Tart cherries, also known as sour, dwarf or Montmorency cherries, have become increasingly popular over the last couple of years.
Compared to sweet cherries, which tend to be enjoyed fresh, tart cherries are often consumed dried, frozen or juiced.
Tart cherry juice is made from the fruit of the Prunus cerasus tree, native to southwest Asia and Europe, and is linked to a number of interesting health benefits.
That said, some tart cherry juice varieties can contain substantial amounts of added sugars. Thus, it's reasonable to expect the most benefits from unsweetened varieties.
Here are 10 science-based health benefits of tart cherry juice.
1. Rich in Nutrients
Tart cherry juice is rich in various nutrients. Tart cherry juice also contains smaller amounts of B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, omega-3 and omega-6 fats, in addition to antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds.
Compared to sweet cherry varieties, tart cherries contain 20 times more vitamin A, and their antioxidant levels are up to five times higher.
One easy way to tell tart cherries from sweet varieties is by their color. Sweet cherries tend to be darker in color, whereas tart cherries retain their bright red color after being harvested.
Keep in mind that some varieties of tart cherry juice contain substantial amounts of added sugars, so opt for an unsweetened variety.
2. May Increase Strength and Reduce Muscle Soreness
Physically active individuals may be particularly interested in tart cherry juice's effect on muscle strength and soreness.
A majority of studies have reported beneficial effects.
In one study, long distance runners drank either 24 ounces (710 ml) of tart cherry juice or a placebo in the seven days leading up to as well as on the day of a race.
The runners given cherry juice experienced three times less pain during and after the race compared to those given the placebo.
In another study, runners given 16 ounces (480 ml) of cherry juice in the days leading up to and immediately following a marathon experienced less muscle damage, soreness and inflammation. They also recovered faster.
Similar results have been observed after supplementing daily with 480 mg of tart cherry powder.
Additionally, tart cherry juice and supplements may increase muscle strength.
One group of men was given tart cherry supplements or a placebo in the days leading up to and immediately following an intense resistance training session.
The tart cherry group lost up to 4% less muscle strength as a result of the training when compared to men given the placebo.
Tart cherry supplements may also reduce muscle breakdown, muscle soreness and speed up recovery in resistance-trained individuals.
Although the majority of studies report beneficial effects, it's important to note that a few found no benefits. Thus, more research is needed on this topic.
3. Could Help You Sleep Better
Tart cherry juice may be a safe and effective way to treat insomnia and increase the amount of sleep you get each night.
That's because tart cherries are naturally rich in melatonin, a hormone responsible for sleepiness.
Moreover, tart cherries contain a good amount of tryptophan and anthocyanins, two compounds that may help the body create melatonin and lengthen its effects.
Research shows that supplementing with tart cherry juice increases levels of melatonin and helps improve sleep quality and duration.
In one study, participants suffering from insomnia drank either 16 ounces (480 ml) of tart cherry juice or the same amount of a placebo juice each day for two weeks. The cherry juice increased sleep time by an average of 85 minutes.
Interestingly, tart cherry juice seems to be just as, if not more, effective at reducing insomnia than valerian and melatonin — the two most studied natural products for insomnia.
4. May Reduce Symptoms of Arthritis and Gout
Tart cherry juice is often claimed to reduce arthritis symptoms, such as joint pain and inflammation.
In one study, tart cherry juice reduced certain blood markers of inflammation in women with osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis. In another study, patients who consumed two 8-ounce (240-ml) bottles of tart cherry juice daily experienced slightly less pain and stiffness after six weeks. However, the differences observed between patients given the cherry juice and those given a placebo were very small.
Studies have also looked at the effect of tart cherry juice on gout, a type of arthritis accompanied by repeated attacks of swelling and intense pain. Drinking tart cherry juice seems to reduce blood levels of uric acid — a chemical that can trigger gout when present in too high concentrations.
In addition, several studies report that individuals with gout who consume fresh cherries or cherry juice concentrate daily are up to 50% less likely to suffer from an attack. However, the total number of studies on this topic is limited and most are observational.
Thus, it is difficult to determine whether the cherry juice is the cause of the reduced symptoms or whether people with fewer gout symptoms are more likely to use alternative treatments like cherry juice.
5. Might Promote Brain Health
Degenerative brain disorders like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's are thought to be caused, in part, by oxidative stress.
Tart cherries and their juice contain large amounts of antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds that may have protective effects on brain cells.
In one study, consuming 16 ounces (480 ml) of tart cherry juice daily improved antioxidant defenses in healthy older men and women.
In another study, older adults with mild-to-moderate dementia consumed either 6.5 ounces (200 ml) of tart cherry juice or a placebo for 12 weeks.
Adults in the cherry juice group experienced improvements in verbal fluency and short-term and long-term memory, whereas those in the placebo group experienced no improvements.
6. May Strengthen the Immune System
Tart cherry juice is rich in many vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds proven to offer a boost to your immune system.
In particular, researchers believe that tart cherries' high antioxidant content may help prevent infections.
For instance, one study researched the effect of this juice on upper respiratory tract symptoms commonly experienced by marathon runners after a race.
A group of runners drank tart cherry juice in the days leading up to and immediately following a marathon race while another consumed a placebo.
50% of the runners given the placebo developed URTS following the race, whereas none of those in the tart cherry juice group did.
7–10. Other Potential Benefits
Tart cherry juice may offer a variety of other health benefits.
May protect against cancer: Certain antioxidants found in tart cherry juice may help turn off genes involved in cancer growth. However, this hasn't been tested directly on humans yet.
Might reduce pain: Tart cherry juice may help reduce peripheral neuropathy, a type of pain caused by nerve damage.
May reduce blood pressure: Studies show that tart cherry juice consumption may lead to modest reductions in blood pressure levels.
Could help you lose weight: Tart cherry juice was observed to reduce weight, belly fat and blood cholesterol levels in mice. However, human studies are needed.
Safety, Dosage and Timing Instructions
If you're interested in the benefits of tart cherry juice, you may want to follow dosage instructions similar to those used in the studies above.
Specifically, most of the studies that observed benefits gave participants two daily 8-ounce (240-ml) doses of the juice.
This is believed to be the equivalent of consuming around 200 tart cherries each day (26).
Regarding tart cherry juice powder, studies using powdered supplements typically used around 480 mg per day.
Benefits were mostly observed following 7–10 days of supplementing.
Additionally, this juice is safe for most people, though it contains high amounts of sorbitol — a type of sugar alcohol that can cause stomach pain and diarrhea for some.
Tart cherry juice also contains quercetin, a plant compound that may interact with certain medications, particularly blood thinners. Individuals on medications should consult a doctor before adding large amounts of tart cherry juice to their diet.
The Bottom Line
Tart cherry juice is rich in nutrients, may offer several impressive health benefits and is a simple addition to just about any diet.
It seems especially effective at reducing muscle soreness and improving sleep.
Therefore, physically active individuals and those suffering from insomnia should consider giving this juice a try.
For the most benefits, opt for an unsweetened version or blend two handfuls of tart cherries with some water to make your own.