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A friend of my husband was seeing a doctor for joint pain in his shoulders. Another patient at the clinic suggested he try tart cherry juice. Thinking it couldn't hurt, and would taste better than any medicines he was taking, he tried it. After two weeks his pain had eased and his range of motion greatly improved. My father is having arthritis pain in his knees, and I LOVE cherries, so I decided to research the topic.
I was amazed to find tart cherries really can help with joint pain from arthritis and other inflammation (like gout), heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and sleep problems.
Michigan produces between 70 and 75 percent of the tart cherries grown in the United States, so it’s not unusual to find universities in the state studying them. In separate studies, the University of Michigan and Michigan State found many health benefits from tart cherries.
Tart cherries contain antioxidants that block oxidation, protecting cells from free radicals. So, what's a free radical and why is oxidation bad? A free radical is a cell that is missing an oxygen molecule. They steal oxygen molecules from healthy cells, speeding up aging. The major antioxidants in tart cherries are anthocyanins. These flavonoids provide all the brilliant colors of nature - flowers, fruit, vegetables, and the myriad colors of autumn. Other antioxidants delivered by tart cherries include melatonin and vitamins A, C and E.
Researchers at Michigan State University found that tart cherries inhibit Cyclooxygenase 1 and 2 (COX 1 and 2) enzymes, preventing inflammation in joints. They work very much like NSAIDs, but the cherries actually protect against stomach inflammation. Even better outcomes can be achieved when the cherries are taken together with glucosamine and chondroitin. The glucosamine and chondroitin build cartilage and lubricate joints, while the tart cherries provide pain relief.
Nobody gets gout anymore, right? Wrong. Gout is a form of arthritis caused by a build-up of uric acid. Uric acid produces tiny needle-like crystals (monosodium urate) that are deposited in the open spaces between joints causing inflammation and pain. Flavonoids in tart cherries lower the uric acid and dissolve the crystals.
According to Dr. Jonny Bowden (Phd in nutrition and board certified by the American College of Nutrition), inflammation is a culprit in every major degenerative disease - heart disease, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and even, possibly, cancer. Anything that can decrease inflammation and provide other health benefits should be considered as part of a balanced diet. Here is the nutrition information on daily servings of tart cherries:
It should be noted that cooked cherries do not contain as many of the healthful properties as the fresh fruit and juice.
Tart cherries are also high in the antioxidant melatonin. It regulates your body’s waking and sleeping rhythms. Concentrated cherry juice has the most melatonin per gram. Health experts recommend that melatonin is best taken in food rather than supplements.
In tests on rats, University of Michigan researchers found that tart cherry powder significantly lowered blood levels of triglycerides and cholesterol. PLUS, the rats receiving the tart cherry powder did not build up as much belly fat or gain as much weight as rats in the control group. There were also lower levels of inflammation linked to heart disease and diabetes.
Last, but not least, the University of Vermont, Cornell and the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma teamed up in a study on cherry juice and muscle pain due to exercise and injury. Participants drank two 12 oz bottles of juice (liquid equivalent of 50 to 60 tart cherries) for three days before doing the exercises in the test; the control group drank a placebo. The muscle pain was less for the group that drank the cherry juice.
Tart cherry supplements, dried cherries and juice concentrate can be found at health food stores and on the internet. The juice concentrate can also be found at some grocery stores.
Here are two nice ways to get tart cherries into your diet:
Fruit Smoothie – 8 oz.
Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.(from All About Arthritis)
Cherry-Berry Waldorf Salad (from Choose Cherries)
Place mixed berries and cherries in a small bowl. Add boiling water to cover the fruit and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain well. If necessary, cut large strawberries into smaller pieces. Meanwhile, place cubed apples in large bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice; toss until coated. Add celery, walnuts and drained fruit. Stir together mayonnaise, sugar and ginger. Add mayonnaise mixture to apple mixture; toss until apple mixture is evenly coated. Cover and chill about 30 minutes before serving.