Scientists at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine concluded that tart cherries provide impressive anti-inflammatory activity in comparison to most other foods.1
The main ingredient responsible for their potency are antho-cyanins, a special class of flavonoids that provides tart cherries with their characteristic pigmentation and diverse health benefits.2
Every anthocyanin-rich food has its distinct set of antho-cyanins, flavanols, and other polyphenols.3 And for that reason, each of these foods helps protect against a unique set of-but not all-diseases.
Compared to bilberries, blueberries, and cranberries, tart cherries contain a very broad range of anthocyanins.4,5 As a result, they target a much wider spectrum of inflammation-induced diseases, including diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and more.6-9
In addition, tart cherry compounds have been shown to increase the activity of the body’s key antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase (SOD).10
In this article, you’ll learn how tart cherries block inflammatory factors in a range of degenerative diseases!6-9
Tart Cherries Deliver Superior Range Of Key Anthocyanins
Anthocyanins are a special class of flavonoids, the colorful compounds in fruit known for their free-radical-scavenging capacity and anticancer effects.9
But it’s not simply their high overall anthocyanin content that results in tart cherries’ greater range of targeted diseases. After all, other foods also have high total levels of these potent compounds.
The secret to tart cherries’ broad disease protection is the wide variety of key anthocyanins and other powerful phytonutrients,4,5 all of which work together to provide greater potency.11
In addition, tart cherries offer anthocyanins not found in many other deeply colored fruits.5
In fact, when scientists compared the components of tart cherries to those in other anthocyanin-rich fruits, they found that tart cherries were the only fruit that contained every single anthocyanin for which they tested.4
When they tested a variety of fruits for six specific anthocyanins (including cyanidin and peonidin), they found that apples contained one, strawberries contained two, and grapes contained three-but only tart cherries contained all six key anthocyanins.4
When they further tested these and other anthocyanin-rich fruits for three key flavonols (such as quercetin and kaempferol), once again, tart cherries were the only fruits found to contain all three flavonols.4
Similarly, when they tested several anthocyanin-rich fruits for nine other potent natural compounds including polyphenols, tart cherries were the only fruit shown to contain all nine.4
Although these represent just a few of a long list of phytochemicals found in foods, this comparison illustrates that tart cherries don’t simply have a high anthocyanin content-they have a wider range of anthocyanins and other phytochemicals, which offers broader protection against disease.
Let’s now look at how this impressive range of anthocyanins in tart cherries work together to fight against some key chronic conditions.
Inhibit Cancer’s Origins
Tart cherries’ array of anthocyanins promotes broad protection against cancer, the second leading cause of death in the US.12
When scientists conducted a thorough review of past studies, they concluded that cherries exert a variety of potent anticarcinogenic effects.6
A tart cherry diet fed to mice significantly inhibited both the number and size of adenomas (benign tumors) of the cecum,13 an area at the beginning of the large intestine that is a common colon cancer site.14 In the same study, tart cherry anthocyanins reduced the growth of human colon cancer cell lines.13
Cyanidin, a flavonoid in cherries, has been shown to inhibit colonic carcinogenesis in animal models.15
All of these anticancer benefits derive from tart cherries’ ability to battle cancer via several distinct mechanisms.
Studies demonstrated that the anthocyanins in tart cherry naturally switch off genes that can promote cancer. These include genes that activate cell proliferation and inflammation as well as genes that promote angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels that nourish a tumor.9,16,17
Tart cherry anthocyanins can also trigger apoptosis, the programmed cell death that causes precancerous cells to self-destruct.16,18
Reverse Cardiovascular Risk Factors
The risk of developing atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases is much greater among those with elevated readings of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.19
Fortunately, evidence demonstrates that tart cherries reverse some of the most prominent risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high cholesterol, high triglycerides,20 and excess weight.
