Cherry Benefits And Side Effects

Cherry Benefits And Side Effects


Cherry is a nutritionally rich fruit that is surprisingly low in calories. It is enjoyed fresh/raw and also in dried and canned form all around the world. 


The fruit belongs to the genus Prunus and is a close relative of peaches, apricots and almonds. 

Cherries are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polyphenols and anthocyanins and have a number of health benefits, especially in inflammatory diseases and diseases of the cardiovascular system. They also have proven benefits in improving mood and sleep. 

Cherry Benefits And Side Effects


Some basic facts about cherry:

Scientific name: Prunus

Common name: Cherry

Family: Rosaceae (rose family)

Parts used: Fruit/bark

Native region and geographical distribution: Cherries are believed to have come from West Asia and South-Eastern Europe originally. Though, they are grown all over the northern temperate regions, including the US.

Cherry types: Sweet cherry, tart cherry and black cherry

  • Cherry nutrition facts
  • Cherry health benefits
  • Cherries side effects


Cherry types: Sweet cherry, tart cherry and black cherry

There are several hundred varieties of cherries in the world. However, these varieties are broadly divided into two typs: 


Sweet cherries (Prunus avium): These cherries are light to dark red in colour and are more commonly eaten raw—on their own or in salads.

Tart cherries (Prunus cerasus): Also called sour or pie cherries, these are usually dark red. They are juicier than sweet cherries and are thus preferred for making desserts like the famous cherry pie. Tart cherries are also added in salads.

Sweet cherries have more anthocyanins than tart cherries, while the latter has a higher polyphenol content.


Black cherry—also known as Chelan cherry, wild cherry or rum cherry—is a type of sweet cherry that is native to North America. The fruits of this tree are usually not edible enough when fresh and are more commonly used in making jams and jellies. Black cherry is also used to flavour some varieties of whiskey and brandy. The bark of this cherry is considered to have medicinal properties.


Winter cherry is a term used to refer to the Ashwagandha plant, which is not a type of cherry.


Cornus mas or cornelian cherry is yet another unrelated plant that is named cherry. It belongs to the family Cornaceae and it is a kind of dogwood.


In India, sweet cherries like Rainier and Stella cherries are most commonly grown in Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and parts of Uttarakhand and have names like Awwal Number, Double, Mishri and Makhmali.


Cherry nutrition facts

Cherries contain a good amount of minerals including potassium and phosphorus, and vitamin C. They also contain a lot of plant-based compounds, especially polyphenols and flavonoids which have antioxidant properties. Here is a list of nutrients present in 100 g of raw sweet cherries as per the US Department of Agriculture (USDA):


Nutrient Value per 100 g

Energy 63 Kcal

Water 82.25 g

Carbohydrates 16 g

Proteins 1 g

Fibre 2 g

Fat 0.2 g

Minerals  

Potassium 222 mg

Phosphorus 21 mg

Calcium 13 mg

Magnesium 11 mg

Vitamins  

Vitamin C 7 mg

Folate 4 µg

Vitamin A 3 µg

Cherry health benefits

Cherries have a range of health benefits ranging from those for cardiovascular health to gout and arthritis.

In traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, cherries are considered to be blood builders. Wild cherry bark is used by Native Americans to treat cough and diarrhoea.

Here are some of the health benefits of cherries and the scientific reasons behind them.

  • Cherry reduces blood pressure
  • Cherries for diabetes
  • Cherries for heart
  • Cherries for arthritis and gout
  • Cherries improve sleep
  • Cherries improve cognition and memory
  • Cherries for exercise-induced muscle damage and muscle pain
  • Other benefits of cherries

Cherry reduces blood pressure

Cherries are rich in flavonoids and anthocyanins and are suggested to have a positive effect on high blood pressure. Various studies show the benefits of short-term and long-term consumption of cherries and cherry juice. Flavonoids are natural antioxidants that are also present in red wine. Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid that give many fruits and berries their red, blue or purple colour.


In a pilot study, about 300 mL of cherry juice consumption was found to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure within 2 hours in hypertensive patients. Systolic is the higher number in your blood pressure measurement and diastolic pressure is the lower number. 


In another study, regular consumption of 200 mL of cherry juice was found to reduce systolic blood pressure within six months to 12 months. 


A random control trial done in the US suggested that consumption of 280 g of cherries every day could reduce the amount of inflammatory markers in the body in about a month.


The long-term anti-hypertensive effects of cherries are attributed to the decrease in a vasoconstrictor endothelin-1 (ET-1) and an increase in the amount of a vasodilator enzyme NO synthase, both of which occur due to the anthocyanins present in cherries. Vasodilators are compounds that widen the blood vessels and ease the pressure. Vasoconstrictors make the blood vessels narrower. 


Apart from anthocyanins, cherries also contain a good amount of potassium, a mineral that helps control blood pressure by balancing the sodium concentration in the body. 


Cherries for diabetes

Diabetics often look for foods that they can enjoy without worrying about their calorie intake or their blood sugar spiking. Cherries are a low-calorie food that is nutritionally rich and may hence be a good addition to the diet of diabetic people.


Preclinical studies show that the anthocyanins present in cherries can help reduce blood sugar levels and increase the uptake of glucose by liver cells. Glucose is made when carbohydrates are broken down in the intestines. This glucose enters the bloodstream from where it is taken up by body cells under the effect of insulin. 


In a study done in Portugal, it was suggested that the active compounds present in cherries reduce the function of the enzyme alpha-glucosidase, which is responsible for the breakdown of carbs in the intestines.


