29 January 1999

Cherries The Wonder Drug

The chemicals that give tart cherries their red color may relieve pain better than aspirin and may provide antioxidant protection comparable to commercially available supplements like vitamin E, according to Michigan State University researchers. The new findings "suggest that the consumption of cherries may have the potential to reduce cardiovascular or chronic diseases in humans (such as arthritis and gout)," write the scientists.

The research will be published in the Jan. 28 web edition of the peer reviewed Journal of Natural Products, published by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. It will appear in the journal's February print edition.

While cautioning that studies have not yet been conducted with human subjects, lead author Muralee G. Nair, Ph.D., says their laboratory assay results suggest that a person eating about 20 tart cherries could realize antioxidant or anti- inflammatory benefits.

That number of cherries contain 12-25 milligrams of the active compounds, called anthocyanins, according to the authors.

In the study, anthocyanins were found to prevent oxidative damage, caused by oxygen or free radicals, about as well as compounds in commercial antioxidants. They also inhibited enzymes called cyclooxygenase-1 and -2, the targets of anti- inflammatory drugs, at doses more than ten times lower than aspirin. "It is as good as ibuprofen and some of the anti-inflammatory drugs," says Nair.

"Daily consumption of cherries has the potential to reduce pain related to inflammation, arthritis and gout," added Nair. While reiterating the need for human studies, he says a market may one day exist for putting the anthocyanins in pill form: "Then people can pop a pill instead of eating a whole bowl full of sour cherries. That's pretty hard to do."