Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are very common in American pantries and medicine cabinets. This class of drugs includes aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and many more. They are used to treat pain, fever, and inflammation from a wide variety of conditions. Unfortunately, they all produce side effects in some individuals, including ulcers and other gastrointestinal problems, kidney damage, and liver damage.
A recent article in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reports that cherry juice may be an effective alternate to NSAIDs. The authors performed a study on long distance runners competing in the Oregon Hood to Coast relay race. Each runner completed three segments with a total distance of 14 to 19 miles with challenging uphill and downhill segments. This type of exercise is known to produce muscle pain and reduction of athletic performance.
The 54 runners were randomized to two groups. One group drank cherry juice prepared from frozen tart Montmorency cherries for seven days prior to the race, plus the day of the race. The other group drank a placebo drink with artificial cherry flavor. The dosage was 355 ml (12 fluid ounces, the size of a standard soda can) of cherry juice or placebo twice a day, for a total of 16 juice drinks in eight days. After the race, runners who drank the cherry juice reported significantly less pain, higher willingness to use the drink again, and higher overall satisfaction with the drink.
An earlier study from the University of California reported that healthy volunteers had decreased levels of inflammation markers after 28 days of eating 45 Bing sweet cherries per day. An article from Michigan State University reports that various types of sweet and sour cherries have similar contents of anthocyanins, and similar anti-inflammatory properties in lab studies.
Cherries are widely available in many forms: fresh, frozen, juice, liquid extract (for cooking), and pills. The real thing is more expensive than the artificially flavored products, but after reading the references, I will definitely keep cherries on my shopping list.
1. Anti-inflammatory drugs: