A Toast to Tart Cherry Juice: New Research Finds Tart Cherry Juice Has Powerful Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
A new study suggests tart cherry juice may help reduce the risk of inflammation associated with many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.
LANSING, Mich. January 14, 2019 –Montmorency tart cherries have long enjoyed a reputation for reducing inflammation — including studies showing benefits for easing pain from arthritis and gout, and soothing sore muscles after exercise. Now, a new study suggests tart cherry juice may help reduce the risk of inflammation associated with many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.
The new study published in Food & Function found that 8 ounces of 100% tart cherry juice – equivalent to about 50 tart cherries – consumed daily for four weeks significantly reduced certain biomarkers of inflammation that are associated with chronic disease among overweight and obese adults.
Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer are the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S., and are often linked to underlying inflammation and oxidative stress. This study builds upon previous research that suggests Montmorency tart cherries – the most common varietal grown in the U.S. — may reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. These beneficial effects are thought to be related to anthocyanins, the naturally-occurring plant pigments that give tart cherries their ruby-red color and sour-sweet taste and may be responsible for their health-promoting properties.
“Tart cherries are among the richest sources of anthocyanins, and our results found that these polyphenols were effectively digested and absorbed,” said lead author Keith R. Martin, assistant professor at the Center for Nutraceutical and Dietary Supplement Research at the University of Memphis. “We also observed a positive effect of tart cherry juice on the specific markers of inflammation related to chronic disease, potentially linked to these beneficial compounds.”
Ten overweight and obese adults (eight females and two males) participated in a 10-week dietary intervention. While participants were generally healthy, they were identified as ‘at-risk’ of chronic disease based on a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or above. They were also found to have elevated levels of inflammatory markers in the blood, indicating underlying inflammation from an unspecified source.
Participants were randomly assigned to drink either 8 ounces of 100% tart cherry juice or 8 ounces of a placebo (a generic fruit punch) every day for four weeks. Following a two-week washout period, where they did not consume either beverage, participants switched to the alternative beverage for another four weeks. Beverages were matched for volume and color, and had similar carbohydrate and calorie content.
Before and after each four-week trial, researchers collected dietary records and physical activity questionnaires, measured participants’ height, weight and body composition, and analyzed fasting blood samples for markers of inflammation including chemokines, cytokines, high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). To determine the degree of anthocyanin absorption, researchers also collected additional blood samples from three subjects two hours after they drank their tart cherry juice, and analyzed those samples for the presence of anthocyanins.
Post-consumption blood samples positively identified tart cherry juice anthocyanins in the blood, supporting their digestion, absorption and potential availability. The daily consumption of tart cherry juice decreased certain markers of inflammation in overweight and obese adults when compared to a fruit punch placebo. Specifically, tart cherry juice resulted in a 16% reduction in MCP-1, a pro-inflammatory chemokine associated with the development of heart disease, and a trend toward the reduction of TNF-alpha, a pro-inflammatory cytokine. Several other inflammatory markers, including hsCRP and two types of cytokines known as IL-6 and IL-10, exhibited no between-group differences.
Researchers did discover a significant difference in ESR, a common indicator of chronic inflammation, however the majority of the difference was due to a placebo-induced increase. While ESR decreased by 6% after the tart cherry trial, it increased by 19% after the placebo. As fructose has previously been linked to chronic inflammation, researchers theorize that this increase may be related to the nearly 15 grams of added sugar found in the placebo, present mainly in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. Tart cherry juice also contains fructose, however it is naturally-occurring and present in just about half the amount.
Together, these results suggest daily consumption of tart cherry juice may reduce the risk of inflammation related to chronic disease, especially as an alternative to artificially-sweetened beverages. Montmorency tart cherries are the most common variety of tart cherries grown in the U.S., and are available year-round in dried, frozen, canned, juice and juice concentrate forms. Other varieties of tart cherries may be imported and not grown locally.
Source: Martin KR, Burrell L, Bopp J. Authentic tart cherry juice reduces markers of inflammation in overweight and obese subjects: a randomized, crossover pilot study. Food & Function.2018; 9:5290-5300.