Tart cherries are also able to calm inflammation at critical body sites-such as the belly and heart-that are specifically linked to heart disease risk.21-23
As a result, mice given tart cherry powder experienced a 26% decrease in cholesterol and a 65% reduction in early death, believed to be due to improved cardiovascular health.21
In human studies, consuming just 8 ounces daily of tart cherry juice for four weeks was found to lower triglyceride levels by an average of over 17%.24
The ability of tart cherries to safely reverse these prominent risk factors for cardiovascular disease is especially important considering that the standard medical therapies, such as cholesterol-lowering statins or fibrates, involve risks ranging from myalgia to liver dysfunction to rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which damaged skeletal muscle is broken down, sometimes resulting in kidney failure.25,26
Tart Cherries Offer Potent Protection
- Free-radical-induced inflammatory molecules are key contributors to the onset of diabetes, arthritis, obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer-virtually all degenerative diseases.
- Scientists have found a nutrient that both quenches free radicals and delivers an unrivaled, direct inflammomodulatory effect.
- Researchers have stated that tart cherries “have the highest antioxidant and anti-inflammatory content of any food.” Also, tart cherry compounds increase the activity of superoxide dismutase (SOD), your body’s key antioxidant enzyme.
- While tart cherries owe their potency in part to high anthocyanin content, their real secret is their extremely broad range of anthocyanins. As a result, tart cherries synergistically target a remarkably wide spectrum of oxidation- and inflammation-induced diseases.
Protect Against Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress, combined with aging, can cause some nerve cells in certain regions of the brain to die. This process contributes to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s,27 Parkinson’s,28 and Huntington’s29 diseases, as well as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) and general cognitive decline.27
One of the best ways to battle against these diseases is to fight the oxidative stress that underlies those conditions-and that’s exactly what tart cherries do.
Tart cherries are rich in flavonoids (such as anthocyanins)2 and researchers found that flavonoids have strong neuroprotective activity-specifically against cell-damaging oxidative stress.27
However, although both sweet and tart cherries provide broad benefits against multiple degenerative diseases,9,30,31 tart cherries contain higher concentrations of anthocyanins that protect neurons from dangerous oxidative stress.31
Scientists concluded that tart cherries’ rich phenolic content-including its highly diverse supply of anthocyanins-was responsible for this enhanced neuron defense, which they described as “strong antineurodegenerative activity.”31
Inhibit Early Development Of Diabetes
Remarkable evidence indicates that tart cherries’ broad variety of anthocyanins may reverse elements involved in metabolic syndrome, a condition that often precedes the development of type II diabetes.32
Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions that includes high triglycerides, high blood pressure, high fasting blood sugar, abnormal lipid profiles, and excess weight.33 In addition to raising your risk of diabetes, it can also increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.34
When obesity-prone rats were fed a diet partly comprised of whole tart cherry powder, various components of metabolic syndrome were substantially decreased-after 90 days. For example, the compounds in tart cherries reduced fat mass, weight around the abdomen, elevated blood lipids, expression of inflammation markers and tumor necrosis factor, and exerted other beneficial metabolic changes.32
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The research team concluded that, “Tart cherries may reduce the degree or trajectory of metabolic syndrome, thereby reducing risk for the development of type II diabetes and heart disease.”32
Tart Cherry Juice Versus Extract
Many of the studies cited in this article use tart cherry juice. However, many people prefer to use a tart cherry extract to avoid the high calories and sugar content in tart cherry juice. For the purposes of comparison, two vegetarian capsules (1,231 mg) of the leading tart cherry extract are the equivalent to approximately 45 ounces of tart cherry juice.76
Safely Lower Arthritic Inflammation
At some point in their lives, almost half of all Americans will develop symptomatic osteoarthritis,35 a chronic condition characterized by a breakdown of joint cartilage that results in serious pain and injury.36,37
One of the most commonly used osteoarthritis pain medications38-acetaminophen-does not effectively lower inflammation,39 and its adverse effects can include liver or kidney damage.40
Tart cherries, however, have been shown to safely protect against the devastating pain and dysfunction of osteoarthritis by targeting the underlying inflammation.41-43
In a pilot study, scientists gave tart cherries in pill form to patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. After just eight weeks, over 50% of patients experienced a significant improvement in both pain and function.41
Researchers then conducted a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial on patients suffering from inflammatory osteoarthritis-a condition involving sudden signs of inflammation such as redness, pain, and swelling. They measured the impact of tart cherry on serum inflammatory biomarkers.42
This trial included 20 female participants between 40 and 70 years old who experienced at least moderate osteoarthritis pain. They consumed two 10.5-ounce bottles of either tart cherry juice or a control beverage every day for three weeks. The patients who consumed the tart cherry juice experienced a significant decrease in inflammation, shown by reduced C-reactive protein (CRP) levels.
