Can Cherries Relieve Arthritis Pain?

A study conducted at the Baylor Research Institute suggested that tart cherries in pill form may be a promising pain reliever for osteoarthritis (OA).

Osteoarthritis affects millions of Americans and is the number one cause of disability in the country. The most common symptom is pain, which many people with the condition use over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen and Tylenol to treat. However, these drugs carry side effects such as stomach pain and ulcers.

"These conventional medications are widely used, but have not been shown to alter the natural history of the disease. In some cases, overuse may contribute to significant gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, hematologic, renal and liver toxicity," explains John J. Cush, MD, rheumatologist and principal investigator of the study.

To avoid these serious side effects, many arthritis sufferers seek out natural remedies, such as cherries. In the Baylor 2007 study patients with OA in the knee took cherry pills for eight weeks.  More than 50 percent of them experienced significant improvement in pain and function. The pills were made from ground Montmorency tart cherries sold under the brand name CherryFlex®.

"This specific type of tart cherry is one of the best studied natural products and anecdotally has been claimed to have a [beneficial] effect on osteoarthritis and other types of arthritis as well," adds Dr. Cush.

These cherries are rich in antioxidants and flavonoids that many health professionals say can act as natural pain relievers, backed up by several studies. In one study, increased intake of antioxidants relieved pain in patients with chronic pancreatitis. A similar effect was found in lab studies involving synthetic antioxidants and mice with inflamed hind paws.

But there are other healing roles that antioxidants play. As OA progresses, affected joints can become inflamed, partly due to the breakdown in cartilage. Anthocyanins in tart cherries are effective inflammation fighters.

Also, an excess of free radicals (or reactive oxygen species) and oxidative damage is a key factor in OA, causing damage to cartilage between the bone. Several studies show that antioxidants, which are free-radical fighters, can protect cartilage and reduce damage that prevents joints from functioning properly and leads to bone loss.

How to Take Cherries for Arthritis Pain Relief

Each 800 mg CherryFlex® capsule contain over 100 mg of anthocyanins, 20 mg flavones and 30 mg of tannins, melatonin and two important flavonoids, isoqueritrin and queritrin. The recommended serving of cherries per day is 1500 to 2000 mg, so take about two or three pills.

If you prefer to eat your cherries, the food guide recommends two to four servings of fruit each day. One serving is ½ cup of dried cherries, 1 cup frozen, eight ounces cherry juice or two tablespoons of cherry juice concentrate.

However, cherries do contain acid. So if you find that your stomach becomes upset after eating a bowlful, try to indulge in them throughout the day, rather than all at once.

Study References

Journal: N/A

Study Date: 2007

Study Name: Can Cherries Relieve the Pain of Osteoarthritis?


Author(s): John J. Cush, M.D., rheumatologist and principal investigator of the study


Journal: Gastroenterology, Vol. 136(1), pp.149-159

Study Date: January, 2009

Study Name: A randomized controlled trial of antioxidant supplementation for pain relief in patients with chronic pancreatitis.


Author(s): Bhardwaj P, Garg PK, Maulik SK, Saraya A, Tandon RK, Acharya SK.