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Are there health benefits to tart cherry juice?

Tart cherries, which are a sour version of the cherries we commonly eat, have been advertised to do many things such as improve sleep, improve endurance, reduce systolic blood pressure, decrease uric acid, decrease muscle soreness and reduce inflammation. But is there any evidence that tart cherry juice or extracts of tart cherries can really deliver these benefits?

Shira Cohen is studying Nutrition at the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at McGill University, specializing in Global Nutrition. 

If you are suffering from headaches, muscle pain or inflammation, you may be interested to hear that tart cherries may function in a fashion similar to drugs like Aspirin and Ibuprofen. It seems that the anthocyanins they contain prevent the formation of certain prostaglandins that are linked to pain and inflammation, much like aspirin.

For people who enjoy going to the gym and lifting weights, there is some evidence that drinking 10-12 ounces ( approx. 300 ml) of tart juice twice daily may reduce muscle pain and damage during and after exercise.

For those of you who are into running, it is interesting to note that Kyle Levers of Texas A&M University published a study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine in which athletes were asked to consume 480 mg of tart cherry extract for 10 days prior to a half-marathon. The athletes who consumed the extract finished the race in a significantly shorter time (103 minutes) compared with those who took the placebo (118 minutes). Fifteen minutes is quite a significant difference!

Now, what about any possible benefit for people who suffer from osteoarthritis, an inflammation of the joints due to worn-down cartilage? When consuming the tart cherry juice there was a decrease in blood markers for osteoarthritis but no decrease in pain compared to placebo. Another study looked at the effect of CherryFlex, a commercial tart cherry supplement, on osteoarthritis of the knee. The initial study with one pill containing 100 mg anthocyanins found an improvement in pain symptoms compared with placebo . A follow-up study used twice the dosage but found no improvement in symptoms, suggesting that tart cherry juice does not have any significant effect on osteoarthritis.

Gout is another form of inflammatory arthritis, usually experienced in the toe due to a buildup of uric acid. Cherry intake (not tart cherry) has been found to decrease uric acid, but it is important to note that the American College of Rheumatology does not recommend cherries or cherry extract to treat “acute gout” attacks.

If you are having trouble sleeping at night, Montmorency tart cherries contain melatonin (13mg/g), a compound that has been associated with inducing sleep, suggesting that supplements may be helpful. But there have been no studies carried out to examine this.

Tart cherries can also have an effect on hypertension. A small study with male subjects by Karen M Keane from Northumbria University published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutritionfound that 60 mL of Montmorency cherry concentrate decreases systolic blood pressure two hours after ingestion. But it does not decrease diastolic blood pressure.

Unfortunately, there cannot be much enthusiasm for tart cherries having an effect on high blood pressure, high blood sugar or high LDL (bad cholesterol). SC Chai at the University of Delaware conducted a study on 34 overweight but otherwise healthy older men and women and found that consuming 16 ounces daily of tart cherry juice decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol compared to placebo but the difference was very small and was only seen when compared with subjects consuming a placebo with 45 g sugar daily. There was no improvement in insulin resistance when compared with placebo.

Keep in mind that tart cherry capsules contain little sugar while tart cherry juice contains about 25 grams of sugar per 8 oz serving.

I really love to lift weights but I hate the muscle soreness that comes after. I think I just may give tart cherry capsules a shot.

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