These results underscore the capacity of tart cherry juice to provide osteoarthritis patients with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity without the adverse effects and risks of traditional arthritis medications.
Inhibit The Inflammatory Pathway Of Gout
Gout is another type of inflammatory arthritis that is caused by high concentrations of uric acid in the body44 and is associated with higher risks of cardiovascular disease and mortality.20
Drugs such as allopurinol and probenecid are typically used to help reduce uric acid levels, but the side effects can include breathing difficulties, unusual bleeding, vomiting, nausea, severe rash-and even death.45-47 These drugs may also interfere with other medications.48,49
Fortunately for gout sufferers, cherries have been shown to safely and naturally prevent the underlying factors involved in gout.50,51
Researchers first proposed cherries as a gout inhibitor in 1950. A preliminary study showed daily cherry consumption relieved gout attacks and reduced serum uric acid levels.52 Since then, several studies have further established this defense.50,51
Scientists at the USDA’s ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center at the University of California, Davis; ARS Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center, Little Rock; and Department of Pomology, University of California, Davis, gave healthy women between 20 and 40 years old 280 grams of cherries following an overnight fast. Over the next five hours, the participants’ uric acid levels dropped by 14.5%, and their C-reactive protein levels also decreased.50 No significant reductions in any of these levels were observed with similar doses of grapes, strawberries, or kiwifruit. The researchers concluded that the wide variety of compounds such as anthocyanins in cherries inhibited the inflammatory pathways of gout.50
With the knowledge that cherries are able to inhibit the onset of gout, scientists at Boston University set out to determine if cherry extract could reduce the recurrence of gout attacks. When they gave a cherry extract to 633 gout sufferers, they found that cherry extract reduced the risk of attacks by 45%. And when cherry intake was combined with the drug allopurinol, gout attacks were decreased by 75% compared to no intervention.51
Choosing The Right Type Of Cherry
Not all cherries provide the full antioxidant and anti-inflammatory punch that scientists have described as “the highest antioxidant and anti-inflammatory content of any food.”1
The two cultivated varieties of cherry are the sweet cherry (Prunus avium L.), sometimes known as the wild cherry, and the tart cherry (Prunus cerasus L.), sometimes known as sour cherry or pie cherry.
They don’t deliver the same type or the same amounts of their potent compounds.
All cherries provide substantial quantities of antioxidants and other nutrients. But compared to their sweet cousins, tart cherries provide:
- Less sugar and fewer calories than sweet cherries.
- Much higher content of various anthocyanins.5,31
- Twice the level of various phenolic compounds and greater levels of other nutrients.31
- Compounds that increase the activity of superoxide dismutase (SOD), the body’s key antioxidant enzyme.10
- Powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects when compared to other foods.1
- A superior range of anthocyanins and other phytonutrients.4
Due to their superior anthocyanin and phenolic matrix, tart cherries may help reduce the risk of osteoarthritis, gout, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.6-9
But keep in mind that tart cherries are not the cherries you’re likely to see at the grocery store, which will almost certainly be sweet cherries. The potent but less common tart cherries are chiefly used for baking and usually come frozen, canned, dried, or juiced. Tart cherries may occasionally be located at a farmer’s market.
