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Prevent Post-Workout Pain

Parade Magazine 27 September 2009

Michael O'Shea

COULD TART CHERRY juice be the next big sports drink? Rumors about the juice's pain-relieving powers have circulated for years, and new research suggests there may be some truth to them.

In a recent study at the Oregon Health & Science University, runners who drank tart cherry juice before a long-distance relay experienced less muscle pain after the race than those who drank a placebo. Researchers believe the difference may be attributed to flavonoids and anthocynanins with high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers. (Anthocyanins are also found in blueberries and other purplish-red fruits and vegetables.)

For the study, participants ranging in age from 18 to 50 consumed 10.5 ounces of either tart cherry juice or an artificial fruit drink twice daily for a week before and on race day. Those who drank the tart cherry juice had a 23% lower self-reported pain level at the end of the race than those who drank the alternative.

"Our research suggests that tart cherry juice may work like common NSAIDs [non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs], which are used by millions to treat pain and inflammation after exercise. Substituting natural anti-inflammatory products like tart cherry juice may help individuals avoid some of the negative side effects associated with NSAIDs," says Dr. Kerry Kuehl, a sports-medicine specialist at Oregon Health& Science University.

And it’s not just athletes who can reap the benefits. In a second study, Dr. Kohl and colleagues assessed the effects of tart cherry juice on muscle strength and pain among women with fibromyalgia. After drinking the juice for two weeks, about half the participants had preserved muscle strength and significantly lower pain scores. Dr. Kohl is also looking into whether this advantage might extend to arthritis sufferers. Already, research out of the University of California, Davis, suggests that daily cherry intake can help lower blood uric-acid levels and reduce gout pain.

More evidence is needed to support these claims, so don't toss your regular sports drink and buy a case of cherry juice just yet. But if findings in the future are similar, prepare to pucker up!