Eat cherries for a healthy heart, a good night's sleep and more

The cherry is a stone fruit, in the same family with plums, apricots, and peaches. The majority of edible cherries have been derived from two species: Prunus avium – the wild cherry (sweet cherries like Bing and Rainier) and Prunus cerasus – the sour cherry (like the Montromorency and Morello varieties).  Most sour cherries here in the U.S. are grown in Michigan with some growing on the East coast as well, and sweet cherries are grown primarily in the Pacific Northwest and Michigan.1 Cherries, especially sour cherries, have a short growing season.  Sweet cherries are generally available between May to August, and sour cherries are available for just a couple of weeks either in mid-June (in warmer areas) or either July-August (in cooler areas).2

Cherries protect against oxidative stress:

Cherries range in color from yellow and pink to bright red to deep, dark red. The colors of sweet and sour cherries come from their rich supply of anthocyanins, including chlorogenic acid, quercetin, and kaempferol.3,4 Regarding antioxidant content, cherries are some of the highest ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) foods in existence – the ORAC score of sweet cherries ranks just as high as strawberries (though not quite as high as blueberries).5  

Anthocyanins protect the body against oxidative damage in a number of ways: they scavenge free radicals directly, bind to DNA to protect it from oxidative damage, and activate detoxification and antioxidant enzyme systems in the body. Cherry anthocyanins have been shown to protect blood vessels and brain cells against oxidative stress, implying that cherry consumption may help to prevent atherosclerotic plaque formation and neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.3,6 Cherry anthocyanins also slow the growth of human colon cancer cells.7

Cherries reduce inflammation:

Cherries and cherry juice have been used since the 1950s by sufferers of gout and arthritis to ease their symptoms.  Gout results from an overload of uric acid in the blood (hyperuricemia), which accumulates and forms crystals in the joints, causing painful arthritis; cherry consumption has been shown to reduce circulating levels of uric acid, which may be one pathway by which cherries improve gout symptoms.8

Evidence presented at the Experimental Biology 2011 meeting related the anti-inflammatory effects of tart cherry juice to both gout and heart disease.  Overweight and obese subjects consumed 8 ounces/day of tart cherry juice or placebo for 4 weeks.  Tart cherry juice consumers experienced reductions in uric acid levels and inflammation markers.  With regard to cardiovascular disease, reductions were also seen in triglycerides, VLDL, and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), a molecule involved in atherosclerotic plaque formation.9  Previous studies on sweet cherry consumption have similarly documented reductions in C-reactive protein (CRP), another inflammatory molecule that is also a marker of cardiovascular disease risk.10

Cherries act as a natural painkiller:

Cherry extracts inhibit the action of cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and COX-2 enzymes.  These enzymes are important components of the inflammatory process and the sensation of pain. Also, these are the same enzymes that are inhibited by many common pain medications.  In fact, the COX inhibitory activity of cherry anthocyanins is comparable to that of equal concentrations of ibuprofen and naproxen.11,12  This may be another way that cherries and cherry juice can ease symptoms of gout and arthritis, and also may help athletes to cut down on post-workout muscle pain. Distance runners training for a race who drank tart cherry juice twice daily for 8 days (7 days prior to race plus race day) experienced less post-race pain than those who drank a placebo.13 Similarly in strength workouts, tart cherry juice consumers experienced less pain and strength loss over the four following days compared to placebo.14 

Cherries may help you sleep:

Tart cherries are one of the few rich food sources of the hormone and antioxidant melatonin, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle in the human brain.15  Tart cherry juice supplementation has been associated with improvements in sleep quality.16

When we think about high-antioxidant, health-promoting fruits, sometimes cherries are overlooked.  But as you can see here, cherries are an excellent food that benefits the heart, brain, and joints, and may even prevent tumor growth and improve the quality of sleep –  enjoy them when they are in season!



1. Cherry. Wikipedia. Accessed on May 2, 2011.

2. Cherries. Aboutcom Local Foods. and Accessed on May 2, 2011.

3. Kim DO, Heo HJ, Kim YJ, et al: Sweet and sour cherry phenolics and their protective effects on neuronal cells. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemis ry 2005;53:9921-9927.

4. Phenolic compounds in sweet and sour cherries. Cornell University. Accessed on May 2, 2011.

5. Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity of Selected Foods. 2007. US Department of Agriculture. Accessed on May 2, 2011.

6. Traustadottir T, Davies SS, Stock AA, et al: Tart cherry juice decreases oxidative stress in healthy older men and women. J Nutr 2009;139:1896-1900.

7. Kang SY, Seeram NP, Nair MG, et al: Tart cherry anthocyanins inhibit tumor development in Apc(Min) mice and reduce proliferation of human colon cancer cells. Cancer Lett 2003;194:13-19.

8. Jacob RA, Spinozzi GM, Simon VA, et al: Consumption of cherries lowers plasma urate in healthy women. J Nutr 2003;133:1826-1829.

9. Martin KR, Bopp J, Burrell L, et al: The effect of 100% tart cherry juice on serum uric acid levels, biomarkers of inflammation and cardiovascular disease risk factors. In Experimental Biology 2011. Washington, D.C.: The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology; 2011.

10. Kelley DS, Rasooly R, Jacob RA, et al: Consumption of Bing sweet cherries lowers circulating concentrations of inflammation markers in healthy men and women. J Nutr 2006;136:981-986.

11. McCune LM, Kubota C, Stendell-Hollis NR, et al: Cherries and health: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2011;51:1-12.

12. Seeram NP, Momin RA, Nair MG, et al: Cyclooxygenase inhibitory and antioxidant cyanidin glycosides in cherries and berries. Phytomedicine 2001;8:362-369.

13. Kuehl KS, Perrier ET, Elliot DL, et al: Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2010;7:17.

14. Connolly DA, McHugh MP, Padilla-Zakour OI, et al: Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med 2006;40:679-683; discussion 683.

15. Burkhardt S, Tan DX, Manchester LC, et al: Detection and quantification of the antioxidant melatonin in Montmorency and Balaton tart cherries (Prunus cerasus). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemis ry 2001;49:4898-4902.

16. Pigeon WR, Carr M, Gorman C, et al: Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. J Med Food 2010;13:579-583.