Eat cherries for a healthy heart, a good night's sleep and more

The cherry is a stone fruit, in the same family with plums, apricots, and peaches. The majority of edible cherries have been derived from two species: Prunus avium – the wild cherry (sweet cherries like Bing and Rainier) and Prunus cerasus – the sour cherry (like the Montromorency and Morello varieties).  Most sour cherries here in the U.S. are grown in Michigan with some growing on the East coast as well, and sweet cherries are grown primarily in the Pacific Northwest and Michigan.1 Cherries, especially sour cherries, have a short growing season.  Sweet cherries are generally available between May to August, and sour cherries are available for just a couple of weeks either in mid-June (in warmer areas) or either July-August (in cooler areas).2

Cherries. Flickr: jayneandd

Cherries protect against oxidative stress:

Cherries range in color from yellow and pink to bright red to deep, dark red. The colors of sweet and sour cherries come from their rich supply of anthocyanins, including chlorogenic acid, quercetin, and kaempferol.3,4 Regarding antioxidant content, cherries are some of the highest ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) foods in existence – the ORAC score of sweet cherries ranks just as high as strawberries (though not quite as high as blueberries).5  

Anthocyanins protect the body against oxidative damage in a number of ways: they scavenge free radicals directly, bind to DNA to protect it from oxidative damage, and activate detoxification and antioxidant enzyme systems in the body. Cherry anthocyanins have been shown to protect blood vessels and brain cells against oxidative stress, implying that cherry consumption may help to prevent atherosclerotic plaque formation and neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.3,6 Cherry anthocyanins also slow the growth of human colon cancer cells.7

Cherries reduce inflammation:

Cherries and cherry juice have been used since the 1950s by sufferers of gout and arthritis to ease their symptoms.  Gout results from an overload of uric acid in the blood (hyperuricemia), which accumulates and forms crystals in the joints, causing painful arthritis; cherry consumption has been shown to reduce circulating levels of uric acid, which may be one pathway by which cherries improve gout symptoms.8

New evidence presented in April at the Experimental Biology 2011 meeting related the anti-inflammatory effects of tart cherry juice to both gout and heart disease.  Overweight and obese subjects consumed 8 ounces/day of tart cherry juice or placebo for 4 weeks.  Tart cherry juice consumers experienced reductions in uric acid levels and inflammation markers.  With regard to cardiovascular disease, reductions were also seen in triglycerides, VLDL, and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), a molecule involved in atherosclerotic plaque formation.9  Previous studies on sweet cherry consumption have similarly documented reductions in C-reactive protein (CRP), another inflammatory molecule that is also a marker of cardiovascular disease risk.10

Cherries act as a natural painkiller:

Cherry extracts inhibit the action of cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and COX-2 enzymes.  These enzymes are important components of the inflammatory process and the sensation of pain. Also, these are the same enzymes that are inhibited by many common pain medications.  In fact, the COX inhibitory activity of cherry anthocyanins is comparable to that of equal concentrations of ibuprofen and naproxen.11,12  This may be another way that cherries and cherry juice can ease symptoms of gout and arthritis, and also may help athletes to cut down on post-workout muscle pain. Distance runners training for a race who drank tart cherry juice twice daily for 8 days (7 days prior to race plus race day) experienced less post-race pain than those who drank a placebo.13 Similarly in strength workouts, tart cherry juice consumers experienced less pain and strength loss over the four following days compared to placebo.14 

Cherries may help you sleep:

Tart cherries are one of the few rich food sources of the hormone and antioxidant melatonin, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle in the human brain.15  Tart cherry juice supplementation has been associated with improvements in sleep quality.16

When we think about high-antioxidant, health-promoting fruits, sometimes cherries are overlooked.  But as you can see here, cherries are an excellent food that benefits the heart, brain, and joints, and may even prevent tumor growth and improve the quality of sleep – and they will be in season very soon, so enjoy them!

 

References:

1. Cherry. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry. Accessed on May 2, 2011.

2. Cherries. Aboutcom Local Foods. http://localfoods.about.com/od/summer/tp/CherriesHub.htm and http://localfoods.about.com/od/cherries/ss/cherryvarieties.htm. Accessed on May 2, 2011.

3. Kim DO, Heo HJ, Kim YJ, et al: Sweet and sour cherry phenolics and their protective effects on neuronal cells. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemis ry 2005;53:9921-9927.

4. Phenolic compounds in sweet and sour cherries. Cornell University. http://ecsoc2.hcc.ru/ecsoc-2/dp260/dp260.htm. Accessed on May 2, 2011.

5. Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity of Selected Foods. 2007. US Department of Agriculture. http://www.ars.usda.gov/sp2userfiles/place/12354500/data/orac/orac07.pdf Accessed on May 2, 2011.

6. Traustadottir T, Davies SS, Stock AA, et al: Tart cherry juice decreases oxidative stress in healthy older men and women. J Nutr 2009;139:1896-1900.

7. Kang SY, Seeram NP, Nair MG, et al: Tart cherry anthocyanins inhibit tumor development in Apc(Min) mice and reduce proliferation of human colon cancer cells. Cancer Lett 2003;194:13-19.

8. Jacob RA, Spinozzi GM, Simon VA, et al: Consumption of cherries lowers plasma urate in healthy women. J Nutr 2003;133:1826-1829.

