Home Remedies for RA: Tart Cherries and Cherry Juice

by Lene Andersen, MSW Patient Advocate

This home remedy claims that drinking tart cherry juice or eating tart cherries helps reduce arthritis pain and inflammation. The tart or sour cherry is also known as the pie cherry, Montmorency cherry, or Balaton cherry. These are different from the sweet cherries commonly sold at grocery stores — varieties like Bing, Ranier, and Lambert cherries.

Health benefits of tart cherries

There has been a growing body of research about the positive health benefits of eating tart cherries or drinking the juice. For instance, several studies have shown that drinking tart cherry juice can reduce the risk of gout flares by 50 percent. Another study showed that when women with osteoarthritis drank tart cherry juice, it resulted in a significant reduction in the inflammation marker C-Reactive Protein (CRP).

The beneficial effects of tart cherry juice are not limited to varieties of arthritis. Studies on other health conditions have shown that there is potential for tart cherry juice to decrease the pain of peripheral neuropathy, reduce muscle pain, and help manage the symptoms of diabetes.

What is it about tart cherries?

One of the key players in the health benefits of tart cherries appears to be the phytochemicals (plant pigments) responsible for the dark red color of the cherry. They are called anthocyanins 1 and 2 and there is increasing evidence that they may be anti-inflammatory and reduce oxidative stress in the body’s cells — they are effective antioxidants.

Anthocyanins 1 and 2 are antioxidants that block cyclooxygenase 1 and 2 (COX-1 and COX-2) enzymes. So tart cherries may have some similar effects or properties to anti-inflammatory COX-2 inhibitor drugs like Celebrex. While anthocyanins are found in other berries like strawberries and raspberries, tart cherries have the highest concentration of them.

Cherries also contain high levels of beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamins C and E and are a source of potassium, magnesium, iron, folate and fiber. Interestingly, they are also a natural food source of melatonin — a hormone that helps regulate sleep.

Cherry juice is a natural remedy that I have heard about and tried. I didn't see much benefit from it, but then I never drank cherry juice for more than a few days at a time. Perhaps it needs to build up in one's system. In personal accounts, most people have said that it either helps their arthritis symptoms somewhat or that they didn't really see a difference.

Why tart cherries and not sweet cherries?

Tart cherries have a higher concentration of the phenolics and anthocyanins than sweet cherries. They are also slightly lower in sugar, so most research studies focus on the beneficial effects of the tart varieties. However, sweet cherries do also contain a significant level of anthocyanins. They may also have the potential to reduce inflammation and may help lessen the severity of other inflammatory conditions like cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Will tart cherries help rheumatoid arthritis?

The majority of studies that have looked into the effects of tart cherries on arthritis have focused on osteoarthritis and gout. Given the findings in research, we may be able to surmise that there is potential for cherries — both tart and sweet — to have a beneficial effect on rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

As mentioned above, studies show a reduction in pain and the inflammation biomarker CRP. As well, a 2016 study indicated that they may also cause a decrease in tumor necrosis factor-alpha, an inflammatory cytokine involved in RA.

How should you consume the cherries?

You can purchase tart cherry juice or cherry juice concentrate at most grocery stores and health food stores. Some are concentrated and need to be diluted with water (flat or sparkling) or you can add them to iced tea, smoothies, and other drinks. Consuming tart cherry juice mixed with other liquids can reduce the significantly sour taste.

Tart cherries are not a cure for RA, but may provide partial relief for some people. Responses vary between individuals and like any drug, treatment, or home remedy, it is unlikely to be the one, single answer for anyone with RA.

Lene  Andersen, MSW
Meet Our Writer
Lene Andersen, MSW

Lene Andersen is an author, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. Lene (pronounced Lena) has lived with rheumatoid arthritis since she was four years old and uses her experience to help others with chronic illness. She has written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, as well as the award-winning blog, The Seated View. Lene serves on HealthCentral's Health Advocates Advisory Board, and is a Social Ambassador for the RAHealthCentral on Facebook page, facebook.com/rahealthcentral. She is also one of HealthCentral's Live Bold, Live Now heroes — watch her incredible journey of living with RA.