By Michael A. Smith, MDTo date, standard treatment for muscle pain and inflammation has typically been with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
With over 111 million prescriptions written annually, and accounting for around 60% of over-the-counter pain reliever sales in the USA alone, these are some of the most commonly used types of medications.1
But because NSAIDs can have deadly side effects, including gastric bleeding, heart attack, and kidney failure, the search for natural agents that could prove more beneficial and safer has gained increased attention.
And where has this search has brought us? To tart cherries.
Why? Because the compounds found in them help control numerous pathways to protect against conditions associated with inflammation — including cancer, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, and muscle pain associated with exercise.2-6
Tart Cherries Ease Painful MusclesHigh-intensity or prolonged physical activity of any kind typically causes muscle damage, resulting in oxidative stress, inflammation, and pain.
As people age, muscle mass and strength tend to decrease in a process called sarcopenia. Although exercise can help overcome this process, post-exercise pain and loss of strength tend to last much longer.
The observed anti-inflammatory benefits of tart cherries prompted researchers to investigate whether they could be used to protect muscles, ease pain, and accelerate muscle repair.
Research demonstrated that orally administered anthocyanins from tart cherries significantly reduced inflammation-induced pain in rats in a dose-dependent manner7 and that tart cherry juice blend lowered indicators of exercise-induced muscle damage in horses.8
With the results coming in from animal studies, the researchers turned to controlled human trials, first testing the impact of tart cherries on the degree of pain following intense exercise.
The effects of tart cherry juice consumption were tested in a double-blind, randomized trial of runners participating in a 24-hour relay race.
Runners drank two 355-milliliter beverages containing either tart cherry juice or a placebo beverage daily for one week prior to the race and during the race. The two 355-mL bottles of tart cherry juice daily provide at least 80 mg of anthocyanins which is the equivalent of 90 to 100 cherries.9
Both groups reported pain after the race. But the runners who drank tart cherry juice experienced a substantially diminished pain increase after the race. This natural protection against acute muscle soreness suggested that tart cherries must be providing some defense against muscle damage.9
Confirming the Tart Cherry Study’s FindingsTo confirm this, scientists conducted a controlled trial on indices of muscle recovery. Participants were given either tart cherry juice or a control drink for five days before, on the day of, and for two days after a marathon race.
Runners in the tart cherry group had significantly lower inflammation biomarkers, including interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein, compared to the placebo group.
The tart cherry group also recovered isometric strength faster than the control runners, demonstrating an accelerated recovery following strenuous exercise.10
What you Need to KnowStaying active is downright critical if you want to stay young. Unfortunately, far too many people end up skipping exercise entirely due to aches and pains or taking high doses of side effect prone anti-inflammatories just to get by.
Fortunately, tart cherry extract offers a safe alternative to over-the-counter NSAIDS and just may be the thing you need to stay active longer. Why not give it a shot?
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- Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2011 Jan;51(1):1-12.
- Molecules. 2010 Oct 12;15(10):6993-7005.
- J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Feb 25;57(4):1239-46.
- Curr Mole Med. March 2003;3(2):149-59.
- J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 May 7;7:17.
- Behav Brain Res. 2004 Aug 12;153(1):181-8.
- Am J Vet Res. 2009 Jun;70(6):758-63.
- Journal Int Soc Sports. 2010;7:17.
- Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010;20:843-52.
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