Cherries are considered to be super fruits because of their high variety of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. Like aces rank highest in some card games, cherries rank highest in foods that alleviate gout.
Some chronic illnesses that cherries help defend are heart disease, diabetes, cancer and arthritis. For gouty arthritis, or gout, certain natural nutrients in cherries have demonstrated to reduce uric acid levels and joint inflammation.
If you did not know already, gout develops when your body produces more uric acid than it can filter out. This condition is called hyperuricemia. The excess uric acid builds up and crystallizes at a joint in the lower extremity. Major symptoms are skin redness, inflammation and severe pain. Gout can occur at a toe, foot (podagra), ankle, knee and fingers.
This post will focus on what makes cherries the aces you need to win when dealing with gout.
[For a more information on gout causing foods, read: The Absolute Worst Foods To Eat For Gout Sufferers]
Anthocyanins Are Key Antioxidants
Cherries contain higher amounts of anthocyanins than most fruits or vegetables. Anthocyanins are a particular type of flavonoid that have powerful antioxidant properties. Fruits and vegetables with deep red, purple, and blue pigmentation are usually rich with anthocyanins.
Although in lesser amounts, there are bio-active phytonutrients in cherries that are not found in other fruits. All of which work together with anthocyanins to prevent gout symptoms.
According to the USDA Database, sour or tart cherries (33.44 mg/100g) contain slightly more anthocyanins than sweet cherries (31.98/100g). Depending on who you ask, they will have different answers and opinions on which cherries are healthiest.
Whether you prefer the tart or sweet flavor, remember to choose the ripest and darkest colored cherries because they usually contain the most anthocyanins. Most of the antioxidants are found in the skin. Who peels cherries anyway?
Three common sour-tart cherries are Montmorency, Morello and Balaton. In the sweet-flavor family, there are Bing, Regina and black cherries. The most tested cherries are Montmorency and Bing , where both have shown similar antioxidant qualities.
Studies Show Cherries Can Reduce Recurrent Gout Flares
For decades, cherries have been a popular natural remedy to treat gout, but surprisingly, there are not many formal studies to confirm its benefits. Only in recent years will you find research and evidence that suggest cherries contain vital nutrients that improve gout symptoms.
In a 2012 major case study, 633 gout patients were given fresh cherries or cherry extract for two days straight. The results indicated the risk of gout attacks was reduced by 35% when cherries were consumed. For patients consuming cherries with the medication, allopurinol, the risk of gout attacks was significantly lowered by 75%.
In a long term pilot study, 24 patients with gout took one tablespoon of cherry juice concentrate twice a day for 4-6 months. Each tablespoon of cherry juice concentrate was the equivalent of 45-60 cherries. Results showed:
- Gout flares decreased from 7 to 2 per year
- Average uric acid level for patients also taking allopurinol decreased significantly: (8.4 to 6.2 mg/dl)
- Average uric acid level for patients not on medication decreased slightly: (9.0 to 8.7 mg/dl)
- 36% of patients taking only cherry concentrate were gout free
- 62% of patients taking cherry concentrate and medication were gout free
How Cherries Limit Uric Acid Production
The reason why cherries are able to lower uric acid levels is because of anthocyanins and other antioxidants. They block the activity of Xanthine oxidase, the enzyme that initiates uric acid production.
By blocking this enzyme your body or liver will not receive any neurosignals to produce uric acid due to purines. This is similar to what allopurinol does. A drug prescribed to control or limit uric acid production.
From an animal lab test study, researchers found the natural compounds in tart cherry juice stopped Xanthine oxidase activity. This resulted in lower uric acid levels. Although more comprehensive clinical testing is necessary, the available data and evidence indicate cherries help in treating hyperuricemia and gout flares.
Cherries Have Anti-inflammatory Agents Like Ibuprofen
Besides its antioxidant properties that help limit uric acid production, anthocyanins also act as anti-inflammatory agents. They perform similar to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NAIDs), like ibuprofen and indomethacin. Anthocyanins block the activity of the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes; COX-1 and COX-2.
In general, COX-1 initiates defenses to the stomach and intestines, where COX-2 initiates inflammation at areas of stress. Anthocyanins were found to suppress COX-2 enzymes more than COX-1.
In other words, cherries can reduce inflammation and provide pain relief in joints similar to aleve or motrin. Furthermore, cherries do not cause side effects like NSAIDs such as, stomach issues, heartburn or bloating.