9. Martin KR, Bopp J, Burrell L, et al: The effect of 100% tart cherry juice on serum uric acid levels, biomarkers of inflammation and cardiovascular disease risk factors. In Experimental Biology 2011. Washington, D.C.: The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology; 2011.

10. Kelley DS, Rasooly R, Jacob RA, et al: Consumption of Bing sweet cherries lowers circulating concentrations of inflammation markers in healthy men and women. J Nutr 2006;136:981-986.

11. McCune LM, Kubota C, Stendell-Hollis NR, et al: Cherries and health: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2011;51:1-12.

12. Seeram NP, Momin RA, Nair MG, et al: Cyclooxygenase inhibitory and antioxidant cyanidin glycosides in cherries and berries. Phytomedicine 2001;8:362-369.

13. Kuehl KS, Perrier ET, Elliot DL, et al: Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2010;7:17.

14. Connolly DA, McHugh MP, Padilla-Zakour OI, et al: Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med 2006;40:679-683; discussion 683.

15. Burkhardt S, Tan DX, Manchester LC, et al: Detection and quantification of the antioxidant melatonin in Montmorency and Balaton tart cherries (Prunus cerasus). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemis ry 2001;49:4898-4902.

16. Pigeon WR, Carr M, Gorman C, et al: Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. J Med Food 2010;13:579-583.

 

 

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Comments (15) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Fat Fudge - May 10, 2011 3:48 PM

How much should you eat to reap the health benefits?

Chris Carlson - May 10, 2011 5:22 PM

I absolutely agree in the health benefits of cherries. They have become my favorite frozen fruit to add to my shakes in the morning. I add one cup frozen, and actually feel a charge from eating them, as crazy as it sounds. I'm an adrenaline junkie at heart and believe that they aids in post-workout soreness. And the real truth is that they just plain taste great. I've added dried cherries to my oatmeal on some days, and in that case I use half a cup. I've read about the sleep benefits of cherries, supposedly they contain some melatonin...but this self-proclaimed poor sleeper has not experienced better sleep from eating them, though. Sorry to say.

Marie Krieger - May 10, 2011 7:22 PM

Thanks for letting us know how nutritionally powerful cherries can be! It is so nice to learn the scientific backstory to such a sweet and colorful fruit and again how simple foods can be our first medicine.

StephenMarkTurner - May 10, 2011 7:34 PM

Hi Deana

If someone was interested in the sleep regulating properties of sour cherries, would it be better to have them closer to bedtime? I know that is generally recommended with melatonin supplements.

Cheers,
Steve

carfree - May 11, 2011 1:12 AM

And they're delicious!

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - May 11, 2011 9:46 AM

Regarding sleep, it seems logical to eat cherries in the evening, though the study didn't report when the cherry juice was taken. They did note that the results were similar to those on valerian and melatonin supplements, which as Stephen said, are usually taken at bedtime.

These are the amounts of cherries used in the papers I cited:

The serving in the sleep study was equivalent to 50 sour cherries.

The new study on uric acid levels and heart disease risk factors used 8 ounces/day of tart cherry juice, which is similar to about 100 cherries.

The study on inflammation markers used 280 grams of sweet cherries per day, which is about 2 cups.

Wendy (Healthy Girl's Kitchen) - May 11, 2011 10:01 AM

Thank you for highlighting the health benefits of cherries. I love cherries but often pass them over in the market because of their expense. Won't do that again!

StephenMarkTurner - May 11, 2011 12:16 PM

Thanks for the response Deana.

If I may, I think the spelling is 'Montmorency'. Here in Southern Ontario the company 'Black River Juice Company' have a Montmorency Cherry Juice product. It is good, you have to shake it up very well, and it really tastes like the fruit. Of course, juice is likely not as nutritious as the whole fruit.

Steve

Mark Osborne - May 11, 2011 1:20 PM

It is nice to know that cherries have health benefits and this article inspired me to write a blog post about promoting certain foods as superfoods.

After contemplating cherries so so long I was motivated to buy a bag on the way home and eat a bowl before bed. Alas I woke up early with a headache this morning - but that's probably just coincidence!

StephenMarkTurner - May 12, 2011 6:06 PM

I've also learned that it is still very easy for me to overconsume fruit juice. Oops!

Oh well, I have been very active, so I think I can deal with the calories.

Steve

Virtually Vegan Mama - May 13, 2011 11:44 AM

Great article and I pulled out a recipe I had filed away in honor of this and the health benefits of cherries which references this of course!

Cherry Almond Coconut Macaroons

http://virtuallyveganmama.blogspot.com/2011/05/cherry-almond-coconut-macaroons.html

Deana Ferreri, Ph.D. - May 16, 2011 9:27 AM

Stephen - thanks for catching my spelling error!

Jeff - June 6, 2011 3:00 PM

Considering the anthocyanins involved in producing benefits, would I be right in assuming that most of not all benefits from cherries would be lost if the are processed, cooked, etc. In other words, are the benefits only from fresh cherries and not juice from concentrate, dried cherries, etc.

Thanks!

wayne - June 21, 2012 10:10 PM

eat them..they are delicious

B J - January 28, 2013 10:30 PM

Recently a friend of mine was working in a health food store. She is my age and was telling me about tart cherry juice also.
I have been on the cherry juice and it has greatly helped with my arthritis especially in my knees and ankles. Your information about the cherry juice has more information than was given to me by her health store. Thanks again for this article as I have learned more new facts to help me in my every day living with arthritis.

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