Fortunately, standardized extracts of tart cherries are available so you can take advantage of the latest scientific findings regarding tart cherries and their potent health benefits.
Put The Brakes On Age-Related Muscle Loss
The anti-inflammatory effects of tart cherries prompted investigations into their potential to lower muscle pain, protect muscle strength, and accelerate muscle repair. This is especially important for aging individuals who experience loss of muscle mass and strength (sarcopenia).
In one study, runners who drank 710 mL of tart cherry juice-providing at least 80 mg of various anthocyanins-daily for one week prior to and during a 24-hour relay race experienced substantially less post-race pain, compared to controls.53
Another group of runners who drank tart cherry juice daily from five days before until two days after a marathon had significantly reduced inflammation markers (interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein) compared to controls. They also recovered isometric strength faster.54
Also, in young men who normally never exercised, drinking 12 ounces of tart cherry juice twice daily for eight days resulted in only a 4% decrease of arm strength after repeated arm exercises-compared to a strength decrease of 22% in controls.55
Scientists then conducted a trial on 10 men to assess muscle-repair potential. Initially, each participant conducted an intensive leg exercise on one leg only. Then, the exercise was repeated on the other leg after two weeks. For seven days before and 48 hours after exercise, participants consumed 1 ounce of tart cherry drink or placebo twice daily. Faster recovery of the knee extension (maximum voluntary contraction force) was observed with the tart cherry juice protocol versus control-which researchers believed was due to attenuation of oxidative damage.56
These studies confirm that tart cherries deliver significant muscle-protecting benefits.
Unparalleled Protection and Anti-Inflammatory Potency
There are multiple elements behind tart cherries’ proven superiority at targeting the underlying oxidative and inflammatory origins of disease. Recent evidence indicates that anthocyanin-rich tart cherries exert their effects in 15 different ways. Tart cherries have been shown to:
- Enhance the body’s own endogenous antioxidants.65
- Beneficially inhibit certain enzymes5,66 while boosting others.7,67,68
- Provide compounds that increase the activity of the body’s antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase (SOD).10
- Deliver a higher content of anthocyanins than sweet cherries.2,5,31
- Contain a wider range of anthocyanins,4 including some not found in other berries.5
- Deliver over 20 richly bioactive anti-oxidants.4,10
- Provide an abundance of phenolic compounds-such as gallic acid, p-coumaric acid, kaempferol, and quercetin-that are both antioxidant and inflammomodulatory chemicals.10
- Contain cyanidin, which forms cyanidin-DNA complexes that make DNA more resistant to oxidative damage.69,70
- Modulate inflammatory cell-signaling molecules such as tumor necrosis factor.32
- Decrease levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), uric acid, and nitric oxide.50
- Strongly inhibit inflammatory diseases71,72 and inflammatory pain.73
- Reduce early mortality in animal studies.21
- Switch on cancer defenses.6,13,74
- Reduce blood glucose.75
- Decrease levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.21,24
With so many beneficial activities, it’s no wonder that tart cherries have been shown to have a superior ability1 to protect against the full range of conditions associated with oxidative stress-induced inflammation-including cancer, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and Alzheimer’s disease.6-9
Inflammatory molecules contribute to the onset of diabetes, arthritis, obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer-virtually every degenerative disease.57-64
Tart cherries deliver an unrivaled, direct inflammomodulatory effect. In fact, some scientists have stated that tart cherries “have the highest antioxidant and anti-inflammatory content of any food” and they also increase the activity of your body’s key antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase (SOD)!65
Tart cherries have high anthocyanin content. But the real secret to their effectiveness against many inflammatory diseases is their broad range of anthocyanins.4 As a result, tart cherries synergistically target a remarkably wide spectrum of oxidation- and inflammation-induced diseases.
Tart cherries allow aging individuals to block an extremely wide range of degenerative diseases-at their oxidative-inflammatory root!
Reprinted with kind permission of Life Extension
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