When most people think of fruit with beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, blueberries are the ones that receive the most credit. However, recent research from Oregon Health Science University, which was presented at the American College of Sports Medicine Conference (ACSM), may boost the reputation of tart cherries and steer more attention to their benefits. The researchers also went on to make the bold claim that “cherries have the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food.”1
Cherries contain anthocyanins, which are responsible for the red pigment in the berries. Anthocyanins exhibit significant antioxidant properties, which led scientists to continue studying their benefits.2 The amount of anthocyanins present in tart cherry juice exhibits some of the same pain management strength as that of some pain medicines.3
The study conducted by Oregon Health Science University consisted of twenty women who all had inflammatory osteoarthritis, ages ranging from 40 to 70. Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder, and is due to wear and tear on the joints that often accompany age.4 Athletes are exceptionally prone to developing osteoarthritis, since their joints often receive a significant amount of stress. As a result, the cartilage is broken down between the joints and leads to joint pain. The results of the study showed that drinking tart cherry juice twice a day for three weeks resulted in a significant reduction in inflammation marker.
The potential inflammation benefits look promising, and even more so for athletes. In a prior study, principal investigator Dr. Kerry Kuehl discovered that those who drank cherry juice while training for a long distance run reported significantly less pain after exercise compared to those who did not ingest the juice.5
Dr. Kuehl had this to say about tart cherries:
With millions of Americans looking for ways to naturally manage pain, it's promising that tart cherries can help, without the possible side effects often associated with arthritis medications. I'm intrigued by the potential for a real food to offer such a powerful anti-inflammatory benefit – especially for active adults.6
The research does not stop there either. There was also previous research on tart cherries and its potential to reduce osteoarthritis pain done conducted at the Baylor Research Institute. This study determined that a daily dose of tart cherries helped reduce the pain that is associated with osteoarthritis by more than 20% for the majority of men and women.7
Cherry juice is already being used by professionals. For example, Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN, who is the Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center for Sports Medicine has incorporated tart cherries into the regimen of both her professional athletes as well as her other active clients.8 The double bonus with cherries is that they not only display anti-inflammatory properties, but many people like the their sweet, tart taste.