Q. Is it true that sour cherries or sour cherry juices are effective for pain relief? How much should I consume if so?
A. Jocelyn Brault, a dietetic intern at Tufts' Frances Stern Nutrition Center, responds: "The anthocyanins in sour or tart cherries could possibly decrease nitric oxide levels in the body and inhibit the COX pathways that create inflammatory compounds leading to tissue destruction. This mechanism is similar to the effects of taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain, with fewer side effects. A study in patients with knee osteoarthritis also found significantly decreased arthritis pain and symptom relief; however, human studies are limited.
"There is convincing evidence showing the benefits of tart cherry juice in combating exercise-induced muscle damage following strenuous exercise in healthy adults. Tart cherry juice has been shown to increase total antioxidative capacity, reduce inflammation and aid in muscle recovery, especially with intense and/or repeated exercise bouts within a small amount of time.
"Another benefit of tart cherries can be seen through effects on the sleep-wake cycle in humans. Cherries contain serotonin, tryptophan and most markedly melatonin, known to help with sleep. Studies have found increased total sleep time, total nocturnal activity, assumed amount of sleep and immobility in older adults with sleep problems.
"There is currently not enough scientific information to determine an effective dose for the general population. The form with the potential antioxidant power is considered to be the concentrated tart cherry juice from Montmorency cherries. Successful exercise science trials have varied in dose from 2 ounces to as high as 24 ounces per day for a period of seven days to six weeks. You should consult your physician or registered dietitian."