Tart cherries: Exercise performance and 7 other impressive benefits

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Tart cherries: Exercise performance and 7 other impressive benefits

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Tart cherries health benefits have been reported by several research studies.

Tart cherries (Prunus cerasus L.) also known as sour cherries are part of the cherry family. The most cultivated type of tart cherries is Montmorency cherries. 

Like other natural products e.g., green tea, turmeric, and omega-3, tart cherries are an excellent source of antioxidants that provide most of the benefits.

Tart cherries are low calories with high fiber food. They are also rich in bioactive polyphenols, carotenoids, and vitamins with antioxidant properties. 

They are mostly consumed dried. More than 97% of tart cherries are processed for cooking and baking (1).

The following table provides phytonutrients in 100 g of tart cherries (2).

Nutrients Amount per 100 g tart cherries
Vitamin C10 mg
Niacin (Vitamin B3)0.4 mg
Pantothenic Acid (vitamin B5)0.1 mg
Vitamin A1283 IU
Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol)0.1 mg
Vitamin K2.1 micrograms
Beta Carotene770 micrograms
Lutein + Zeaxanthin85 micrograms
Total Phenols228.9 mg

Following are some known health benefits of tart cherries proven by scientific research. 

Benefits of Tart cherries

1 ) Tart cherries enhance exercise performance

Exercise regularly

Tart cherries juice can provide benefits to bodybuilders and athletes. 

In animal studies, the use of the tart cherry supplement reduced muscle loss or atrophy (3).

In human studies, powdered tart cherry supplement intake in resistance-trained males reduced muscle soreness. Therefore, tart cherries may provide an effective dietary supplement in resistance training (4).

Exercise-induced pain is a common side effect of strenuous exercise.

Consuming 355 ml tart cherry juice twice daily for 7 days reduced muscle pain in athletes doing strenuous running. Tart cherries may provide a safe alternative to painkillers (5).

A meta-analysis of randomized control trials with endurance exercise tests concluded that tart cherry concentrate having a low glycemic index can improve endurance training performance by reducing oxidative stress, inflammation, and increasing blood flow (6).

A similar meta-analysis showed that tart cherry supplementation helps in recovery after strenuous training compared to no use (7).

The use of tart cherry supplements can also reduce muscle damage after exercise (8).

Intake of tart cherry supplement can reduce muscle soreness, muscle loss, and improved recovery after resistance training.

2 ) Tart cherries have an antioxidants function

Tart cherries organic compounds show strong antioxidant function. 

Especially, anthocyanins and cyanidin from tart cherries had higher antioxidant activity compared to vitamin E (9).

Cyanidin glycosides are also important inhibitors of oxidative stress from tart cherries (10).

With age, oxidative stress increases which makes the older population more susceptible to illnesses with oxidative stress such as cardiovascular, neurological, and metabolic diseases. Ingesting tart cherry juice (240 ml twice daily for 14 days) lowered oxidative stress (11).

The consumption of tart cherry is associated with an increased anti-oxidative activity. 

3) Tart cherries also reduce inflammation

The anti-inflammation function of tart cherries has also been studied. 

Anthocyanins in tart cherries are the main bioactive compound reducing inflammation (12).

In animal studies, anthocyanins from tart cherries decreased inflammation indicators IL-6 and TNF-alpha (13).

Therefore, the reduction of inflammation by tart cherries may be due to the influence on the cellular pathways that control inflammation. 

Tart cherry anthocyanins are implicated in the reduction of inflammation indicators. 

4) Tart cherries for sleep and insomnia

Tart cherries can enhance sleep and reduce insomnia symptoms. 

A blend of tart cherry juice in older adults improved sleep and reduced insomnia, measured by standard tests. 

8 ounces (240 ml) of tart cherry juice contains about 60 mg of anthocyanins and 550 mg of total polyphenolic compounds. 

Intake of two 8 ounce servings per day of tart cherry juice for 2-4 weeks significantly reduced Insomnia Severity Index (ISI). The overall effect of the tart cherry juice blend was a moderate reduction in insomnia symptoms (14).

A study found that the use of 30 ml tart cherry juice concentrate twice daily that provided 85 micrograms of melatonin per day, increased melatonin in the body, and improved sleep quality and sleep time in both healthy men and women (15).

Commercially available tart cherry juice polyphenolic bioactive compound procyanidin B-2 improved sleep time and efficiency by increasing tryptophan availability and reducing inflammation (16).

