Cherry Juice Eases Pain of Running Race Participants

Study investigates pain relieving properties of cherry juice when consumed before, after, and during running relay races.

By Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO

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Reference

Kuehl KS, Perrier ET, Elliot DL, Chesnutt JC. Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7:17.

Design

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in which participants drank twice daily glasses of cherry juices for a week before running in a relay race. These runners were assessed for level of pain at baseline, before the race, and after the race.

Participants

Fifty-four healthy runners who took part in Oregon’s Hood to Coast Relay Race. The runners were part of 12-member relay teams that covered the 315 km from Mt. Hood to the Oregon coast; each ran an average of 26.3 km (±2.5) over the 24-hour period. Of the 54 participants enrolled, 28 were assigned cherry juice and 26 were assigned a placebo drink. A total of 3 participants withdrew prior to competing the study

Study Medication and Dosage

Participants consumed two 10.5-ounce bottles of juice made from tart Montmorency cherries for each of the 7 days leading up to the race and on race day. Each bottle contained the equivalent of 45-50 cherries. The placebo was Kraft powdered fruit punch. Juice consumption was discontinued after the race.

Main Outcome Measures

Data was collected at 3 points during the study: Day 1/Baseline (7 days prior to race), Day 7/Race Start, and Day 8/Race End. Participants self-assessed their pain intensity utilizing a standard 100 mm Visual Analog Scale (VAS), with 0 mm indicating no pain, and 100 mm indicating most severe pain.

Key Findings

It should come as no surprise that everyone was in pain by the end of this grueling race, although it seems that those drinking cherry juice group complained less than those who had been drinking the placebo. Those who drank the cherry juice reported a significantly smaller increase in pain after the race (mean post-race increase of 12 mm in the cherry juice group, compared with a 37 mm increase in the placebo group). The relative post-race reduction in pain in the cherry group (25 mm lower VAS than placebo) suggests that tart cherry juice provided a protective benefit against the acute muscle pain caused by distance running.

However, these findings are not as clear-cut as they sound. There was actually no statistical difference between groups in race day pain scores—22.6 mm (10–35.2, P < 0.05) for the cherry juice drinkers versus 45.3 mm (24.8–65.8, P <0.001) for the placebo group.

The cherry drinkers started with significantly higher baseline pain levels. Although the participants were supposedly randomized, this initial difference suggests that they were not. In an attempt to prevent cross contamination (ie, people trading beverage bottles and accidentally drinking cherry juice or placebo during the race) whole teams were assigned to one beverage. This likely explains the significant difference in starting pain scores. This detail should not detract from the findings of this study.

This is only the latest in a series of studies on cherry juice and muscle recovery after exertion that have suggested similar benefits. Connolly et al in June 2006 reported that a tart cherry juice blend prevented symptoms of muscle damage.1 In their study, participants performed elbow flexion exercises halfway through an 8-day period of drinking 12 ounces of cherry juice twice a day. Two weeks later, participants crossed over and underwent the same exercise trial again. Loss of strength and pain were significantly less in the cherry juice arms of the trial compared to the placebo.

In October 2009, Howatson et al reported on the effect drinking cherry juice had on marathon runners.2 Twenty runners drank cherry juice for 5 days before, the day of, and then 2 days after running a marathon. The cherry juice drinkers recovered their isometric strength faster. Their inflammatory markers were also significantly lower (IL-6, P < 0.001; CRP, P < 0.01; uric acid, P < 0.05). Total antioxidant status was approximately 10% greater in the cherry juice than the placebo group.

Taken together these studies affirm the growing perception that cherry juice is a useful aid in preventing pain and inflammation, although these studies focus on a particular form of injury (ie, exercise-induced muscle injury and pain). Cherry juice may serve in many situations as an adequate substitute or replacement for either aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) but without the side effects or health risks associated with these medications. Cherry juice and cherry concentrates are increasingly available in health food stores. Many commercial cherry growers now sell food industry–grade cherry juice concentrates (8:1 concentrates) direct to the public via the Internet. These concentrates allow even easier consumption of therapeutic doses of cherry polyphenols and anthrocyanins.

Cherry as extracts or juice should be considered in cases of both acute and chronic pain; they may provide convenient and affordable pain relief.

Cherry as extracts or juice should be considered in cases of both acute and chronic pain; they may provide convenient and affordable pain relief. We should note that most patients find these concentrates and juices to be palatable as well as effective for pain relief.

About the Author

Jacob Schor ND, FABNO, is a graduate of National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Portland, Oregon, and recently retired from his practice in Denver, Colorado. He served as president to the Colorado Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is on the board of directors of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. He is recognized as a fellow by the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology. He serves on the editorial board for the International Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, Naturopathic Doctor News and Review (NDNR), and Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal. In 2008, he was awarded the Vis Award by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. His writing appears regularly in NDNR, the Townsend Letter, and Natural Medicine Journal, where he is the Abstracts & Commentary editor.

References

1. Connolly DA, McHugh MP, Padilla-Zakour OI, Carlson L, Sayers SP. Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med. 2006;40(8):679-683.

2. Howatson G, McHugh MP, Hill JA, et al. Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2009 Oct 21. [Epub ahead of print].