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Cherries and their juice have a long history of use in food and cooking all over the world. Mention of cherries can be found in the literature of the ancient Chinese, Greeks and South Asians.
Medicinally, they have been used for a variety of pain-related conditions, including arthritis, gout, back pain and tendon injuries. It is often said that tart cherries have more medicinal value than sweet cherries.
Tart cherries contain relatively high levels of substances known as anthocynanins, also found in bilberry, cranberry and other foods. Anthocyanins are antioxidants, and most health claims for cherries are based on this fact. However, the case that antioxidants provide health benefits has become weaker rather than stronger in recent years, and, therefore, merely finding antioxidant content in cherries is inadequate to show benefit. Only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can actually provide evidence of efficacy, and for cherries, only one smal study of this type has been reported.
In this study, fourteen male athletes were given either tart cherry juice (12 oz) or placebo twice daily, and then performed intensive arm exercises.1 The results of this trial indicated that use of cherry juice reduced pain and strength loss caused by the excessive exercise. Based on this, it has been suggested that cherry juice might be helpful for athletes in training by enhancing recovery from heavy exercise, due to its antioxidant actions. However, this was a very small study, and more research would be necessary to actually document benefit. Note that other antioxidants have failed to prove helpful for this purpose.
Cherries are also claimed to be helpful for gout, based primarily on a single "scientific" study performed in the 1950s.2 In fact, however, this study was far too poorly designed to prove anything at all, because it did not utilize a placebo group. (For information on why a placebo group is essential, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-Blind Studies?) A much more recent study did find some evidence that cherry consumption might lower levels of urate in the blood.3 Although high levels of urate are associated with gout, we can not conclude that cherries can directly benefit gout based on this trial. Another larger study did assess direct benefits of cherry on gout when the study assessed the risk of recurrent gout attacks in 633 people using cherries or cherry extract two days prior to a gout attack. Participants taking cherries or cherry extract had 35% lower risk of gout attacks than when they did not use cherries or extract. Further, the addition of cherry consumption with allopurinol treatment reduced the risk of gout attacks by 75% when compared to using only one of either treatment.5. Both trials did have had some design issues that may reduce reliability.
For use in reducing pain after intensive exercise, a dose of 12 ounces of cherry juice twice daily has been tested in the tiny study noted earlier.
A typical dosage recommendation for gout is a 1/2 pound of whole cherries daily.
As a widely consumed food, cherries are presumed to have a high level of safety. However, maximum safe doses in pregnant or nursing women, young children, or people with severe liver or kidney disease have not been determined.
1. Connolly DA, McHugh MP, Padilla-Zakour OI et al. Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med. 2006;40:679-83; discussion 683.
2. Blau LW. Cherry diet control for gout and arthritis. Tex Rep Biol Med. 1950;8:309–311
3. Jacob RA, Spinozzi GM, Simon VA, et al. Consumption of cherries lowers plasma urate in healthy women. J Nutr. 2003;133:1826-9.
4. Tall JM, Seeram NP, Zhao C, et al. Tart cherry anthocyanins suppress inflammation-induced pain behavior in rat. Behav Brain Res. 2004;153:181-8.
5. Zhang Y, Neogi T, et al. Cherry consumption and decreased risk of recurrent gout attacks. Arthritis Rheum. 2012;64(12):4004-4011.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board Last Updated: 12/15/2015