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Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Tart Cherry

June 2013

By Michael Downey

Sweet or Tart: Which Type of Cherry Packs the Most Powerful Phenol Punch?
Sweet or Tart: Which Type of Cherry Packs the Most Powerful Phenol Punch?

Not all cherries contain the same type—let alone the same amounts—of potent compounds.

The two cultivated varieties of cherry are the sweet cherry (Prunus avium L.), sometimes known as the wild cherry, and the tart cherry (Prunus cerasus L.), sometimes known as sour cherry or pie cherry.

All cherries provide substantial quantities of antioxidants and other nutrients. But tart cherries deliver a much greater content of various anthocyanins than sweet cherries, as well as higher amounts of other phenolic compounds and other nutrients.19

But keep in mind that tart cherries are not the cherries you are likely to see at the grocery store, which will almost certainly be sweet cherries. The potent but less common tart cherries are chiefly used for baking and so usually come frozen, canned, dried, or juiced. Tart cherries may occasionally be located at a farmer’s market. Fortunately, standardized extracts of tart cherries are available.

Superior Results

An impressive study released in 2013 reported that after 28 days of consumption, sweet cherries were found to selectively and significantly reduce a number of biomarkers associated with inflammatory diseases. Among other decreased inflammation indicators, blood levels of C-reactive protein were reduced by over 20% and blood levels of plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 were reduced by 19.9%. And newly identified ligand for advanced glycation end products was slashed by a full 29%!75

The take-away message? If sweet cherries provide this degree of anti-inflammatory impact, try to imagine the powerful wallop you get from tart cherries—which pack twice the phenol content!19

And tart cherries don’t contain the sugar and calories found in sweet cherries.

What Cherry Suppliers Can’t Tell You

A series of studies reporting on the compelling anti-inflammatory activity of sweet cherries—and especially tart cherries—has many scientists excited.

But not the Food and Drug Administration.

The agency has taken draconian steps to suppress this information. It may seem difficult to believe, but on October 17, 2005, the Food and Drug Administration issued an edict that precludes cherry companies from posting scientific data about cherries on their websites.1,2 Letters from the agency went out to 29 companies warning them that if they continue to inform consumers about these scientific studies, criminal prosecutions will ensue.1,2

What can’t cherry suppliers tell you? Simply this: tart cherries may well be the ultimate super food. Due to their superior phenolic matrix, tart cherry compounds help reduce the risk of osteoarthritis, gout, obesity, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

And Life Extension® will continue to report the latest scientific findings about tart cherries and their potent health benefits!

Optimal Metabolic Support

Metabolic syndrome—which often precedes the development of type II diabetes—is comprised of a spectrum of phenotypes (observable physical or biochemical characteristics), often associated with a high-fat diet.

A number of these metabolic syndrome phenotypes became significantly reduced—after just 90 days—in obesity-prone rats fed a diet comprised partly of whole tart cherry powder. These included a reduction in fat mass, weight around the abdomen, hyperlipidemia (elevated fats in the blood), and expression of inflammation markers, and tumor necrosis factor, along with other beneficial metabolic changes.17

The research team concluded that, “Tart cherries may reduce the degree or trajectory of metabolic syndrome, thereby reducing risk for the development of type II diabetes.”17

A 2005 investigation extracted phenols from both tart and sweet cherries for further analysis and reported that tart cherries have substantially higher concentrations of total phenolics than sweet cherries due to a much greater content of anthocyanins.19

Neurodegenerative Disease Defense

Neurodegenerative Disease Defense

The combination of aging and oxidative stress can cause some neurons (nerve cells) in certain regions of the brain to die, contributing to neurodegenerative disorders68 such as Alzheimer’s,69 Parkinson’s,69 and Huntington’s70 diseases, as well as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and general cognitive decline.68

As the population ages, there is growing interest in the neuroprotective benefits of antioxidants,71 and one scientific report concluded that rich sources of polyphenolic compounds, such as tart cherries, can play a role.68

Both sweet and tart cherries are known to contain a matrix of bioactive constituents that are characterized as beneficial against multiple degenerative diseases.11,19

But studies have now shown that tart cherries, more than sweet cherries, act in a dose-dependent manner to protect neurons from cell-damaging oxidative stress.19

Tart cherries’ richer content of phenolics, including anthocyanins, was shown to be responsible for this neuron defense—which the researchers described as “strong anti-neurodegenerative activity.”19

Underlying Mechanisms of Action

To understand how tart cherries can target so many disease origins, it’s important to appreciate their many underlying biochemical pathways. Extensive evidence demonstrates that these versatile components naturally:

  • Inhibit cyclooxygenase-1 and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-1 and COX-2) enzymes that help make inflammatory prostaglandins.7
  • Suppress nuclear factor-kappaB activation (linked to autoimmune reactions) in monocytes (a type of white blood cell)17 and calm inflammatory factors in the body.3-7,43,44
  • Switch off pivotal genes involved in cancer and inflammation14-16,64,65 and switch on apoptosis, the programmed death of potentially pre-cancerous cells.64,66
  • Prevent lipoprotein peroxidation that leads to endothelial damage that causes white blood cells to cling to blood vessel walls.72
  • Target cholesterol and triglycerides and improve some high-risk metabolic phenotypes.61-63
  • Aid in controlling blood glucose levels and interfere with glucose synthesis and release.19,25,73,74
  • Boost detoxifying enzymes12,21,22 and the natural body antioxidants glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase.12,26
  • Lower blood levels of uric acid.44
  • Exert an analgesic activity,32,34 inhibit oxidative stress,68 neurodegeneration,19 and tumorigenesis.67


Prolonged physical exertion, especially with advancing age, causes the inflammation, pain, redness, and swelling that indicate muscle damage.

Emerging data demonstrate that the anthocyanins, phenols, flavanols, and other constituents in tart cherries provide protection against muscle injury, inhibiting inflammation.

In fact, while nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil®) and naproxen (Aleve®) involve potentially deadly side effects such as kidney failure, the molecules in tart cherries deliver anti-inflammatory impact safely.

The same potent effects that tart cherry compounds deliver to muscles similarly protect the entire body against an array of inflammation-associated pathologies. Unique compounds in tart cherries have been shown to substantially decrease the risk of osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Tart cherry standardized anthocyanin extract has now been added to some multi-nutrient formulas and is also available as a standalone dietary supplement.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.


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