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The Art of Tart.....Cherry. Evidence Behind the Benefits of the Berry.

We live in a world of so many options when it comes to anti inflammatories. Both prescription as well as over the counter NSAIDs are abundantly available. Popular prescription meds such as Celebrex, Mobic, Voltaren, Relafen, and Toradol sit atop the prescription sources. Over the counters include Advil, Motrin, Aleve, and Bayer Aspirin in the NSAID group. Other prescription sources include the corticosteroid groups. These drugs will include prednisone, methylprednisolone, dexamethasone, hydrocortisone. All of the medication sources have been around for ages and frequently satisfy the short term need for many painful conditions relative to inflammation. They all also carry side effects from long term use. For sake of this article we will focus our attention to the major potential side effect of gastrointestinal distress, ulceration, and ultimately internal bleeding from long term abuse of NSAIDs.

A brief description of how an NSAIDs works lies within the understanding of Cyclooxygenase 1 and 2 (COX1 and COX2). These are enzymes that are responsible for a couple key functions. COX1 lines the inner lining of our GI tract while COX2 is found throughout the body. Both enzymes are responsible for the pain, inflammation, and fever cascade. The NSAIDs work via inhibition of these enzymes. Unfortunately NSAIDs work on BOTH enzymes and while NSAIDs are effective to reduce inflammation throughout the body they are also effective within the stomach and intestines. These are areas where we are vulnerable to a reduction of the COX1 enzymes. As a result long term use increases our risk of GI distress, ulceration, and bleeding. So if we could come up with a drug that was more effective on COX2 and less effective on COX1 enzymes then we might have produced a magic potion. But wait, mother nature might have just as well provided us with a potion. In fact we might have an abundance of POTIONS, .... plural.

For the sake of this article we will dive into one particular potion. That potion is direct from the cherry family. Let us introduce the tart cherry. The majority of TART cherries in the USA come from Montmorency, MI and the color is consistent as a bright red. Sweet cherries will vary in color anything from red to purple to darkened black. Rainier cherries are lighter in appearance. Tart cherries are harvested in summertime but less available in fresh produce form in areas away from their origin. Local markets may carry the produce for a short time but you can more readily find tart cherry juice. The effects of cherry families as an antioxidant, thus antiinflammatory, have long been studied and are suspected

of delivering their effect because of the anthocyanin pigments throughout the cherry. An important note is that anthocyanin volume appears most within the skin of the cherry. A particular brand called Cheribundi is seeking a patented process of pasteurization in which they claim to have maximized the concentration of anthocyanin.

What is Anthocyanin?

This is a pigment found in plants most abundantly in the flowering or fruit portion of plants with color pigmentation. For plant biology we know that they partner with flavonoids to act as antioxidant components to reduce oxidative stress of a plant. That means the substance acts as a protector against natural stressors. We know that this action occurs when exposed to human tissue in laboratory tests (in vitro) and there is growing evidence that the same action occurs within the human body (in vivo).

Benefits of Tart Cherries

  1. Antioxidant/antiinflammatory Properties as mentioned above

  2. Increased melatonin levels: Studies have found increased total sleep as well as coined "deep sleep" in research subjects. This increased sleep is critical for body healing during daily and/or exercise stress.

  3. Evidence of decreased arthritic pain related to the painful arthritic condition of gout

  4. Relative to Endurance Athletes (marathon runners): Studies have seen reduced muscle catabolism (break down leading to fatigue and post effort pain), increase immune response (ward off post effort infection), decreased inflammation markers. All factors ultimately encourage FASTER RECOVERY.

  5. Potential for reduced Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: For above mentioned factors of reduced catabolism studies have found not only reduced post effort soreness but also a decreased degree of post effort strength loss

  6. Relative to older adults: Studies have found increased capacity to resist oxidative stress after an acute injury. This is shown through a reduction of oxidative stress to nucleic acids. Loose correlation when speaking about nucleic acids.....slower aging, or at least not speeding it up!!

Tart Cherry versus Sweet Cherry

So is tart more powerful than sweet varieties? There are a few studies available to argue both sides as being powerful. Even though there is a growing base of research to single out tart cherries, there is some established research to indicate sweet cherries are indeed a more powerful COX2 inhibitor with less COX1 inhibition in comparison to Aleve or Advil. Special note is that the same study found Rainier varieties to essentially hold no antioxidant value.


So, which way do we go?


Come on guys and gals, we're talking about cherries here! If you like 'em, down them. Tasty, antioxidants, antiinflammatories, and without side effects of the NSAID or corticosteroid groups. Is it for everyone? No, but is it worth a try. We think yes.


There is nothing concrete regarding dosage but most studies have been run with cherry juice (hard to reproduce a fake whole cherry to convince someone they are eating a placebo cherry and much easier to hide cherry flavored juice for research) and have averaged from 16-24 ounces per day. Most applications were 8 ounce servings but again nothing here is concrete yet in the literature. If you are lucky enough to land your hands on fresh cherries then compared to an 8 ounce juice serving, the same amount of anthocyanin comes from about 50 fresh cherries. Frozen cherries also pack a punch, however, slightly reduced in comparison to fresh (buy fresh in bulk if on sale and freeze). If you happen to have a high powered blender or a juicer than a FANTASTIC option is to take frozen cherries and whip into 100% ice cream. A dab of almond milk can create a shake or if blended into an ice cream then toss in some walnuts for added antioxidant and flavorful punch. Enjoy!!

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