Out of all seasonal fresh fruit, cherries have a reputation for being a harbinger of warmth — the bright red bulbs are freshest at the height of summer. But when I began to see pure cherry juice pop up on grocery shelves and at local farmer's markets all year round, I couldn't help but be intrigued. That's because, as of late, tart cherry juice is trending in the health space for its slew of possible nutritional benefits.
Before I started sipping, I turned to research to see for myself what kind of benefits this delightfully sour beverage may actually provide. I was surprised to find studies that documented how elite athletes were using tart cherry juice to decrease pain after intense workouts and quicken their recovery. But that's not all of the associated health benefits of tart cherry juice.
What is tart cherry juice and how much should I be consuming?
If you are going to try drinking cherry juice for any health benefits, you’ll want to make sure that it is pure tart cherry juice, made with Montmorency cherries. These cherries, sometimes called "sour" cherries, have a deep red color and a sweet-tart flavor profile on their own. This type of cherry has been studied more than any other for its unique nutrition profile. You’ll find them mostly grown in Michigan, but also in other pockets across the United States. Look for pure cherry juice (not diluted) and brands that skip any added sugar.
Jordan Mazur, MS, RD, a professional sports dietitian and nutrition director for the San Francisco 49ers, tells Good Housekeeping that 16oz of tart cherry juice is key to glean "phytonutrients to enjoy the reported benefits for inflammation and recovery."
He continues, “Some studies go further in saying to consume one 8 oz. serving in the morning and one after your workout is most effective.”
Most benefits are seen after 7-10 days of consuming consistently, but the key to getting these benefits is being consistent and consuming enough juice as frequently as possible. A 2010 study in the Scandinavian Journal of Sports Medicine did demonstrate that marathon athletes who consumed tart cherry juice five days before and 48 hours after the event had a reduction in soreness and inflammation, as well as a quicker recovery than the placebo group. This study notes tart cherry juice benefits may be best enjoyed at specific high-intensity events as opposed to daily workouts, but more information is needed.
Make sure to pay attention to how the juice is processed by any given brand – it matters in maintaining its nutritional value for optimal results. Be careful when looking at powders or concentrates; they can often be less potent based on the way they are processed. Mazur recommends the juices as they are easy to find and convenient to drink (versus mixing powders or concentrates with a certain amount of water).
What are the health benefits of tart cherry juice?
The deliciously tart drink has several potential health benefits, and many researchers are conducting studies to uncover even more gains in the field of cardiovascular health and even cancer. Here are seven distinct uses that may sway you to start a tart cherry juice regiment.
1) Packs a Nutritious Punch
First and foremost, tart cherries are packed with a ton of vitamins and nutrients in just one serving of juice. “[It] contains a significant amount of Vitamin A and C as well as some manganese, potassium, copper, zinc and some vitamin K,” says Mazur. One serving also includes 56 mg of flavonoids, including anthocyanins which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Antioxidants help slow down damage to your cells and reduce inflammation. Too much inflammation in the body can lead to diseases like cancer and heart disease.
2) Treats Sore Muscles
Fitness aficionados — and athletes in particular — began to pay more attention to cherry juice when researchers began examining its effects on recovery.
People started to notice cherry juice when it came to reducing muscle soreness. Numerous studies, including this 2010 item from the International Journal of Sports Nutrition, looks at cherry juice for pain reduction after long-distance running. The results suggested that, compared to the placebo group, there was a reduction in soreness after drinking tart cherry juice for seven days.
“Overall, tart cherry juice intake in the days leading up to and immediately following intense physical exercise may reduce muscle strength loss and soreness. It may also speed up recovery,” says Mazur. “ There are a lot of studies that have looked at the markers of muscle damage and how tart cherry juice can improve certain biomarkers of muscle damage after exercise.”
He also notes that while reduction of muscle soreness and inflammation has been linked to the juice, individuals' antioxidant capacity improves, reducing oxidative damage post-workout.
3) Increases Exercise Endurance
Tart cherry juice can help with strength and soreness, and it may also help optimize overall endurance for athletes over time. According to a 2020 meta-analysis, considering ten studies in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, tart cherry concentrate may enhance endurance exercise performance because of its low-glycemic index, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative capacity, and blood-flow enhancing effects. This validates Mazur’s stance that inflammation can be neutralized by tart cherry juice, allowing for less soreness and a quicker recovery.
4) Enhances Sleep
Tossing and turning all night? Tart cherry juice is being studied as a viable solution to improve your sleep hygiene over time. Tart cherries are one of the foods high in melatonin, a hormone that is naturally produced in our body that helps regulate our internal circadian clocks, which is found in some foods. Many people take OTC Melatonin pills to help with sleep.
In a randomized controlled study published in the Journal of European Nutrition in 2011, data suggested that the consumption of a tart cherry juice concentrate “provides an increase in exogenous melatonin that is beneficial in improving sleep duration and quality in healthy men and women and might be of benefit in managing disturbed sleep.”
“This seems to help increase levels of tryptophan in the body by helping support the production of melatonin," Mazur adds. The tryptophan could help you sleep longer, especially when ingested consistently. With sleep troubles on the rise, tart cherry juice may be a great natural alternative to sleep supplements.
5) Fights Inflammation
It’s advice you’ve likely heard a million times, but chronic inflammation can exacerbate countless chronic conditions — and anything that can protect us against it is good. It’s why there are so many diets focused on anti-inflammatory foods.
“The anthocyanins, which are compounds found naturally in the fruit, have anti-inflammatory properties which can be beneficial for those with chronic pain or inflammatory conditions,” explains Mazur.
Anti-inflammatory compounds like anthocyanins can protect our cells against damage, which otherwise can lead to issues like heart disease and poor cardiovascular health.
6) Targets Gout and Other Forms of Arthritis
There is also some research that shows tart cherry juice might help with gout, a form of painful arthritis that often impacts the big toe. This 2019 study showed promise in reducing flare-ups and there are more current studies in progress. The thought is that tart cherries have an impact on reducing levels of uric acid.
“Some preliminary studies show that tart cherry juice helps slightly lower pain and stiffness in those with arthritis after consuming consistently,” says Mazur. Most of the studies have been done around osteoarthritis, where the cartilage of the joint lining thins, and more research is needed to confirm how beneficial exposure may be.
7) Decreases High Blood Pressure
A small study done by Northumbria University in New Castle on hypertensive men saw promising results with reduction in high blood pressure, a change effected by drinking Montmorency cherry juice concentrate that was equivalent to that of taking medication. Another study, from the journal Food & Function that conscripted both men and women in its methods, showed a reduction in systolic blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. Although these studies weren’t as large as some of the others, they showed results promising enough to signal the need for continued studies.
What are the side effects of drinking tart cherry juice?
Tart cherry juice is relatively safe for most, but it contains a high amount of sorbitol natural sugar alcohol also found in prunes and berries — this may also cause frequent bloating and gas, and diarrhea in some cases, if too much is consumed. Those with Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis (or other stomach conditions!) should be conscious if this is causing gastrointestinal issues. While Mazur says that a 16oz glass of tart cherry juice daily should be safe for most individuals, discussing an appropriate portion size with your healthcare provider is crucial if you have any preexisting gastrointestinal conditions.
Those who live with type 1 or type 2 diabetes should also consult with their doctor prior to consuming tart cherry juice, as the fruit byproduct is high in sugar, though considered low-glycemic by most experts.
“Tart cherries provide a compound called quercetin which might interfere with some medication like blood thinners,” says Mazur, which is why it's crucial to consult your physician if you are on any medications to make sure cherry juice is safe for you.