At present, tart cherries are one of the most well-known examples of a superfood – and with good reason too. There has been a lot of research looking into the health benefits of these cherries, especially in relation to heart disease and inflammation. However, most of that research has focused on either tart cherry juice or tart cherry concentrate.
That pattern raises an important question. What about tart cherry supplements? Are there tart cherry supplement benefits or are we better off consuming the juice or concentrate?
As is often the case, there isn’t a simple answer to this question. Instead, it’s a matter of taking a look at the research and seeing what different studies have found.
With that in mind, this discussion is going to focus on one fairly recent research study that focused on tart cherry supplement benefits (Levers et al., 2015). In particular, the authors were interested in knowing the short-term impacts of a tart cherry supplement on muscle soreness and recovery following intense exercise.
The study topic is an interesting one, because the ability of tart cherries to fight inflammation does suggest that the cherries could play a role in reducing muscle soreness and even, potentially, muscle damage.
The Study Itself
The study was an experimental one involving 23 participants. These participants were all resistance trained males, with an average age of just over 20 years (20.9 ± 2.6 years).
Participants were placed within one of two groups. One group received capsules containing powdered tart cherries (480 mg/day) while the other group received a placebo capsule, daily, for ten days.
The group placement was not done randomly. Instead, participants were matched so that each group contained a similar representation of age, fat free mass, weight and maximal back squat strength. This approach helps to reduce variation between the groups
For the first seven days of the study, participants took the supplements without any other change. After this, the participants engaged on a day of resistance exercise challenge which was designed to be intense.
Specifically, the challenge made use of a barbell back squat, which included various sets and increasing weight.
The timing of the challenge allowed for a 48-hour resting period, while participants were still taking the supplements. That period also allowed for outcomes to be measured at the 60 minute, 24-hour and 48-hour marks.
At key points throughout the study, blood samples were taken from participants, allowing researchers to observe changes over time. Additional measures were also used surrounding the resistance challenge, including the use of MVC (maximal voluntary contraction, which is a measure of muscle strength) and a graphical pain rating scale.
The authors found that over time, the perception of muscle soreness was significantly lower in the group that took the tart cherry supplement compared to those that did not. Likewise, tart cherry supplement benefits appeared to include an improvement in muscle fatigue during the recovery.
However, the authors did not observe any significant differences in indicators of inflammation, oxidation or antioxidant activity.
Overall, the outcomes of the study suggest that tart cherry supplementation offers an important approach for reducing some of the muscle soreness associated with resistance training and improving muscle recovery.
The study also supports the idea that tart cherry supplement benefits are associated with consistent supplementation, as the observed outcomes were from participants that had been supplementing with tart cherry capsules for a week prior to the resistance exercise.
Strengths and Limitations of the Study
In general, this study was well-designed and the approaches allowed the authors to look at a range of biological outcomes across the study.
Additionally, the decision to match participants across the two sample groups had significant implications for the study. For one thing, this meant that participants were not randomly assigned to groups.
Randomization is used as a tool to reduce the risk of bias, which means that there is always some risk of bias by not taking that approach.
However, the process of matching participants allowed the authors to reduce variation between the groups. This practice increased the power of the study, meaning that any observed results were likely to be the result of the intervention, rather than variation between the groups.
Taking this approach actually helps to reduce some of the issues that typically come from using a small sample size, like this study used.
The research would still have been stronger if the authors could have used a larger sample size. Nevertheless, the overall approach makes the outcomes of this study more reliable than most other studies with a similar sample size.
The study does also highlight another issue that is common in many recent research studies.
In particular, the authors had a fairly small sample size and looked at a lot of variables. Probability alone suggests that the large amount of variables is likely to result in some significantly positive outcomes. As such, the results of the study should be viewed with caution until more in-depth research can be conducted.
In their discussion, the authors also note that this is the first such study to be conducted because most previous research has not considered such a large range of biological outcomes and has not focused on using a supplement.
As such, the research represents an important entry into the field and the information can hopefully be used to guide future research, including large-scale studies.
Tart Cherry Supplement Side Effects
For the most part, tart cherry juice and tart cherry supplements are considered safe, although the juice can sometimes contribute to diarrhea or stomach cramps (1). However, there have been no significant reported side effects for the supplements and this study didn't find any either.
As a result, the supplements may be an effective way to get the benefits from tart cherry juice in an easier-to-consume form.
Implications of the Study
Despite its limitations, this study does suggest that tart cherry supplements can be relevant for people who engage in intense exercise. The outcomes of the study also suggest that there are benefits associated with tart cherry supplements.
This means that the process of freeze-drying tart cherries to create the supplements doesn’t remove their beneficial properties.
Indeed, a second study also found benefits from tart cherry supplement use, including the ability to lower inflammation and improve physical performance for trained athletes (2).
As such, it is likely that other tart cherry supplement benefits also exist and future research should consider the benefits of tart cherry supplements rather than focusing only on tart cherry concentrate and tart cherry juice.
The outcomes of the study also add to the growing body of evidence that tart cherries are good for health, regardless of the form that they are consumed in. For example, the Arthritis Foundation talks about how cherries can help fight arthritis. Supplement Geek also talks about tart cherries, focusing on their overall health benefits.
The outcomes also suggest that tart cherries can be a valuable addition to the diet for people who engage in resistance exercise, as well as those who suffer issues with muscle pain and recovery following exercise.
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