Home Remedies for Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tart Cherries and Cherry Juice

Patient Expert

The Home Remedy: 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 like Bing, Ranier and Lambert cherries. According to research studies, eating tart cherries may also be beneficial for people with gout, diabetes, muscle pain, back pain or neurodegenerative diseases.

Why does it provide some relief for people?

Unlike for gin-soaked raisins, there has been a growing body of research in the last decade or so about the positive health benefits of eating tart cherries. The first study, published about 50 years ago, found that eating cherries daily helped to relieve attacks of gout and the symptoms of arthritis. Since then, in mostly laboratory studies on animals, cherries have been shown to contain high concentrations of compounds called anthocyanins 1 and 2 - these are antioxidants that block cyclooxygenase 1 and 2 (COX-1 and COX-2) enzymes. So tart cherries may have some similar effects or properties as COX-2 inhibitor drugs like Celebrex. The anthocyanins are responsible for the dark red color of the cherry. 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.

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE: It should be noted that many of the research studies showing beneficial effects of tart cherries have been sponsored by organizations representing cherry growers and processors. For more information, see the Cherry Marketing Institute's website.

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. Of the shareposts and other websites I have read with 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 I have seen tout the beneficial effects of the tart varieties. However, there is also one fairly recent study from 2004 showing that eating fresh Bing cherries may reduce arthritis inflammation and may help lessen the severity of other inflammatory conditions like cancer and cardiovascular disease.

How should you consume the cherries?

You can purchase tart cherry juice or cherry juice concentrate at most grocery stores. According to the Cherry Marketing Institute, one 8 ounce glass equals about 100 cherries. However, some of the beneficial compounds can be lost during processing. Tart cherries can also be purchased dried. One serving of dried tart cherries is about ½ cup. Tart cherries can also be bought canned or jarred, but again, cooking destroys many of the compounds. This also means that not much benefit would be gained from a piece of cherry pie. Whole cherries can also be eaten raw or frozen (one serving equals about 1 cup), or blended into a smoothie with cherry juice, ice, banana and other fruit.

Note: Raw tart cherries are just that -- tart and sour. Like other sour juices (real cranberry juice and pomegranate juice), I usually dilute it with water. Cherries contain sorbitol and the juice is highly acidic, so people with irritable bowel syndrome or a sensitive stomach from NSAID use may not be able to tolerate it.

So what is my verdict? Like gin soaked raisins and other folk and natural remedies, the beneficial, inflammation-reducing compounds in tart cherries probably provide enough people with some relief that it continues to be a popular natural remedy or addition to people's diets. Like any drug, treatment, or home remedy, it is unlikely to be the one, single answer for anyone with Rheumatoid Arthritis. However, cherries and cherry juice can be tasty and helpful additions to a healthy diet and rheumatoid arthritis treatment regimen, especially considering that they are so rich in other nutrients.

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