July 31

Cherries and arthritis

3  comments

I came across this article about cherries that is riddled with misinformation. I like cherries as much as the next guy – in fact, I love them – and wolf them down whenever I have the chance, and I know cherries to be a wonderfully healthful, relatively low-carb fruit, but I can’t let something like this that appeared in newspapers all over America go unchallenged.
The first disingenuous statement is that sour cherries

are recently renowned for relieving the aches and pains of gout, arthritis and other inflammatory ailments. Scientists credit cherries’ huge antioxidant values – higher than prunes, blueberries and strawberries. Cherries also inhibit the COX-2 enzyme, which causes inflammation.

Sounds good, but doesn’t hold up in the medical literature.
I did a pretty thorough search and found a handful of papers touting the antioxidant properties of sour cherries. One of the recent papers from the journal Behavioural Brain Research describes a couple of rat studies in which the paw pads of rats were injected with substances to cause inflammation. The researchers then treated the rats with anthocyanins (a type of flavonoid antioxidant) extracted from cherries and found that the substance reduced both inflammation and pain. So far so good.
The paper (along with a couple of others I found) referenced an article in Journal of Natural Products from back in 1999. When I tracked this paper down and read it, I learned all about the process for extraction of anthocyanins from cherries and learned that anthocyanins are potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances – in the test tube. And that 3-4 ounces of cherries – a little less than a cup – contain from 12.5-25 mg of anthocyanin.
Going back to the first paper and looking a little more closely we find that the dosage of anthocyanins given to the rats to treat their pain and inflammation was 400 mg/kg, the dose found to be effective. When we extrapolate this dosage to humans it turns out that the average human would have to eat a mere 1120 cups of cherries to get the same relative dose. That’s a fair number of cherries. Probably more than even I could eat.
The second misleading statement made in this very short article is that

cherries contain a compound called super oxide dismutase, or SOD, which is a “super scavenger” of dangerous free radicals in the body.

This statement very well may be true – I didn’t even both to look it up. It doesn’t matter how much SOD cherries contain, because when we eat them, we can’t use any of it. Superoxide dismutatse is a free-radical scavenging enzyme made in the cytoplasm of the cells and in the mitochondria. We can’t get it from food, nor, for that matter, even from supplements because the digestive process destroys it. So to tout the idea cherries contain SOD and imply that it in some way helps us is totally misleading.
Of course, as we read the article we learn that the information is supplied by the Cherry Marketing Institute in Michigan, the state where most tart cherries are grown.
Despite the misinformation in this article, I do think cherries are a healthful addition to a low-carb diet. They do contain flavonoids, carotenoids, vitamin C, potassium, a fair amount of vitamin A, and other nutrients. But when you eat them, you need to realize something that was brought to my attention just yesterday by my wife.
We were roaming through the local farmer’s market: she was shopping, I was grazing on all the samples. She went one way, I drifted off in another. After noshing on peaches, plums, grapes, and a slice of apple or two, I came upon a whole line of stands selling about a zillion different kinds of strawberries. I went down the line of stands, all of which had samples, popping first this strawberry in my mouth then that one. As I neared the end of the line, my wife came around the corner and caught me redhanded (har har). She said, “Did you not just blog on why you shouldn’t eat salads with no-fat dressing? You’re doing the same thing.”
It had never really occurred to be before, but she was absolutely correct. All the flavonoids, anthcyanins, carotenoids, vitamin A, and lycopenes in all the fruits that I had been eating were never going to do me any good because they were never going to be absorbed from my GI tract because they are all fat soluble, but I wasn’t eating any fat along with them. It was as if I were consuming a huge salad with drenched with no-fat dressing.
I immediately went to the fresh cheese stand, bought some farmers cheese and threw back a few curds.
Next time you eat an apple or an orange or any kind of fruit for a snack, remember to eat a little fat along with it so you can get the full benefit of all the nutrient content. The Italians have already figured this out. That’s why they eat their tomatoes with mozzarella and their cantaloupe with prosciutto.


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  1. There appear to be some newer cherry studies, also probably promoted by the Marketing Institute. I only read the abstracts because I am lazy, and they appear underwhelming, but perhaps a bit more positive than the studies you looked at.
    http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20060701/food.asp
    Hi Imsovain–
    You’re really going back through the ancient archives.
    Thanks for the link. I suspect that cherries do provide some anti-inflammatory benefit, but it’s not of the magnitude that all these articles seem to imply.
    Best–
    MRE

  2. Well, I’ve read every post in your blog. I thank the gods for the Internet. Without it, I would probably still be eating loaves of whole grain bread and pasta.
    Hi Imsovain–
    Every post? I’m honored.
    Yeah, the Internet provides a cornucopia of information; the problem is separating the wheat from the chaff or in this case the wheat from the meat.
    Cheers–
    MRE

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