Tryptophan converts into serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. Melatonin is a natural chemical known to induce sleep. Thus, increasing tryptophan increases melatonin to improve sleep (17).

Tart cherry intake improves sleep and reduces insomnia. Polyphenols of tart cherry improve tryptophan, which improves melatonin and sleep parameter.

5) Tart cherries may lower blood pressure

Vascular smooth muscle cells are found in blood vessels, and they are important for blood flow. Tart cherries may improve some vascular cell parameters (18).

The use of tart cherries has been shown to improve vascular function in obese or overweight men (19).

60 ml per day tart cherry concentrate intake for 4 weeks was associated with reduced systolic blood pressure in men with or without hypertension (20,21).

Tart cherry consumption (40 ml per day) lowered HbA1c, blood pressure, and LDL cholesterol in type 2 diabetes women (22).

The consumption of tart cherries may have a positive effect on blood glucose control and cardiovascular function. 

Tart cherry concentrate intake is associated with healthy blood vessels and lowering blood pressure.

6) Tart cherries are good for brain health

Antioxidant function by polyphenols of tart cherries is also beneficial in brain health

Anthocyanins from tart cherries are critical in protecting neural cells from oxidative damage (23).

Animal research shows an improvement in working memory and reduction in age-associated inflammation after tart cherry supplementation (24).

In humans, the use of tart cherry juice supplementation improves memory score, learning task scores, and working memory in older individuals between 65-80 (25).

Due to antioxidant and anti-inflammation activity may improve cognitive function, memory, and learning in elderly people

7) Tart cherry juice can lower uric acid and pain

Gout is an inflammatory arthritis condition causing deposition of uric acid crystals in the joints, causing intense pain. 

Reducing serum uric acid is an efficient strategy to reduce its deposition in joints and pain.

The consumption of cherries lowered uric acid in healthy women  (26).

One study found intake of 240 ml daily of 100% tart cherry juice for 4 weeks in obese or overweight men and women significantly reduced the serum uric acid. 

It also reduced inflammation marker C reactive protein and MCP-1 (27).

Intake of tart cherry juice lowers uric acid levels and reduces inflammation. 

8) Tart cherry juice may provide relief in joint pain

Cherry consumption is associated with a reduction in gout symptoms (28).

Increased inflammation is observed in the majority of osteoarthritis conditions. 

Several anecdotal observations have reported the use of tart cherry supplementation in reducing the pain and osteoarthritis symptoms. 

Tart cherry consumption lowered inflammatory indicators C reactive protein, IL-6, IL-10, and TNF-alpha in women with osteoarthritis  (29).

Ingestion of 8 ounces of tart cherry juice twice daily for 6 weeks decreased inflammation indicator C reactive protein and provided symptom relief in patients with mild or moderate osteoarthritis (30).

By lowering inflammation, tart cherry juice can lower the symptoms of gout and osteoarthritis. 

Tart cherries’ dosage

Currently, there is no clear dosage of tart cherry for its benefits. Various research studies used different supplement amounts. 

Up to 45 cherries per day, consumption for one month, is associated with decreased inflammation in healthy men and women (31).

On average, 240 ml of tart cherry juice contains 550 mg of polyphenols. 

Regular moderate consumption of tart cherries may provide health benefits due to polyphenols.

For exercise endurance and recovery, studies using 30 ml tart cherry juice /supplement twice daily provided benefits for athletes (32,33,34).

Lower amounts may be not beneficial in recovery from resistance training. 

For blood pressure and sleep, several studies (mentioned above) used 8 ounces (240 ml) twice daily of tart cherry juice for 2-4 weeks.  

Tart cherries safety 

Tart cherry juice, concentrate, and fruit is safe for human consumption for most humans. No adverse effects are reported so far. 

Research using up to 500 ml tart cherry juice per day reported no adverse effects. 

People with low blood pressure may consult their doctor because tart cherries can lower blood pressure. 

Tart cherry supplements

Tart cherries are available as tart cherry juice and concentrate.

Tart cherry tablets and capsules in various amounts are also available. These can provide an alternative to eating raw cherries. Sourcing tart cherries supplements, from trusted sellers, is important to consuming quality products. 

The Gist 

Tart or Montmorency cherries are high in antioxidants. The use of tart cherry juice improves exercise performance, recovery, and reduction in muscle loss and soreness.

It can also help in sleep and reduce symptoms of insomnia. 

It can lower blood pressure and is also effective in joint and muscle pain reduction.