The Amazing Benefits of Cherries: New Research

WINONA, Minn. – A scientific study conducted at Winona State University has found that tart cherry paste significantly decreased muscle tenderness and pain following strenuous exercise, and generally lowered blood pressure compared to a group ingesting a placebo. The research findings were released by the university’s Department of Health, Exercise and Rehabilitative Sciences.

The purpose of the 2010 cross-over double blind study was to examine the effects of cherry supplementation on exercise-induced inflammation, muscle soreness and blood pressure. CherryFlex ProSport Shot, a tart cherry gel made from whole fruit and marketed under the name FruitFast, was used in the study.

Nineteen healthy college-aged male students participated in the study, with all subjects completing both a placebo and tart cherry supplementation. The study participants performed five sets of 10 maximal eccentric contractions of the elbow flexor immediately after ingestion of a placebo or cherry supplement. Both the placebo and supplement were also ingested for five days after the strenuous exercise bout.

Lead researcher Dr. Gary Kastello said the study results demonstrated an acute analgesic effect decreasing muscle tenderness and pain perception after subjects ingested the tart cherry supplement.

Cherry supplement ingestion was also associated with a strong trend of lowering subject’s systolic blood pressure. On average, the subject’s systolic blood pressure decreased by 8 mmHg.

The current study differed from a similar study completed by Winona State University two years ago. The current study investigated the acute effects of tart cherry supplementation with subjects ingesting the supplement immediately before strenuous exercise, whereas the previous study investigated chronic effect with subjects ingesting the supplement for 16 days prior to the strenuous bout of exercise.

“Any athlete in training or everyday individuals subjected to strenuous activity can become sore when muscles swell following exercise. Additionally, high blood pressure is a concern for all Americans,” said Dr. Kastello.

“The tart cherry supplement decreased muscle tenderness and pain following exercise, and generally lowered subject’s blood pressure as well.”

According to Dr. Kastello, results from the original pilot study completed in 2008 suggested that the ingestion of the cherry supplement reduces muscle soreness, oxidative stress and C-reactive protein levels compared to subjects ingesting placebo.

Both studies support the finding that tart cherries speed relief of muscle fatigue post-exercise.

“The most compelling health-related change to come out of that early study was the decline in C-reactive protein, which is considered a marker of coronary artery disease risk,” Kastello continued. “This most recent study’s surprise finding was the general lowering of systolic blood pressure.”

The research findings were presented and published June 1 at the 2011 American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting and World Conference in Denver.

Dr. Jonny Comments: Tart cherries have long been used as a natural pain killer and are particularly effective against gout. Scientists believe that compounds in the cherries called anthocyanins are responsible for the effect. Cherries have been shown to lower levels of uric acid in the blood which is one of the most common causes of gout pain.

Anthocyanins from cherries are also highly anti-inflammatory, and consuming them on a regular basis may help lower the risk for heart attack, stroke and even colon cancer (the third leading cancer in America).

Besides cherries, foods high in anthocyanins include blueberries, blackberries, purple carrots and pomegranate juice—in fact the richer the color of the fruit or vegetable, the more likelihood it’s loaded with the health-giving compounds.

Cherries are one of the foods I eat on a daily basis. I buy them frozen, mix with some frozen blueberries, cover with almond milk thickened with a little full-fat yogurt, sprinkle with almonds, coconut flakes and Barlean’s Forti-Flax. I consider that dish my secret “anti-aging” weapon!