The Health Benefits of Black Cherries

They may ease inflammation from arthritis and other diseases

A staple of summer, black cherries are a type of stone fruit (aka drupe) born from the flowers of the Prunus serotina tree. While there are several varieties of these sweet cherries, the most common is Bing, which was first developed in Oregon by a pioneer grower who named it for one of his Chinese workmen.

As their name implies, these cherries are quite dark—their deep red skin almost verges on black when fully ripe. This pigment comes from health-protective compounds known as anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant that research suggests may fend off certain chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

Sweet cherries are typically eaten fresh, but they're also available in supplement form, including as concentrate and juice. Due to their high antioxidant content, supplementing with black cherry is purported to promote overall health and wellness, as well as to help relieve pain caused by gout, a type of arthritis that most often affects the big toe, and to speed post-exercise muscle recovery.

health benefits of black cherries
Verywell / Emily Roberts

Health Benefits

Most studies on the health benefits of cherries involve tart cherries, such as Montmorency cherries, which—like black cherries—also contain anthocyanins. Indeed, a 2018 review on the health benefits of cherries in humans found 20 studies on tart cherries and only 7 on sweet cherries (two studies were unspecified).

Given the high concentrations of bioactive compounds in cherries, the review authors said it's not surprising that cherry consumption promotes health. They noted that results from published animal and human studies suggest that cherries may reduce the risk of several chronic inflammatory diseases including arthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Furthermore, they said, there is evidence that eating cherries may improve sleep, cognitive function, and recovery from pain after strenuous exercise.

Here's a rundown on key benefits of black cherries from the analysis:

Inflammation

One small study from 2013 found a reduction in several biomarkers associated with inflammatory diseases, which include heart disease and stroke, as well as autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, when 18 men and women supplemented their diets with two cups of Bing sweet cherries for a month.

Arthritis/Gout

The earliest study regarding the health benefits of cherries was conducted in 1950 in patients with gout. Results from this study demonstrated that consumption of fresh or canned cherries prevented attacks of arthritis and restored blood concentration of uric acid, a marker for gout, to normal levels in all 12 patients. Furthermore, four patients reported greater freedom of joint movements in fingers and toes. These findings were published for more than five decades before the next human study regarding cherries and health was conducted in 2003.

In that small study, researchers found a decrease in the levels of urate, a salt derived from uric acid, in 10 women who consumed two cups of Bing cherries after an overnight fast. When the body cannot metabolize uric acid properly, urates can build up in body tissues or crystallize within the joints, potentially leading to gout, as well as diabetes and kidney stones. This decrease in urate supports the reputed anti-gout effect of cherries, researchers in the review study concluded.

More recently, in a 2012 study with 633 gout patients, consumption of fresh cherries or cherry extract over a two-day period was associated with a 35-percent lower risk of gout attacks compared with no intake of cherries. This effect persisted across subgroups stratified by sex, obesity status, intake of purines (a natural substance found in some foods that can lead to a build-up of uric acid), alcohol, diuretic, and antigout medications use. 

In summarizing the evidence that sweet cherries can help prevent gout, researchers said that, although there are inconsistencies in the results from different human studies, taken together the findings support the conclusion that cherry consumption may reduce the incidence of arthritic attacks. However, further long-term, randomized, double-blinded and placebo-controlled human trials are needed to confirm the effects.

Muscle Recovery

Exercise-induced muscle pain, soreness, and loss of strength were significantly reduced by cherry consumption in eight out of nine studies. However, all of these studies were conducted with tart cherry products—not sweet cherries—ranging from the equivalent of 50 to 270 cherries a day. Since black cherries contain the same active compounds as tart cherries it's thought that they could yield similar benefits, but there's currently no research to support that claim.

Diabetes

Taken together, the results from human, animal, and cell culture studies suggest that cherry consumption may improve the way the body absorbs and regulates blood sugar, researchers concluded. However, they called for future studies to confirm whether these findings translate to a reduced risk of diabetes.

