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Studies show tart cherries are way more than just a sour snack—-they have a plethora of health benefits

Words by Kendall Wenaas

Sore muscles? Instead of grabbing the pill bottle, try snacking on a handful of tart cherries. The fruit might not be the next miracle drug, but there is some science to back this up.

Montmorency (tart) cherries, which are mostly produced in Michigan, are now getting credit for more than just their pucker-worthy taste. Nutritionists have been singing praises of tart cherries for their myriad health benefits.

Muralee Nair, a senior associate to the dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University, has studied the scientific side of cherries.

“The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory aspects of cherry anthocyanins—specifically the tart cherries and sweet cherries contain the pigment of anthocyanins,” Nair said. “They are strong inhibitors of enzymes that cause inflammation in the body.”

In layman’s terms: Anthocyanins are a color pigment that give cherries their red color and are behind a lot of the potential health effects. While Nair hasn’t conducted clinical trials with humans, his extensive lab research shows cherries’ potential.

“What we’ve found are cherry anthocyanins are much better than aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen,” Nair said. “They are very good at being anti-inflammatory, provided the customer get the effective dose from cherries, cherry juice or cherry products.

Across Lake Michigan, The Cherry Hut is known as Door County, Wisconsin’s oldest roadside market – selling all things cherry since they opened in 1950.

The Cherry Hut’s manager Staci Reinhard sees customers coming in both for the tart taste they love and for the health benefits.

Reinhard said that those seeking health benefits from cherries will usually buy The Cherry Hut’s tart cherry concentrate to drink alone or mixed into a glass of water.

“Most people will do this daily, either to combat joint pain related to arthritis or swelling, or at night to supplement their bodies natural production of melatonin, which helps you sleep,” Reinhard said. “A few will take it to help aid in recovery for vigorous workouts.”

Those aren’t the only benefits. Many studies have been published over the last few years showing that tart cherries can possibly solve all sorts of health problems:

  1. Reduce inflammation. As Nair and Reinhard noted, studies show that tart cherries’ anthocyanins may decrease inflammation, which can help prevent arthritis. The tiny yet mighty fruit is packed with antioxidants which can help reduce nitric oxide, also reducing the effects of certain types of arthritis.
  2. Improve your workout. Drinking tart cherry concentrate regularly can make muscles more resilient. Plus, the antioxidants can mean a faster recovery after the workout.
  3. Fight disease. Speaking of antioxidants—studies suggest that cherries’ high antioxidant levels can also help fight cancer and heart disease.
  4. Improve sleeping habits. Tart cherries contain a high dose of melatonin (the hormone associated with sleep).So not only can cherries reduce compromises in physical health, they can also help a person catch some zzz’s.
  5. Lower blood pressure. This one’s still up for debate. But a recent study from Northumbria University in Newcastle, England, showed that the specific acid combination in tart cherries leads to a lower blood pressure.

While experts aren’t recommending you replace your daily medications and vitamins with fruit, cherries can have some rad health benefits. Perhaps the fruit is the extra cherry on top of your normal health routine that you didn’t know you needed.