Tart Cherries Are Sweet for Blood Vessel Health

cherry

Credit: iStock

Now that it’s officially spring, you may be looking forward to the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables that will soon be available in grocery stores, farmers markets and perhaps even your own garden. The Montmorency cherry, tucked into the colorful landscape of the produce aisle, is tasty and healthy.

The Montmorency cherry is a tart variety native to France and is also grown in the Upper Midwest of the U.S. and in Canada. The stone fruit is rich in anthocyanins, a compound in the flavonoid family. Flavonoids—nutrients that give fruits and vegetables their bright colors—are antioxidants that have been shown to prevent and reduce inflammation. A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that Montmorency cherries improve blood flow. This important finding could help people recover from blood flow interruptions that can happen during a heart attack or stroke.

Researchers studied overweight, sedentary middle-aged men with high blood pressure, a known risk factor for heart disease and vascular disease. The volunteers each participated in two trials—one where they took a Montmorency cherry supplement for four weeks and the other where they were given a placebo (a sugar pill without active ingredients). In both trials, the researchers stopped the blood flow to one of the men’s arms for 20 minutes and then looked at how quickly blood flow returned to normal. They also wanted to see how much nitric oxide the men had in their blood during recovery. Nitric oxide is a compound that is important for keeping the blood vessels healthy by helping them dilate (widen). Nitric oxide levels normally drop when there is not enough blood flow.

When the men took the cherry supplements, their levels of nitric oxide rose and their blood flow came back to normal more quickly than when they took the placebo. This was because, as the researchers found, the supplements help the body make more nitric oxide.

Blood vessel health is important not only for people who have had a heart attack or stroke, but also for helping to prevent heart disease in the first place. So this spring and summer, load up on colorful fruits and vegetables—including Montmorency cherries—to keep your blood flowing.

Erica Roth

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