What Is It?
Consuming plentiful amounts of cherries–or a cherry extract made from the juicy, red-blue summer berries that grow on Prunus trees–can provide remarkable health benefits, ranging from fighting inflammation to preventing gout, a painful joint condition. This is because the cherries most of us love to eat–including both the sweet and tart varieties–are rich in potent antioxidants called flavonoids that have various therapeutic effects on the body.
Other dark red-blue berries (blueberries, hawthorn berries, and others) also provide many of the same valuable, anti-inflammatory flavonoid compounds. In fact, it’s the flavonoids that are also responsible for the remarkable color of all these fruits!
The flavonoids (specifically, anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins) found in cherries act as antioxidants in the body, scavenging for and destroying altered oxygen compounds called free radicals. Many degenerative diseases have been associated with the tissue damage that these free radicals can cause, including cataracts, Parkinson?s disease, and arteriosclerosis.
A 1996 Harvard study in published in the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine, for example, reported that the flavonoids found in cherries and other purple-colored berries (as well as in onions, parsley, apples, and other foods) could actually reduce the risk of death from heart attack in middle-aged men with coronary artery disease. The more flavonoid-rich foods that the nearly 35,000 men consumed, the lower the risk became of their heart disease worsening.
Flavonoids, such as those found in cherries, are also natural anti-inflammatory compounds, preventing both the synthesis and release of inflammation-promoting substances such as histamine. In this respect, the effect of flavonoids in the body is similar to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs like aspirin or ibuprofen), antihistamines, and certain anti-asthma drugs. This has made flavonoids a favorite among practitioners of natural medicine for the treatment of allergies, arthritis, or any condition in which chronic inflammation is present.
Flavonoids also strengthen collagen, the building fibers of connective tissue, by cross-linking the fibers themselves. This process then reinforces the web of connective tissue that includes tendons, cartilage, and other key structural tissues. Even varicose veins may benefit from the anthocyanidins in cherries, which help strengthen the collagen fibers that are the basic structure of the vein wall. Extracts of cherries and blueberries are used frequently in Europe for treatment of varicose veins.
Specifically, cherry fruit extract (as well as cherries in other forms) may help to:
Prevent gout. This is perhaps the best-known use for cherries. Their benefits are twofold: The flavonoids help to reduce the high uric acid levels in the blood that are responsible for the development of gout itself. And flavonoids block the inflammation-causing substances released in the joint when the uric acid crystals start to accumulate.
In a widely cited study published in 1950, Texas researchers reported that uric acid levels dropped to normal levels (and no further attacks of gouty arthritis developed) in 12 patients who consumed about a pound of fresh or canned cherries a day. A number of these patients also said they could move their fingers and toes–small joints commonly affected by gout–more freely once on the cherry regimen.
Lessen arthritis-related pain and inflammation. The healing properties in cherries that have achieved such renown for treating gout may likewise prevent the inflammation and pain of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
In a 1999 study published in the Journal of Natural Products, researchers reported that consuming 20 cherries a day provides 12 to 25 mg of the active flavonoid compounds (anthocyanins) that can significantly lessen free-radical damage (an antioxidant action) and inhibit inflammation. The team found that consuming this amount of cherries daily also offers pain relief similar to aspirin and other painkillers by inhibiting inflammation-causing compounds in the body.
–Most brands of cherry fruit extract capsules contain 1,000 mg of the extract, the amount you’d find in 2 cups (16 ounces) of pure cherry juice or a half pound of cherries.
For gout: For an acute attack, take 2,000 mg three times a day in capsule form. For maintenance, take 1,000 mg daily in capsule form.
For arthritis: Start with 1,000 mg twice a day. The dose can be adjusted according to how well you respond. If you don’t notice a difference after a month, discontinue the supplement.
Guidelines for Use
For variation, try alternating between cherry fruit extract, fresh or canned cherries, and cherry juice. Although not as concentrated a source of flavonoids as the extract, the juice and fruit do give you the added benefit of extra fiber in your diet.
Keep in mind that to get the same antigout and antioxidant effects, you’ll need to consume about half a pound of the cherries or 16 ounces of juice to equal a 1,000 mg capsule of extract.
Many people find the pure unsweetened juice made from sweet cherries the most palatable product. Beware, however, of “cherry drinks,” which usually contain a scant amount of actual cherry juice and lots of water and sugar.
If you prefer the taste of blueberry juice rather than cherry, that’s fine. It appears that drinking a half cup of blueberry juice regularly provides the same amount of healthy compounds that cherry juice does for preventing gout.
There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with cherry fruit extract.
Possible Side Effects
There are no known side effects or adverse reactions associated with cherries (or cherry fruit extract).
Cherry fruit extract appears to be quite safe at all recommended dosage levels.
Gout 1,000 mg twice a day
David Edelberg, MD