Tart cherry juice may just be the natural alternative to pain-relief standbys like ibuprofen, ice, and heating pads. These sour little orbs could be nature’s prescription for an aching body.

Pucker Up — The Takeaway

Studies suggest tart cherries are possibly more effective than aspirin at relieving pain and reducing inflammation. Their secret weapon? The antioxidant anthocyaninsAntioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of anthocyanins and their aglycon, cyaniding, from tart cherries. Wang, H., Nair, M.G., Strasburg, G.M., et al. Bioactive Natural Products Laboratory, Department of Horticulture and National Food Safety and Toxicology Center, Food Science, and Human Nutrition, and Department of Biochemistry, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. Feb;62(2):294-6., which help protect cells from mutation (and not the cool X-Men kind). These compounds also have powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can help minimize swelling in exhausted muscles. In addition to helping to control inflammation, tart cherries (in raw, juice, and supplement form) may also reduce symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage. One study found that drinking tart cherry juice for one week leading up to a strenuous running event (like a marathon) can help minimize post-run muscle pains and strains with a one-two punchEfficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized control trial. Kuehl, K.S., Perrier, E.T., Elliot, D.L., et al. Department of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2010 May 7;7:17.. Another study found cherry supplements (1 pill had the anti-inflammatory content of about 100 cherries) reduced muscle soreness by 24% two days after a strenuous resistance workout. And yet another study found post-lift strength loss was reduced 18% among those who drank cherry juice before their workouts Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Connolly, D.A., McHugh, M.P., Padilla-Zakour, O.I., et al. Human Performance Laboratory, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2006 Aug;40(8):679-83.. That’s three cheers for cherries! While a recommended daily dosage has yet to be established, some experts say that eating 1.5 cups of tart cherries or drinking 1 cup of tart cherry juice per day could be enough to reap these muscle-saving benefits. But if puckering up and tasting tart cherries isn’t appealing, try other foods rich in related antioxidants like quinoa, kale, and blueberries for similar (and additional) health benefits.

The Tip

Try drinking tart cherry juice to relieve muscle inflammation, aches, and pains.