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Studies on cherry juice unravel a multitude of health benefits

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. This seminal work has led to successive studies unveiling the fruit’s many remarkable health properties within and beyond the sporting arena.

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

As a direct result of the suite of research studies, elite athletes used Montmorency cherry products in the run up to, and during, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games to help athletes recover from intense bouts of training, strenuous competition and injury.

Now, elite sportsmen and women worldwide, from Premiership footballers to NBA basketball players and Grand Tour cyclists, routinely incorporate tart cherry products into their training regimes. Indeed, the research conducted by Professor Howatson and his colleagues is cited in the International Olympic Committee Consensus Statement, which highlights the use of tart cherry nutritional supplements as an evidenced based recovery strategy.  

Subsequent work by Professor Howatson’s team is contributing to a growing body of evidence on the multi-faceted health applications of the Montmorency tart cherries – and hence benefiting the general public. The cherry’s anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects have been discovered to relieve rheumatological symptoms associated with osteoarthritis and gout, for example.

Amongst the array of compounds in Montmorency cherries, they also contain melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that is critical in the regulation of sleep in humans. Professor Howatson and his colleagues found that consuming tart cherry juice concentrate improved both the quality and duration of sleep. Good quality sleep enables the body to recover and adapt following exercise, and heal and repair itself. It has also been shown to help guard against serious health problems, ranging from depression to obesity and diabetes.

In more recent investigations, Professor Howatson’s team are beginning to unravel the effects of Montmorency cherries on vascular function. This work, published in the world’s top nutrition journals, showed reductions in blood pressure that were akin to pharmacological interventions. The research is still in the early stages, but the advantages of tart cherries as a functional food and its positive impact on human health are starting to surface.

Since the team’s initial discovery in 2010, there are now over 50 studies  published by researchers all over the world supporting the health benefits of Montmorency cherries. Practitioners in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the USA are recommending and prescribing tart cherry products, and sales of the cherries, and juice, as a functional food have increased substantially.

The tart cherry even has dedicated Twitter and Facebook pages, both of which have over 3,500 and 24,500 followers, respectively. The social media platforms were set up by the Cherry Marketing Institute, a not-for profit organisation which contributes to Professor Howatson’s research. The aim is to promote and inform consumers of the fruit’s wide-ranging health properties and help increase knowledge on the application of tart cherries.

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