Food Focus: Cherries

They reduce inflammation and symptoms of muscle pain, while also slowing down the ageing process… in short, cherries rule

Mounting evidence shows that not only do cherries have powerful health and disease-fighting properties, but that they’re also particularly beneficial to athletes. Research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2010 described how eight days of drinking cherry juice reduced symptoms of exercise-induced muscle pain in long-distance runners. Cherries are rich in anthocyanins, which are responsible for the protective effects. However, these powerful antioxidants don’t just help repair the micro-damage associated with intense training – they offer health benefits, too.

According to research published in the March 2013 edition of The Journal of Nutrition, regular cherry consumption has the power to reduce several biomarkers for chronic inflammatory diseases. Just one month of eating 280g of cherries a day resulted in subjects’ blood levels of markers such as C-reactive protein and various interleukin molecules decreasing. These are all strong indicators of chronic body inflammation.

A popular medicinal use of cherries has been in the treatment and management of gout – an inflammatory type of arthritis triggered by a crystallisation of uric acid within the joints that causes excruciating pain and swelling. This was recently verified in a study published in Arthritis and Rheumatism in 2012. Scientists discovered that patients with gout who consumed cherries over a two-day period showed a 35% lower risk of gout attacks compared with those who didn’t eat the fruit. Furthermore, the findings also suggest that the risk of flare-ups was 75% lower when cherry intake was combined with the common uric-acid reducing drug, allopurinol.

Finally, cherry juice also appears to benefit us as we age. Ageing is associated with an impaired capacity to resist oxidative cell damage, leading to faster ageing and disease. A study published in The Journal of Nutrition has found that drinking cherry juice improves our antioxidant defences when under oxidative stress.