If you’re like me you’ve probably never heard of tart cherry juice before watching a rerun of The Doctor Oz Show on June 21 2011. Tart cherry juice, or as Dr. Oz called it the “ultimate antioxidant”, is reputed to have several health benefits. While there are over 250 different types tart cherries (also called sour cherries), they are all healthy to varying degrees and because they are fruits, all types have some of antioxidant activity. In this tart cherry review, I want to address the 3 specific claims that Dr Oz mentioned on his TV show. If you do your own research, remember that it’s scientific name Prunus cerasus. I say this because scientific papers sometimes use this term as opposed to tart cherry or sour cherry.
Is Tart Cherry Juice The “Ultimate Antioxidant”?
Because it’s a fruit, tart cherries have antioxidant properties. In one study of older adults published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2009, 12 older adults were randomly given either 16 oz of tart cherry juice (two 8 oz servings per day) for 2 weeks. Then after a month they were given a placebo drink and followed again for another two weeks. Scientists measured oxidative damaged caused by free radicals during both drinks to see if either drink had any effect.
At the end of the study, tart cherry juice was found to improve the antioxidant defenses of the older adults. This was admittedly a small study (only 12 people) but it demonstrates that there is some antioxidant activity. That said, I see no good proof that tart cherries are the ultimate antioxidant. All fruits and vegetables are antioxidants and tart cherries are no different.
Tart Cherry Juice Benefits
According to Dr. Oz, tart cherry juice has the following benefits :
- Pain relief
- Fights heart disease
- Helps you sleep
Let’s discuss the proof for each of these separately and see what we can figure out
Is Tart Cherry Juice A Natural Pain Reliever?
Some research does find that tart cherries are anti-inflammatory because they contain compounds that act somewhat similar to aspirin. Some of these compounds in tart cherries are called anthocyanins.
One of the ways that aspirin works is by inhibiting an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (pronounced, sigh-clo-ox-a-gen-ace). This is the enzyme Dr. Oz was talking about on TV.
I did my Master’s Thesis on cyclooxygenase. See, I told you I was a geek 😉
Does this mean that tart cherry juice works like aspirin? Well, maybe, but it’s hard to say for sure. A tart cherry study in lab rats suggests it might, but I have not seen any research that tart cherry juice helped reduce headaches, arthritis or other issues like gout, in people. Still, it’s interesting and worthy of further research.
Tart Cherry Juice And Heart Disease
In one study, lab rats where fed a high fat diet for 3 months. Some rats were also given tart cherries (freeze dried tart cherry powder) while other rats were not. Rats that got the cherries had lower triglycerides and reduced abdominal fat . Cherries also have some soluble fiber which may have contributed to some of the effects on triglycerides.
Since elevated triglycerides (fats in the blood), increased weight and belly fat are associated with metabolic syndrome (which leads to type II diabetes), does this mean that tart cherries can lower our risk of type II diabetes? It’s a good question and it will be interesting to see human research on this. Right now, nobody is sure.
A 2011 study – conducted on people also appeared to show some benefits. In this study 10 overweight men and women drank either 8 oz of tart cherry juice or a placebo for 4 weeks. Researchers noted that tart cherry juice reduced not only markers for inflammation but also triglycerides and VLDL (a type of LDL /bad cholesterol.
Sleep And Tart Cherry Juice
The hormone melatonin is released from the pineal gland in the brain when we are in darkness. This is one of the reasons we get tired at night. Tart cherries do contain melatonin. Specifically Montmorency tart cherries have about 13 nanograms per gram (there are 28 grams in 1 ounce). This is more melatonin than other varieties like Balaton tart cherries which have about 2 nanograms per gram.
Melatonin is also an antioxidant and probably contributes to some of tart cherries antioxidant power.
Related to this, there is one study that hints that tart cherries may help sleep in older adults.
This study was funded by CherryPharm which makes the tart cherry juice used in this investigation. The study only involved 15 people who had insomnia. These older adults drank 16 oz of tart cherry juice a day for two weeks. They reported better sleep than when they drank a placebo.
As far as I can tell this study did not check to see if tart cherry juice actually raised melatonin levels in people. This is technically a problem with the study. Also, melatonin is not the only reason we get tired at night. So, just raising melatonin levels (if tart cherries really do this) may not work for everybody.
Does this mean that tart cherry juice will help younger people sleep better? Maybe or maybe not. I could not find any proof one way or another. I would caution – as Dr Oz did – to not drink cherry juice too close to bedtime or the extra fluid may increase nighttime bathroom trips – which does nothing for sleep.
For those who are interested here is the organic tart cherry juice I use.
Tart Cherry Juice And Exercise
Can tart cherry juice help you exercise better? One study says yes. This investigation involved 27 male and female marathon runners and triathletes. the people were randomly given either a placebo or a supplement that contained 480 mg of tart cherries. The runners took the supplement for 10 days prior to running a half marathon and on the race day.
- Ran the race 13% faster than the placebo group.
- Had higher antioxidant levels 24 hr and 48 hr after the race.
- Had a 47% reduction in inflammation markers after the race.
- Reported 34% muscle soreness (DOMS) before the race (not after).
The supplement used in this study was called CherryPURE
Tart Cherry Juice And Blood Pressure
Thanks to a reader, I was informed that melatonin may help nocturnal hypertension, a condition where blood pressure rises at night when we are asleep. Since tart cherries contain some melatonin, it makes some sense they would help with this too.
In fact one study has also shown that drinking 2 oz of Montmorency tart cherry concentrate reduced systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 10 points after 2 weeks of use (that's a lot!). This study that involved 15 men who had high blood pressure or pre-high blood pressure. None of the men were taking drugs for their blood pressure problems.
What About Tart Cherry Juice Capsules?
Since writing this review a few of the people who commented have said they have had success with capsules that contain tart cherry juice. I'd guess that capsules would appeal to people who don't like the taste of tart cherries or tart cherry juice. I've done some looking into this and found that there are several brands out there. Just a few I saw on Amazon include:
From what I understand, if tart cherry juice is going to help reduce inflammation, the dose should contain the equivalent of at least 46 cherries. I would check tart cherry juice capsules to see how many cherries are in a serving size.
I would also look to see how many capsule are needed to achieve a serving as well. In other words, if a product said it had 1000 mg, is that in 1 capsule, 2 or 3 capsules? Also compare price. More expensive cherry supplements may not be better.
Tart Cherry Juice Side Effects
So far no studies have shown any ill effects from tart cherry juice. That said, there isn’t much research in people with health problems. In theory, tart cherry juice may interfere with some medications. Since the enzyme cyclooxygenase plays a role in “thinning” the blood, people who take blood thinner medications should speak to their doctor.
The same might also be true for people who have blood pressure problems because cyclooxygenase is also involved with blood pressure. I am only guessing about these issues, but I think it’s worth saying.
- Stop taking tart cherry juice supplements at least 2 weeks before having surgery
- Pregnant or nursing moms should speak to their doctor first.
Not many people online talk about tart cherry juice side effects. Bottom line, talk to your doctor before adding tart cherry juice to your daily routine if you have any health issues.
Do Tart Cherries Work?
Overall, I'm intrigued with what I see about tart cherry juice and from the comments below, several people are also saying that it has an effect on a variety of issues. If you are healthy, I see no problems with taking a shot of tart cherry juice per day or a cherry supplement. It can't hurt and it just might help. Here is the brand I use for those who are curious.