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In 2010, researchers at Northumbria University made a ground-breaking discovery: Montmorency tart cherry juice – already known for its high levels of phytochemicals – helped marathon runners to recover their muscle function after intense exercise. The impact of this finding was considerable; and successive studies are now unveiling the health properties of cherries and other functional foods.

Montmorency tart cherries contain large quantities of polyphenols and anthocyanins, natural compounds that give the fruit its distinct sour-sweet taste. Having been shown to have important anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects, Northumbria University’s team led by Professor Glyn Howatson were the first to find that drinking Montmorency cherry juice before and after strenuous physical activity significantly enhanced muscle function recovery.

As a direct result of the suite of research studies, Team GB used Montmorency cherry products in the run up to the 2012 Olympic Games to help athletes recover from intense bouts of training, strenuous competition and injury.  Now, the benefits of Montmorency tart cherries are cited in the English Institute of Sport’s guide and on its recovery app, which is available to all Olympic athletes. Worldwide, elite sportsmen and women, from Premiership footballers to NBA basketball players, NHL ice hockey players routinely incorporate tart cherry products into their training regimes – and many recreational athletes are following suit.

The research team’s subsequent work is contributing to a growing body of evidence on the multi-faceted health applications of the Montmorency tart cherries, evidence that is increasingly benefiting the general public. The cherry’s anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects have been discovered to relieve rheumatological symptoms associated with of osteoarthritis and gout. The compounds in these cherries can also help improve vascular function and this has been investigated in the group by Dr Karen Keane and Rachel Kimble in collaboration with colleagues in Applied Sciences (Dr John Lodge and Dr Darren Smith).

The fruit is also high in melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that regulates sleep in humans and was shown to improve both the quality and duration of sleep.

Since the team’s initial work, the Department of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation various other funded work streams around functional foods have been established with partners in the Cherry marketing Institute, GSK, nature and G’s Fresh.  The focus of this work is to gain a greater understanding of the application of these foods to human performance, health and well-being.  This work is being published in some of the highest quality journals in the field and critically is having real-world socio-economic impact far beyond academia. Some examples of this work is presented below:


Keane, K. M., George, T. W., Constantinou, C. L., Brown, M. A., Clifford, T., & Howatson, G. (2016). Effects of Montmorency tart cherry (Prunus Cerasus L.) consumption on vascular function in men with early hypertension. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 103(6), 1531-1539.

Howatson, G., Bell, P. G., Tallent, J., Middleton, B., McHugh, M. P., & Ellis, J. (2012). Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. European Journal of Nutrition, 51(8), 909-916.

Keane, K. M., Haskell-Ramsay, C. F., Veasey, R. C., & Howatson, G. (2016). Montmorency Tart cherries (Prunus cerasus L.) modulate vascular function acutely, in the absence of improvement in cognitive performance. British Journal of Nutrition, 116(11), 1935-1944.

Bell, P. G., Walshe, I. H., Davison, G. W., Stevenson, E. J., & Howatson, G. (2014). Recovery facilitation with Montmorency cherries following high-intensity, metabolically challenging exercise. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, & Metabolism, 40(4), 414-423.

Brown, M. A., Stevenson, E. J., & Howatson, G. (2017). Whey protein hydrolysate supplementation accelerates recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage in females. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, & Metabolism, 43(4), 324-330.

Clifford, T., Bell, O., West, D. J., Howatson, G., & Stevenson, E. J. (2017). Antioxidant-rich beetroot juice does not adversely affect acute neuromuscular adaptation following eccentric exercise. Journal of Sports Sciences, 35(8), 812-819.

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