Several other studies also show that cherry anthocyanins increase the uptake of glucose by liver cells and insulin production by the pancreas.


Cherries for heart

Cherries help reduce various risk factors for heart diseases, including high blood pressure and diabetes. 

High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart diseases. The excess cholesterol in the body builds up inside blood vessels and leads to a condition called atherosclerosis. If left untreated, atherosclerosis can lead to conditions like stroke, heart attack and coronary artery disease. Animal studies suggest that cherry anthocyanins can reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Though, when it comes to the cholesterol-lowering effects of cherries in humans, the evidence is a bit unclear. 


Also, cherries are rich in potassium: 100 g of cherries has about 222 mg of potassium, which is about 6.5% of the daily recommended requirement for men about 8.5% for women. As per the American Heart Association, low potassium levels can lead to abnormal heart rhythm if left untreated. Higher potassium intake (within the recommended limits) has been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke.


Cherries for arthritis and gout

Cherries are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances and are hence beneficial for reducing the symptoms of arthritis and gout.


Various studies have shown the benefits of regular cherry consumption for arthritis and gout patients. 


In one such study, consumption of 100% tart cherry juice was shown to reduce serum uric acid levels and the amount of inflammatory markers in obese people. High uric acid in blood or hyperuricemia is the cause of gout. Excess uric acid gets accumulated and crystallised in joints which then causes pain and swelling. Gout may occur in flares—the symptoms worsen suddenly and then there are times when the person does not have any symptoms. Cherry consumption is also associated with reduced gout attacks.


In another study, consumption of tart cherry was found to reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis but the effect was said to be not significantly different than placebo.


Cherry anthocyanins are also suggested to reduce inflammatory cytokines in the body which helps reduce arthritis symptoms.


Cherries improve sleep

Cherries contain a biological compound called melatonin which helps in improving sleep. Studies on both sweet and tart cherries show that cherries can help with the management of sleep disorders. 


In one study, consumption of about 141 g sweet cherries was found to improve sleep quality within three days. In another study, consumption of about 240 mL of tart cherry juice showed positive effects on sleep quality within five days. 


According to a randomised placebo-controlled trial published in the American Journal of Therapeutics, a compound called procyanidin B-2 present in cherries increased tryptophan availability and improved both the quality and quantity of sleep in a group of 11 individuals with insomnia or sleep apnea. 


Tryptophan is an amino acid that our body uses to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps maintain melatonin levels and the circadian rhythm.


Cherries improve cognition and memory

Epidemiological studies indicate that consumption of fresh fruits and juices improves both memory and cognition.


In vivo (animal studies) have found that cherry consumption has a positive effect on working memory in aged rats due the antioxidants present in it.


In another study, consumption of tart cherry juice was found to improve memory and cognition in older adults. The action was attributed to the presence of anthocyanins in the juice.


Additionally, cherry consumption is also associated with improvement in mood and reduction in anxiety.


Cherries for exercise-induced muscle damage and muscle pain

Exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) occurs when a person practices new exercises he/she is unaccustomed to. It causes pain and swelling and makes it difficult to use the muscle for a while—for about 14 days after the workout. Experts suggest various nutritional interventions to avoid such muscle damage and discomfort. 


Now, various studies have shown the benefits of cherries and cherry juice in reducing the symptoms of EIMD. A randomised study done on a group of 54 healthy runners showed that the consumption of tart cherry juice for about a week before and at the time of a strenuous running event can highly reduce muscle pain after the run.


Another study suggested that daily consumption of tart cherries can reduce EMID, by reducing inflammation, and fight oxidative stress. 


According to a study published in the European Journal of Sport Science, Montmorency tart cherry concentrate (about 30 mL), when taken regularly, can reduce post-workout muscle soreness in women. The effects in the study were apparent as early as Day 4 and were attributed to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of cherries.


Other benefits of cherries

The following are some other benefits of cherries:


Due to its high antioxidant content, cherries are thought to have anti-ageing properties. The vitamin C present in cherries is believed to be good for maintaining skin barrier and improving skin tone. Though no study has been done so far to confirm these benefits.

The vitamin C content of cherries is also thought to be good for the immune system.

Being low in calories and rich in nutrients and antioxidants, cherries are believed to be helpful in weight loss. 

Lab studies suggest that the polyphenols present in tart cherries have a positive effect on gut flora—the microorganisms that are naturally present in your gut. Gut flora plays an important role in digestion and overall health. (Read more: How to improve digestion)

Cherries are mostly considered safe during pregnancy as they contain a lot of minerals and vitamins. However, pregnant women should check with their doctor to know more about the safety concerns and effects of cherries.

Cherries side effects

The following are some side effects of cherries:


Cherry allergy: Some people are allergic to cherries. Cherry allergy can be of two types. A milder form of cherry allergy is seen in those who are allergic to birch-pollen. Such people can eat cooked cherries but not the raw ones. They may also show allergic reactions to fruits like pears, apples and apricot. Another type of cherry allergy is seen in those who are allergic to peaches but not to birch pollen. Such people cannot even eat cooked cherries. 

Cherries are believed to cause gas, bloating and indigestion in some people due to their sugar content.

Cherries have a good amount of potassium. If you are someone with hyperkalemia (too much potassium), it is best to avoid binging on this fruit. Excess potassium can manifest in the form of muscle weakness, nausea, and numbness. Sudden rise in blood potassium levels can show up as shortness of breath and heart palpitations.

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