If you were a musician whose arthritic fingers hurt so much you could barely finger your instrument anymore, what would you do?
Well, the commercials on TV would advise you to go on painkillers.
But I know a guitar player and fiddler who tried something more natural: tart cherry juice.
During ten years of having a little bit of the juice every day – he has a small glass at lunchtime – he says it has kept the arthritis under control, banished most of the pain and let him play as much as he wants.
Plus, research into this juice supports what he reports.
Under most circumstances, I don’t recommend that you drink bottled fruit juice. It’s too high in sugar and it usually has had most of the fruit’s important nutrients removed or destroyed by pasteurization or other processing.
But tart cherry juice is an exception to that rule.
One of the most notable benefits of tart cherry juice are the natural substances known as polyphenols that fight off inflammation. And now researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University argue that tart cherries possess the “highest anti-inflammatory content of any food.”
That’s important because inflammation is involved in a whole host of conditions including cancer, heart problems and allergies as well as arthritis.
In one of their studies, the Oregon scientists focused on women with osteoarthritis and found that drinking two glasses a day of tart cherry juice shrank the level of inflammatory chemicals circulating in their blood.1
And the researchers say this effect can, indeed, lower the pain linked to arthritic joints.
“With millions of Americans looking for ways to naturally manage pain, it’s promising that tart cherries can help, without the possible side effects often associated with arthritis medications,” says researcher Kerry Kuehl. “I’m intrigued by the potential for a real food to offer such a powerful anti-inflammatory benefit – especially for active adults.”
Studies have, in fact, found that the anti-inflammatory effects of tart cherry are as potent as some of the pain medications you can buy in a drug store.2
Blood Pressure Goes Down
Tart cherry’s natural chemicals have also been found to make a dent in high blood pressure.
A test at Northumbria University in the UK involving 15 people with hypertension showed that tart cherry juice reduced blood pressure readings by about seven percent. The British scientists think natural chemicals in tart cherry called phenolic acids help blood vessel walls ease up and stop constricting unnecessarily.
And here, too, researchers think this cherry juice is as effective as some drugs (and with fewer adverse side effects). “The magnitude of the blood pressure lowering effects we observed was comparable to those achieved by a single anti-hypertensive drug and highlights the potential importance that Montmorency (tart) cherries could have in the effective management of high blood pressure,” says researcher Karen Keane.
Sleep Better, Too
Along with these health benefits, research shows that tart cherry juice can help you sleep better.
A study at Louisiana State University found that for older people in their 60s and 70s suffering insomnia, two weeks of tart cherry juice (eight ounces twice a day) increased their sleep at night by an impressive average of 84 minutes.
The Louisiana researchers believe that while the natural melatonin in the juice helps with sleep, tart cherries also contain polyphenols called proanthocyanidins which help the body convert tryptophan (an amino acid) into the neurotransmitter serotonin that eases the body into sleep.
Other benefits of tart cherry juice include:
- Soothing sore muscles after exercise. A study of cyclists found that it accelerated recovery and reduced exercise-induced inflammation.3
- Possibly reducing uric acid in people with gout. Lab tests show that it may help lower high levels of this inflammatory chemical that irritates joints.4
- Lowering inflammation in brain tissue and reducing the risk of memory problems as you age.5
One caveat about tart cherry juice – don’t overdo it. It contains a fair amount of sugar. But you may find that a little every day reduces chronic pain and helps you get to sleep at night without so much tossing and turning.