High Cholesterol

Though consumption of sweet cherries or a tart cherry concentrate by healthy adults did not alter concentrations of blood lipids in one study noted in the review, another study on overweight and obese people with elevated cholesterol who took a tart cherry juice did show an improvement. This lead researchers to speculate that it was the study participants' lipid profile—rather than the type of cherry—that contributed to the different results between the two studies. More research is necessary to confirm whether this is true or not.

High Blood Pressure

In a small study of 13 young and elderly adults, both systolic blood pressure (SBP, the top number) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP, the bottom number) were significantly lowered within two hours of a single dose of 300 milliliters (one and a quarter cups) of Bing cherry juice. Another study, in which elderly subjects took 200 milliliters (around a cup) a day of Bing cherry juice, showed benefits to SBP but not DBP. Similarly, in another study with healthy adults, two cups of Bing cherries consumed daily for a month significantly decreased the concentration of a potent vasoconstrictor, though the decrease in SBP did not attain significance. The bottom line, researchers say, is that further studies are needed.

Sleep, Mood, and Cognitive

Both quality and quantity of sleep were improved by the consumption of sweet as well as tart cherries, authors of the review article reported. Effect on sleep could be detected within three days of consuming sweet cherries (25 cherries a day) and within five days of consuming tart cherries (240 milliliters of tart cherry juice or around 100 tart cherries a day). The studies using sweet cherries also reported a decrease in cortisol, a marker for stress, and anxiety, as well as improved mood.

As for boosting mental functioning, researchers noted that while there are only limited numbers of published studies testing the effects of cherries on cognitive functions, several studies—including six out of seven human intervention studies and 17 out of 19 epidemiological studies—that assessed the effects of other anthocyanin-rich foods on cognitive functions reported significant benefits.

Possible Side Effects

Like many supplements, the side effects of black cherry juice and concentrate are poorly understood. Consuming large amounts of cherry juice may lead to indigestion and diarrhea, and the calories and sugar may be a problem for some people.

Also, cherries contain sorbitol, which may exacerbate symptoms in people with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, small intestine bacterial overgrowth, or fructose malabsorption.

If you're pregnant, nursing, taking any medications, consult your doctor before use.

Due to the lack of supporting research, black cherry supplements can't currently be recommended as a principal standard treatment for any health problem. It's important to note that using black cherry as a substitute for the standard treatment of a chronic condition may have serious health consequences. If you're going to take black cherry supplements, speak to your doctor first.

Dosage and Preparation

There's no clinical evidence to guide dosage of black cherry. It's important to note that many studies that suggested health benefits of cherry consumption used amounts which might be considered to be a high dose—for instance, cherries are high in fiber and eating two cups a day may lead to G/I issues.

Supplements of black cherry concentrate are available for purchase online, as well as in grocery stores and natural-food stores. Black cherry concentrate contains significantly less water than black cherry juice. In order to create the concentrate, manufacturers apply specialized filtration and extraction processes. The resulting product contains a greater concentration of nutritional compounds than black cherry juice.

You can also increase your anthocyanin intake by including black cherries and foods like berries, red onions, kidney beans, pomegranates, and red grapes in your diet on a regular basis.

What to Look For

Researchers in the review study noted that the development of stable and standardized cherry products that retain the nutrient composition of fresh cherries are desperately needed to precisely assess the health-promoting effects of cherry consumption, suggesting that all cherry products may not deliver what they promise.

As with any other supplement, always choose one from a reputable manufacturer. If you decide to give black cherry juice or concentrate a try, find a brand tested and approved by a recognized certifying body such as U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or ConsumerLab. Doing so can ensure the highest quality and safety possible.

Common Questions

How do black cherries compare to tart cherries?

Both sweet and tart cherries are rich in the protective plant compounds known as polyphenols. Anthocyanins are one type of polyphenol. Research suggests that tart cherries contain a higher concentration of total phenolic compounds while sweet cherries contain more anthocyanins. There's no real evidence, however, that the differences are significant. Both types of cherries are high in anthocyanins compared to other foods. It may be that we hear more about the health benefits of tart cherries because of the way they're marketed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent warning letters to cherry farmers and manufacturers for positioning tart cherries on their websites as a medicinal food that could possibly help with gout, arthritis, and diabetes.

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