I just ran across another article in a health magazine touting the benefits of tart cherry supplements or juice.
This particular article suggested tart cherries “significantly” reduced systolic blood pressure (the upper number). The author also wrote that tart cherries were linked to arthritis relief and exercise recovery.
Are they? Or are you better off saving your money?
What the research shows
For inflammation, arthritis and exercise recovery
Tart cherries (aka sour cherries) are loaded with vitamin C, a known anti-oxidant, and compounds called anthocyanins, which apparently have an anti-inflammatory effect similar to ibuprofen.
However, research results have been mixed. And all the studies are small, typically fewer than 50 participants; most would be considered “low-quality” studies.
One study looked at using tart cherry juice to relieve knee pain from arthritis. Overall, cherry juice proved no better than a placebo.
Another study compared tart cherry juice to a placebo for decreasing a specific blood marker for inflammation, C-Reactive Protein or CRP. Again, no significant difference between the two groups.
As for exercise recovery, another study looked as using different anti-oxidant supplements (vitamin C, tart cherry juice, and pomegranate juice) before and after exercise.
There is evidence that high dose antioxidant supplementation may slightly reduce muscle soreness at up to 6 hours and at 24, 48 and 72 hours follow-up but not at 96 hours. However, these reductions were so small that they were unlikely to make any difference.
Also, the study used high doses of the supplements, above recommended doses. Diarrhea and stomach upset were common side effects.
For insulin resistance
Another claim made by sellers of tart cherry supplements is that the flavonoids protect against type-2 diabetes by increasing insulin function (decreasing insulin resistance).
In one small study, the placebo actually produced a better result than the tart cherry juice!
Otherwise, there are relatively few studies looking at this connection.
For blood pressure
There are a few studies that support using tart cherry juice to lower systolic blood pressure, but only by a small amount. And the juice did nothing to lower diastolic blood pressure (the lower number), total cholesterol, or fasting blood sugar, which are important factors in cardiovascular health.
Tart cherries contain a very, very small amount of melatonin. Two daily servings of tart cherry juice provide way less than the smallest melatonin dose available.
Still, there is some slight evidence in small studies that a certain type of tart cherry, Montemorecy, may contain enough melatonin to affect sleep.
Tart cherry juice has long been recommended to control gout, an inflammatory condition where uric acid crystals get into a joint, usually the big toe, and cause extreme pain.
Daily doses of tart cherry juice may lower uric acid in the blood and prevent gout attacks. However, it isn’t recommended to treat an acute case of gout.
Cost and side effects of tart cherry supplements
Despite a few positive reports on tart cherry juice, there are three reasons why I would not use it myself (unless I had gout, which I don’t).
- The researchers were able to measure and control the amount of anthocyanins in the tart cherry juice. If you buy concentrate, juice or supplements, the label does not give this information. There have not been enough studies done to recommend a safe or effective dose. Also, supplements are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), so are notorious for containing less (or more) of the active ingredient. Or being contaminated with something else. In the land of supplements, it’s “buyer beware.”
- Tart cherry supplements are expensive, especially if you choose a quality brand (more likely to get what’s printed on the label) and want to use them every day. Personally, I’d rather spend my money on fruits and other foods that are naturally high in anti-oxidants and anthocyanins.
- Like cranberry juice, tart cherry juice is unpalatable on its own. Some people may use a small amount of concentrate in a smoothie. Others prefer a glass of tart cherry juice, which has a lot of sugar added to make it drinkable. If you’re trying to lose weight or cut back on sugar, tart cherry juice won’t be helpful. The supplements don’t contain sugar, but most studies have been done with juice or concentrate; whether supplements work the same as juice is unknown. Lastly, the most common side effect of tart cherry juice is diarrhea.
Yes, some people swear tart cherry supplements help them with a variety of complaints. Other than the high sugar content of the juice (and the cost), there isn’t a big downside to trying them.
But I feel the supporting evidence is pretty thin, so would prefer to save my money.