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5 Health Benefits of Tart Cherries

Rich in natural painkillers and powerful antioxidants, this small but mighty fruit could improve everything from your blood pressure to joint pain.
5 Health Benefits of Tart Cherries

While water is still probably the ultimate health drink—we're not saying anything otherwise—a new beverage is getting some major attention for its ability to boost your heart health: tart cherry juice.

Packing not only flavor but tons of nutrients, tart Montmorency cherry juice significantly reduces high blood pressure comparable to what you can achieve with medicine, according to new research from Northumbria University in Newcastle, United Kingdom.

In the study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers targeted 15 men who had early signs of high blood pressure and, consequently, a higher risk of suffering from heart-related problems in the future. These men had blood pressures of at least 130/90 mmHg (a normal reading should be below 120/80 mmHg). However, after drinking 60ml (1/4 cup) of Montmorency cherry concentrate (versus the control, which received a generic fruit-flavored drink), the men saw a 7% reduction in blood pressure after just three hours. That's a big deal: Past research suggests that a sustained reduction of 5-6 mmHg in blood pressure is linked with a 38% lower risk of stroke and a 23% lower risk of coronary heart disease.

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And while it's hard to draw much of a conclusion from a single small study, it does point to something that research has suggested for a while: Tart cherries have a bevy of health benefits. Whether you consume them raw, take it in extract form, or drink the juice—opt for 100% cherry juice with nothing added, since some fruit juices can have lots of added sugar—check out these notable health benefits they offer:

Tart cherries may be the key to a brighter brain, according to research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, which reports that high levels of antioxidants and anthocyanins (which give tart cherries their bright red color) in tart versus sweet cherries may slow degenerative brain diseases. 

In the study, mice with Alzheimer’s symptoms were fed cherry extract, fish oil, and emu oil. Mice running on tart cherry extract performed better on cognitive tests like object recognition than did the control group.

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If you feel like you're living in the body of someone 10-20 years your senior because of the pain and stiffness you suffer after long training sessions, you might benefit from supplementing your diet with tart cherry juice. In a study from Oregon Health and Science University, researchers told patients with osteoarthritis—a type of arthritis that occurs when flexible tissue at the ends of bones wears down—to drank tart cherry juice twice a day for three weeks.

The participants who drank the juice saw a notable decrease in inflammation, and especially those patients who started the study with the worst inflammation.

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Drinking tart cherry juice twice a day can help you get up to 90 more minutes of sleep each night, according to research from Louisiana State University. In a small study, researchers observed the sleep patterns of 7 adults, then put them on a two-week trial. During the first two weeks, participants drank tart cherry juice twice daily, followed by two weeks of drinking nothing, and then two weeks of knocking back a placebo beverage. The tart cherry juice prompted participants to get, on average, 84 more minutes of sleep each night compared to the placebo.

One working theory why? Tart cherries have more melatonin (the hormone responsible for sleepiness) than any other fruit. They also have tryptophan, a slow-metabolizing amino acid your body uses to create melatonin.

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You may not need the ibuprofren or ice packs after a grueling run: Tart cherries may be more effective for beating muscle pain, according to a study from Oregon Health and Science University. In the study, researchers found runners who drank cherry juice right after a long run had 23 percent less pain later on than guys who didn't. Another study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, found that tart cherry juice also has a protective effect on muscles and helps reduce pain during strenuous exercise.

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