Two mutually reinforcing reports add to the growing evidence that tart cherriesmuch more than sweet cherries

rank high among the very healthiest fruits 
by Craig Weatherby

Antioxidant-rich fruits enjoy center stage in academic research and food marketing alike.

The buzz seems justified by a steady flow of positive, mutually reinforcing findings from cell, animal, and human studies.

And recent human and animal research brings more good news about the health-promoting potential of tart cherries.

In both a human clinical study and a rodent study, adding tart cherries to the diet reduced risk factors for heart disease.

Researchers believe that anthocyanins—the antioxidant pigments that give cherries and berries their red hues—explain the encouraging results of prior studies using tart cherries (see “Dried Tart Cherries Top Antioxidant List, May Aid Pain and Sleep" and “Tart Cherries Seen Suppressing Metabolic Syndrome).

Increasingly, the antioxidant effects exerted by fruit-borne flavonoids appear secondary to the beneficial “nutrigenomic” effects exerted by these polyphenol-class compounds.

Nutrigenomics (nutreh-jeh-no-miks) is the study of how nutrients and other food factors influence the “expression” of genes that help control metabolism, inflammation, immunity, brain functions, and much more.

Human and animal studies find positive results from tart cherries
A new study in obese rats at risk of diabetes and heart disease found that a cherry-enriched diet reduced overall body inflammation levels and curbed inflammation in areas (belly fat, heart) known to affect heart disease risk (Seymour EM et al. 2010).

The obese rats were fed a cherry-enriched “Western Diet”, characterized by high fat and moderate carbohydrate intake—a regimen in line with the typical American diet—for 90 days. 

The test diet included one percent whole tart cherry powder, and it reduced risk factors for heart disease including cholesterol, body weight, fat mass, and known markers of inflammation.

According to recent science, a chronic state of inflammation increases the risk for diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and more.

“Chronic inflammation is a whole body condition that can affect overall health, especially when it comes to the heart,” said study co-author Mitch Seymour, Ph.D., at the University of Michigan. “This study offers further promise that foods rich in antioxidants, such as cherries, could potentially reduce inflammation and have the potential to lower disease risk.”

And a pilot study in humans produced similar results (Martin KR, Burrell L 2010; Martin KR et al. 2010).

Ten overweight or obese adults drank eight ounces of tart cherry juice daily for four weeks. At the end of the trial, there were significant reductions in several markers of inflammation and in blood levels of triglycerides… two key risk factors for heart disease.

Researchers say both studies are encouraging and justify larger clinical studies in humans.

The power of eating red
The flavonoid compounds abundant in certain fruits (apples, berries, cherries, grapes) and in tea, coffee, and cocoa are particularly powerful antioxidants.

The antioxidant power of foods is measured using a scale called Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC).

Despite severe limitations as a tool for measuring a food's actual health impacts, the ORAC scale remains the most common standard for comparing the antioxidant content of foods.

Tests by the USDA and Brunswick Laboratories show the following ORAC values per 100 grams (3.5 ounces):

Fruit ORAC Score 

Dried* Tart Cherries

Acai fruit


Frozen* Tart Cherries









*Because their flavonoids get concentrated when tart cherries are dried, this form of the fruit has a higher antioxidant score than fresh or frozen cherries.

Tart cherries contain more colorful anthocyanins
a subgroup of flavonoids that show particular promise as nutrigenomic alliesthan most fruits, and they provide two to three times more than sweet cherries do (Kim 2005, Chandra 1992). 

  • Seymour EM, Urcuyo-Llanes D, Bolling SF, Bennink MR. Tart cherry intake reduces plasma and tissue inflammation in obesity-prone rats. FASEB Journal. 2010; 24:335.1. 
  • Martin KR, Burrell L. 100% tart cherry juice reduces pro-inflammatory biomarkers in overweight and obese subjects. FASEB Journal. 2010; 24:724.15. 
  • Martin KR, Bopp J, Neupane S, Vega-Lopez. 100% tart cherry juice reduces plasma triglycerides and CVD risk in overweight and obese subjects. FASEB Journal. 2010; 24:722.14.