Does Tart Cherry Concentrate Actually Offer Benefits?

Young attractive man drinking cherry juice

Have you ever wondered about the benefits of tart cherry juice concentrate? Certainly, there is a lot of buzz around tart cherries and the natural compounds that they contain. In fact, tart cherries have been associated with a range of benefits, particularly in relation to their potential to fight inflammation.

Some of these benefits include benefits to heart health, improved recovery from exercise and the potential to fight disease development because of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of the cherries.

I’ve covered these benefits in depth elsewhere and the evidence for benefits continues to grow. For example, Training Peaks suggests that tart cherry juice is relevant to endurance athletes. 

Now, all of these areas are connected to tart cherries themselves but they are also benefits of tart cherry juice concentrate. Essentially, this concentrate is similar to tart cherry juice but it is much more intense. Specifically, the product tends to have very little water, so you get a higher amount of healthy compounds for relatively little liquid.

This also means that a person is likely to have one (or a few) tablespoons of the tart cherry concentrate, rather than attempting to drink a glass. 

Personally, I’m fascinated by the various benefits that tart cherries offer, especially as this is one case where the hype actually does seem to match reality, to some degree at least. Because of this, I keep my eye out for new research that talks about the topic.

I found one particularly interesting study that was published only a month or so ago (Keane et al., 2016), which I’m going to share with you. In this case, the article is focused on the impacts of the concentrate on vascular function and looks specifically at men who had early hypertension.

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The Study Itself

There were 15 participants in the research period, all of whom were diagnosed with early hypertension. The study used a design where participants received either tart cherry concentrate or a placebo and outcomes were tested. After that, there was a washout period (14 days where participants received neither placebo nor concentrate) and then participants were given a different treatment.

Both the placebo and treatment groups in the study received 60 ml ​of liquid (either tart cherry concentrate or placebo juice). That's around 2 fl oz or 4 tablespoons of liquid. 

As part of the study, the authors tested a number of different variables, including microvascular reactivity, blood pressure, arterial stiffness and phenolic acid absorption, all of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The different variables were measured at 1,2, 3, 5 and 8 hours after the consumption of the tart cherry juice concentrate or the placebo.

The authors found that the consumption of the tart cherry juice significantly lowered blood pressure over a period of three hours following consumption. This is a highly desirable outcome and has the potential to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The authors also found that the change in blood pressure was around the same time that there were bioactive phytochemicals circulating in the bloodstream.

That outcome suggests that those chemicals (from the tart cherry concentrate) played a key role in the blood pressure reduction.

However, the authors did not find any other significant effects as the result of the supplementation. This outcome was contrary to the expectations of the authors although some other research has found similar outcomes. Based on previous work and their own theories, the authors had expected to find that tart cherry concentrate would have more of an impact on cardiovascular risk factors than the study actually found.​

It’s also important to note that the authors did not find any adverse effects from the concentrate, which supports the idea that it is a safe addition to the diet.

Strengths and Limitations

One of the key strengths of this study was its experimental nature, along with the fact that a placebo was used. This approach allowed the authors to test how heart disease risk factors changed after the consumption of the tart cherry juice concentrate.

However, like many similar studies, the research was also strongly limited by the sample size. In this case, there were just 15 participants in the study, which is an extremely small number.

The authors choice of research protocol helped to take advantage of the sample size by using participants in multiple treatments, with a washout period.

Nevertheless, the small sample size is still a limiting factor. Realistically, additional research with a larger sample size would be needed to confirm the results found in this study.

Implications of the Study

Even though this study used a small sample size, it is an important contribution to the growing pool of evidence about the health benefits of tart cherry juice concentrate and tart cherries in general. In particular, the outcomes of the study suggest that the concentrate helps to lower blood pressure in the hours after consumption.

That pattern also suggests that regular consumption of tart cherry juice may play a key role in helping people to keep their blood pressure down over time.

Even though the study focused on tart cherry concentrate specifically, the health outcomes are largely connected to the compounds in tart cherries, rather than anything unique about the concentrate. Indeed, there is considerable evidence about such benefits, such as the research that Healthline summarizes. 

Nevertheless, tart cherry concentrate represents a particularly powerful way to consume tart cherries, partly because you get a lot of healthy compounds fairly easily.

Additionally, you will often find that tart cherry juice has added sugar and/or other compounds, to help make it more drinkable. In contrast, tart cherry concentrate tends to contain nothing more than tart cherries because there isn’t a focus on taste. In fact, the taste of the concentrate can be quite intense but you can dilute it with water or drink it as a shot to get around that.

The lack of additives in tart cherry concentrate does tend to make it a healthier option overall and it’s certainly easier to get benefits this way than to try and rely on tart cherry juice or supplements.

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Have you ever tried tart cherry concentrate? If so, what did you think?​

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