Monday, January 13, 2014

The Witch Doctor Is In!

copywriter alternative health

Tart Cherries, Inflammation & Aching Muscles & Joints

1/13/14: Tomorrow I start drinking tart cherry juice concentrate.
Sometimes I hurt. Without rhyme or reason, and thankfully, infrequently, my back muscles and joints ache. Generally adverse to taking pills and refusing to believe I’m ever “sick,” my usual approach to non-acute ailments is to determine if something I’m doing could cause the ailment, and then to research possible natural or nutritional remedies.

Because inflammation is a primary culprit in joint discomfort, I started by Googling anti-inflammatory foods, and discovered that the research on tart cherries was more than sufficient to convince me to give it a try — no small feat since I have a great disdain for everything cherry-flavored!

The research studies have been small and are considered by most to be preliminary. Still there’s evidence that tart (aka sour) cherries relieve muscle pain in extremely healthy folks (such as marathoners immediately after a race), reduce flare ups in gout sufferers and lessen the discomfort of rheumatoid and osteo-arthritis.

Anthocyanins — plant pigments that have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties — are the magic elixir in tart cherries. Although found in red and purple fruits, including raspberries and blueberries, tart cherries contain significantly higher levels of anthocyanins, the highest level available in a food source.

There's enough evidence for the Arthritis Foundation to cite the research results in a few articles in its “Arthritis Today” magazine. Here’s one: “ ... cherries may also help reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA). Researchers at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center say 53 patients with knee OA who consumed two 8-ounce bottles of tart cherry juice daily reported a significant improvement in pain, stiffness, and physical function after six weeks. Each bottle of juice equaled about 45 cherries.  Patients lost these gains when they stopped drinking the cherry juice, ‘so it is alleviating symptoms, not curing disease,’ says principal investigator H. Ralph Schumacher, MD.” This article also discusses its effects on gout.

Also frequently cited is the research of Kerry Kuehl, MD, of Oregon Health & Science University. As reported by “The Oregonian” in 2012, Dr. Kuehl  “led a study of 20 women age 40 to 70, each of whom has inflammatory osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. Results showed that those who drank tart cherry juice twice daily for three weeks had significantly lower inflammation markers.”

This study was a follow-up to 2010 research by Kuehl, published in the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition." According to OHSU’s press release: “A study of athletes who competed in Oregon’s Hood to Coast Relay showed runners who consumed Montmorency cherry juice for a week prior to the race and on race day reported significantly less pain than runners who received a placebo ... ‘The bottom line is those runners who used tart cherry juice had less inflammation and faster muscle strength recovery,’” said Kuehl, the lead author on the study.

After a bit of internet research, I decided concentrate which I’ll mix with something to change the flavor will work best for this cherry-hater. I settled on Dynamic Health 100% Pure Organic Certified Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate, 16-Ounce, because the price was right and the positive reviews on Amazon outweighed the negative ones. No endorsement of the product here — I haven’t tried it yet — it just happened to be affordable and convenient for me.

I’m optimistic that tart cherries will ease my intermittent, unpredictable joint and muscle aches. If drinking it doesn’t work, other research shows it still could be great for my heart, my waistline and more:

March 21, 2014 Update: Two months into my extremely unscientific experiment of  consuming 4 to 8 ounces of cherry juice about 4 or 5 days a week, I can't say definitively that it magically cured my muscle aches, but I think it's helping. I learned that the juice has quite a diuretic effect, so if I replaced my normal water consumption with juice, my muscles hurt more, not less.

While I've always slept easily and well, early on in my experiment I found myself waking naturally after 10 or 11 hours, as opposed to my normal 8 to 9. I'm attributing this to the melatonin that occurs naturally in the juice. During the second or third week, I noticed my appetite was much diminished; it's returned to normal after cutting my daily dose. I reduced the dose because I'm still concerned about the amount of sugar. My no-sugar-added brand (R.W. Knudsen Just Tart Cherry – Organic, which I found at Fresh Market after finishing off the concentrate mentioned in the original post) has 25 grams of sugar in an 8 ounce serving. A friend has recommended Lakewood Organic Pure Tart Cherry, an improvement at 20 grams of sugar per 8 ounces, which I will try next if I don't find a brand with even less sugar. I'm going to keep drinking tart cherry juice — the links in my original 1/13/14 post convinced me that it's good for me, even if I don't understand exactly how I'm benefitting.