.
Tart Cherry Juice For The Aging Body
As you grow older, your body’s ability to fight off oxidative damage slows, leaving you more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of aging. Research on oxidative stress in older men and women shows that tart cherry juice may help offset these types of developments.
All of these studies have uncovered remarkable benefits linked to tart cherry juice. And researchers hope to find even more. But there already seem to be enough to make the juice worthwhile for just about everyone.