Cherries. Sweet, tart and oh so good. Individuals in Dallas, Houston and elsewhere in Texas can find them in pies, drinks, pitted, not pitted, juiced, au naturel, maraschinoed, covered with chocolate, sitting on top of whipped cream or blended into special sauces. They’ve become part of our nation’s folklore with George Washington cutting down a cherry tree. Even cherried rats, in research, have proven that cherries can do more that add a sweet-tart taste to your dessert or fruit gum. Researchers have recently discovered that cherries might support a healthy cardiovascular system and more in individuals.
According a study from the University of Michigan, rats given powdered tart cherries in their diets had — lower total cholesterol, lower blood sugar, less fat storage in the liver, lower oxidative stress and increased production of a molecule that helps the body handle fat and sugar — compared with those that didn’t.
To mirror the current human population, the rats used in the study were not the healthiest. These rats had a predisposition toward high cholesterol and pre-diabetes, but not to obesity. When they reached the age of six weeks, they were fed either a carbohydrate-enriched diet or a diet that included either one or ten percent cherries for 90 days. The higher cherry dose was included to investigate toxic effects, but none was discovered.
At the end of the study, the unhealthy rats that received the one percent cherry diet had significantly lower total cholesterol, triglyceride, glucose and insulin levels than those of the rats that didn’t. The same was true for those on the 10% cherry diet. They were compared to rats that received a diet with an equally high level of carbohydrates not from cherries.
The researchers also measured plasma TEAC, which is a test of antioxidant capacity in the blood. A higher TEAC reading means better ability to neutralize damaging free radical molecules produced in the body during metabolism. The cherried rats had higher antioxidant capacity, which indicated lower oxidative stress in their bodies. As storage of excess fat is common in metabolic syndrome, researchers also measured fat levels in the rats’ livers, as well as the genetic expression of PPAR (peroxisome proliferators-activating receptor) in the liver. The cherried rats had both a lower level of fat in their livers and a higher expression of the PPAR gene.
Researchers concluded that the correlation between cherry intake and significant changes in metabolic measurements suggests a positive effect from the high concentrations of antioxidant anthocyanidins, which are found in tart cherries. But the researchers also concluded that they were not certain if cherry-rich diets might have a similar impact in humans. A small clinical trial is planned.
After three months, the cherried rats had significantly lower cholesterol levels than another group that ate a normal diet. The cherried rats also did better when measured for levels of insulin and other metabolic syndrome factors — a condition that often leads to heart disease or diabetes.
Researcher Dr Steven Bolling said that the benefits came from small amounts of cherries, just one percent of the animals’ diet. Bolling said that the research team now plans to start trials on humans. The key to the cherry’s success is anthocyanins, natural compounds that help stop cholesterol from clogging up arteries. Sour or tart cherries are especially rich in anthocyanins.
Other studies have uncovered that cherries also might provide pain relief for arthritis sufferers and may help individuals get a good night’s sleep by regulating their natural cycle.
Cherries have been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. Ground-up cherry stones were used to relieve chest pain and stomach problems during the 15th and 16th centuries. It was once thought that eating whole cherries could ward off kidney stones and herbalists brewed cherry stalks into a tea to treat bronchitis.