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Originally published April 17 2008

Natural Painkillers and Strong Antioxidants Found in Tart Cherries

by Leslee Dru Browning

(NaturalNews) The chemicals that give tart cherries their red color may relieve pain better than aspirin and may provide antioxidant protection comparable to commercially available supplements like vitamin E, according to Michigan State University researchers. The new findings "suggest that the consumption of cherries may have the potential to reduce cardiovascular or chronic diseases in humans (such as arthritis and gout)," write the scientists.

The research was published in the Jan. 28, 1999, web edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of Natural Products, published by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

While cautioning that studies have not yet been conducted with human subjects, lead author Muralee G. Nair, Ph.D., says their laboratory assay results suggest that a person eating about 20 tart cherries could realize antioxidant or anti-inflammatory benefits. That number of cherries contain 12-25 milligrams of the active compounds, called anthocyanins, according to the authors.

In the study, anthocyanins were found to prevent oxidative damage, caused by oxygen or free radicals, about as well as compounds in commercial antioxidants. They also inhibited enzymes called cyclooxygenase-1 and -2, the targets of anti-inflammatory drugs, at doses more than ten times lower than aspirin. "It is as good as ibuprofen and some of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs," says Nair.

"Daily consumption of cherries has the potential to reduce pain related to inflammation, arthritis and gout," added Nair.

Today, nine years after the above study, Tart Cherries continue to be studied for their possible ability to reduce factors associated with Heart Disease and Diabetes at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center.

Tart cherries -- frequently sold dried, frozen or in juice -- may have more than just a good taste and bright red color going for them, according to new animal research from the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center.

Rats that received whole tart cherry powder mixed into a high-fat diet didn't gain as much weight or build up as much body fat as rats that didn't receive cherries. And their blood showed much lower levels of molecules that indicate the kind of inflammation that has been linked to heart disease and diabetes. In addition, they had significantly lower blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides than the other rats.

The new findings build on results that were reported last year at the same meeting by the U-M team. That data came from experiments involving lean rats that were prone to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and impaired glucose tolerance, but that received a low-fat diet with or without cherries. In that case, cherry-fed rats had lower total cholesterol, lower blood sugar, less fat storage in the liver and lower oxidative stress. However, it was unknown if these benefits would be observed in obesity-prone animals, or in animals fed a higher fat, western-style diet containing elevated saturated fat and cholesterol.

"These new findings are very encouraging, especially in light of what is becoming known about the interplay between inflammation, blood lipids, obesity and body composition in cardiovascular disease and diabetes," says Steven Bolling, M.D., a U-M cardiac surgeon and the laboratory's director. "The fact that these factors decreased despite the rats' predisposition to obesity, and despite their high-fat 'American-style' diet, is especially interesting."

The results were presented by E. Mitchell Seymour, M.S., a U-M research associate and the senior scientist on the project. "It was recently shown in humans that regular intake of darkly pigmented fruits like cherries is associated with reduced mortality from cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease," says Seymour. "The heart-health benefits of these colorful fruits were sustained even when corrected for age and other health conditions. We're now invested in exploring the specific mechanisms of these benefits."

The experiments are funded by an unrestricted grant from the Cherry Marketing Institute, a trade association for the cherry industry. CMI has no influence on the design, conduct or analysis of any U-M research it funds.

The correlation between cherry intake and significant changes in cardiovascular risk factors suggests -- but does not directly demonstrate -- a positive effect from the high concentrations of antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins that are found in tart cherries. The anthocyanins are responsible for the color of these and of other darkly pigmented fruits.

The potential for protective effects from antioxidant-rich foods and food extracts is a promising area of research, says Bolling, who is the Gayle Halperin Kahn Professor of Integrative Medicine at U-M.

Even as the Cardioprotection Laboratory team continues its work in animals, U-M Integrative Medicine co-director Sara Warber, M.D., an assistant professor of family medicine at the U-M Medical School, is preparing to lead a pilot clinical trial of whole tart cherries in humans.

Tart Cherries also contain other important nutrients such as beta carotene (19 times as much as blueberries or strawberries) vitamins C and E, potassium, magnesium, iron, fiber and folate.

Cherries also have been found to help regulate the body's circadian rhythm, prevent memory loss and delay the aging process.

While there's no clear guideline on how many cherries it takes to reap the benefits, experts suggest that 1-2 servings of cherries daily can help provide some of the health benefits identified in the research.

* 1/2 cup dried

* 1 cup frozen

* 1 cup juice

* 1 ounce (or 2 Tbsp) juice concentrate


American Chemical Society (1999, February 1).

University of Michigan Health System (2008, April 10). Tart Cherries May Reduce Factors Associated With Heart Disease And Diabetes (

Health and Nutrition (

About the author

Leslee Dru Browning is a 6th generation Medical Herbalist & Nutritionist from the ancestral line of Patty Bartlett Sessions; Pioneer Mid-Wife & Herbalist. Leslee practiced Medical Herbalism and Nutritional Healing for over 25 years and specialized in Cancer Wellness along with Chronic Illness. She now devotes her career to teaching people, through her writing, about Natural Healing from An Herbal Perspective.

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