So, if over the counter pain medication upsets your stomach or doesn’t mix with your prescribed medicines, you can look to cherries as a natural and safe alternative.
Quercetin Another Gout Fighter
Although in lesser amounts, there are other bio-active compounds in cherries with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some of those are chlorogenic acid, ellagic acid, quercetin, melatonin, and procyanidins. In many studies, researchers found quercetin also assists in lowering uric acid.
A recent review acknowledged quercetin can be a natural remedy to treat gout:
“According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) database, sour (tart) cherry powder has the highest quercetin content when compared with other cherry products. Quercetin has been well studied for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and may be yet another active compound in cherries with beneficial properties for treating gout.”
In a promising small study, 500 mg tablets of quercetin were given daily for four weeks to healthy men with high urate levels. Results indicated uric acid levels decreased by 8%.
You can find quercetin in many fruits and vegetables. The highest concentrations are in capers, red onions, cranberries, green chili peppers, and red leaf lettuce.
Cherries are Alkalizing
Like most fruits, cherries are also alkalizing or alkaline-forming, which improves the excretion of uric acid via urine. Most fruits are acidic due to its citric acid, but become alkalizing after digestion.
Food and diet can change the pH level of your skin, stomach and urine, but has no effect on your blood pH. It is easier for you body to filter out uric acid when your urine is less acidic or more alkaline.
[For my findings on how alkalizing foods can keep gout away, read: What and Why Alkalizing Foods Help with Your Gout]
Cherry Supplements and Products
Besides raw cherries, there are hundreds of cherry products that flood the market. You can find a wide variety of concentrates, juices, extracts and powders in major grocery and health food stores.
It is important to note, the studies that support health benefits from raw cherries had test participants eat extremely high amounts; 40-250 cherries per day. Who going to eat 200 cherries? As a last resort, maybe.
From a sugar and fructose standpoint, the American Heart Association recommends the maximum amount of sugars you should eat daily is 37.5 g (9 teaspoons). Since cherries have a high amount of sugar, you should limit eating only 14-18 cherries a day.
To reap its full benefits and potency, millions of people turn to cherry supplements. For example, an 8 oz bottle of tart cherry juice blend may contain an equivalent to 45-60 cherries. Additionally, some manufacturers claim one tablespoon of cherry juice concentrates is equal to about 60 cherries.
The most popular form of cherry supplements are extracts in the form of tablets and capsules. Commercial products may contain 400-600 mg which is equal to 16 oz bottle of cherry juice or about 100 cherries!
I must reiterate, most dietary supplements are not FDA approved. Secondly, dietary supplements have significantly less health regulations compared to food and medicines.
The major takeaways from this article:
- Anthocyanins are the major ingredient in cherries that provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
- Anthocyanins stop the enzymes that activate uric acid production and inflammation
- Cherries can improve the effects of prescribed gout medication
- Darker cherries contain more anthocyanins
- Quercetin is another ingredient in cherries that fights gout
- Cherries are alkalizing which improves the excretion uric acid crystals
- Taking cherry supplements can provide a higher concentration of nutrients versus eating them
I never liked the taste of cherries, whether tart or sweet. Even after being diagnosed with hyperuricemia and chronic gout, I still rarely ate them. For years, I regularly took cherry extract supplements to avoid the cherry taste.
In my experience, some supplements do help, and some do not. At one point I was taking too many kinds of supplements, so I had to cut down. Not to mention, they do get pricey especially the decent ones. Despite the flavor, I eventually found a cherry juice I didn’t mind; Lakewood Pure Black Cherry Juice (see pic of bottle). Now I am able to drink a 32 oz. bottle of black cherry juice for my weekly maintenance.
For a full blown gout attack, cherries or cherry products may not be an instant remedy. It could be too late by then. However, guzzling 32-64 ounces of natural cherry juice when you start to feel that gout-pinch can help. It can give your body a chance to naturally prevent gout symptoms from getting worse. If it works, then you won’t overreact and waste another gout pill!
Yup, cherries are a major food pillar in being GOUTPROOF!
- USDA Database for the Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods
- A Review of the Health Benefits of Cherries – PubMed 2018
- Is there a role for cherries in the management of gout? – University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital 2019
- Cherry consumption and decreased risk of recurrent gout attacks – PubMed 2012
- Cherry Consumption and the Risk of Recurrent Gout Attacks – Boston University School of Medicine