Tart Cherries- A Targeted Approach for A Healthy Inflammation Response
I believe, one of the most underrated foods which should be the first line of defense for supporting a healthy inflammation response is, tart cherry.
A small amount of inflammation is not only healthy but in fact necessary to know when something is wrong so the body can do its job and fix it. It is the repetitive bouts of low-grade inflammation which in time promotes an overstimulation of the inflammatory response and leads to chronic systemic inflammation.
According to the American Heritage Science dictionary, the definition of inflammation is:
“The reaction of a part of the body to injury or infection, characterized by swelling, heat, redness, and pain. The process includes increased blood flow with an influx of white blood cells and other chemical substances that facilitate healing”.
In a nutshell, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories work by reducing the production of prostaglandins which are chemicals that promote inflammation, pain and fever. There is a group of enzymes that produce these prostaglandins called cyclooxygenases or otherwise known as (COX). There are specifically 2 types of COX enzymes known as cox-1 and cox-2. Both of them produce these prostaglandins which promote pain, fever and inflammation but, only cox-1 promotes prostaglandins which activate platelets and protect the lining of the stomach.
The job of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories is to essentially block the Cox enzymes and reduce the production of prostaglandins. For your reference…
Aspirin is a cox-1 inhibitor, and
The drug Celebrex is a cox-2 inhibitor.
Is a compound that works as an anti-inflammatory the same as a compound that supports a healthy inflammation response?
The answer is NO and here is why……….
Anti-inflammatories only work on one specific inflammation pathway and often have an overall negative effect on the entire cascade (as shown above). A food like tart cherry has a positive effect on the entire cascade thereby resulting in a healthy inflammation response.
Mechanisms of action for Tart Cherry- According to an article in Life Extension Magazine titled “Anti-Inflammatory properties of Tart Cherry” June 2013, The primary function of tart cherry within the inflammation cascade is (1)
- Inhibits cox-1 and cox-2 enzymes– Function explained above
- Suppresses IL-6- Acts as both a pro and anti-inflammatory. The end stage of inflammation
- Suppress Nuclear Factor-KappaB– A protein complex that turns genes on which produce inflammation. This is the initial trigger in the inflammation cascade.
- Switches off genes involved in the inflammation process
- Lowers uric acid levels
What does all of this mean?
In a nutshell, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories suppress one specific pathway which leads to a cascade of negative effects on the overall inflammation response. Tart cherry, on the other hand supports a healthy inflammation response by modulating the entire cascade via suppression of Nuclear Factor-KappaB. In a paper published in Journal of Medicinal Food it was stated that a diet which contained tart cherry decreased IL-6 and TNF-alpha mRNA, and decreased nuclear factor kappaB activity.(2) What makes this food so exciting, tart cherry does have a strong effect on both cox-1 and cox-2 pathways through its modulating effects of the inflammation cascade. (1)
Tart cherry put to the test- The effects of tart cherry juice consumption were tested in a double-blind, randomized trial of runners participating in a 24-hour relay race. Runners drank two 355 milliliter beverages containing either tart cherry juice or a placebo beverage daily for one week prior to the race and during the race. (Two 355 mL bottles of tart cherry juice daily provides at least 80 mg anthocyanins which are the equivalent of 90 to 100 cherries). Both groups reported pain after the race. But the runners who drank tart cherry juice experienced a substantially smaller pain increase after the race. This natural protection against acute muscle soreness suggested that tart cherries must be providing some defense against muscle damage.(3)
To confirm this, scientists conducted a controlled trial on indices of muscle recovery. Participants were given either tart cherry juice or a control drink for five days before, on the day of, and for two days after a marathon race. Runners in the tart cherry group had significantly lower inflammation biomarkers (Interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein) compared to the placebo group. The tart cherry group also recovered isometric strength faster than the control runners, demonstrating an accelerated recovery following strenuous exercise.(4)
Sleep and Recovery- While supporting a healthy inflammation process is essential to good health, the need for quality sleep is essential for the human restoration process. This is where tart cherry shines above all others in its mechanisms of action. Tart cherry is the world’s highest natural source of melatonin found in any food.
In a double-blind placebo-controlled human study showed the effects tart cherry had on the sleep-wake cycle in humans. Twenty people either consumed tart cherry or a placebo for 7 days. Measures of sleep quality (actigraphy and subjective sleep questionnaires) and urine samples were collected to test for a metabolite of melatonin (6-sulfatoxymelatonin). The results showed “Total melatonin content was significantly elevated in the cherry juice group” and “There were significant increases in time in bed, total sleep time and sleep efficiency total”. It was concluded that “consumption of a tart cherry juice concentrate provides an increase in exogenous melatonin that is beneficial in improving sleep duration and quality in healthy men and women and might be of benefit in managing disturbed sleep”. (5)
The power of Anthocyanins & Polyphenolic compounds- According to a paper published in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy 2002, polyphenols are the most abundant of the 3 classes of antioxidants in the human diet. Known as “reducing agents” and with the help of other dietary agents referred to as antioxidants they “Protect the body’s tissues against stress and associated pathologies”. (6) Foods that contain these powerful compounds have been extensively studied for supporting cardiovascular and neurological health through their ability to support a healthy inflammation response. (7)
Conclusion- Tart cherry possesses a unique complexity of compounds. When applied as a synergistic whole food, tart cherries provide a broad spectrum of benefits. Its various mechanisms of action make it capable of supporting some very complex cascades in the healing process. This is exactly what makes tart cherry a true needle in a haystack.
2)Seymour EM1, Lewis SK, Urcuyo-Llanes DE, Tanone II, Kirakosyan A, Kaufman PB, Bolling SF. “Regular tart cherry intake alters abdominal adiposity, adipose gene transcription, and inflammation in obesity-prone rats fed a high fat diet”. 2009. Pubmed.gov Sourced 4/3/18
3)Kerry S Kuehl,1 Erica T Perrier,#1 Diane L Elliot,#1 and James C Chesnutt#2. “Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial”. 2010. Pubmed.gov. Sourced 4/3/18
4)Howatson G1, McHugh MP, Hill JA, Brouner J, Jewell AP, van Someren KA, Shave RE, Howatson SA. “Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running” 2010. Pubmed.gov. Sourced 4/3/18
5)Howatson G1, Bell PG, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh MP, Ellis J. “Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality”. 2012. Pubmed.gov. Sourced 4/3/18
6)Tapiero H1, Tew KD, Ba GN, Mathé G. “Polyphenols: do they play a role in the prevention of human pathologies?”. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy. 2002. Pubmed.gov Sourced 4/3/18
7)Blando F, Gerardi C, Nicoletti I. Sour cherry (Prunus cerasus L.) “anthocyanins as ingredients for functional foods”. J Biomed Biotechnol. Pubmed.gov Sourced 4/3/18