Are You Suffering from Back Pain? Leg Pain? How to Use Cherries to Manage Pain Naturally.
How I Discovered the Pain Management Benefits of Cherries
While suffering from a debilitating back injury, I was going to a local park’s pool to do my water therapy exercises. Since I am a friendly, sociable person, I was talking to another woman at the pool. I was experiencing severe stomach upset and pain from all of the pain killers that the doctors had prescribed for me. She told me that I should eat cherries to help reduce the number of narcotic pain killers that I was taking. I thought that she was crazy, but what harm could it do. She did back up her comment with the statement that it had been tested and found to be true by the University of Michigan.
I went home that night and looked up the study. I was impressed. I found out that most of the studies done indicate that pain relief is achieved by consuming 45 cherries to 1.5 pound of cherries per day in whole, powdered, or juiced form with increasing effectiveness over time. I began to discover that the information about cherries was all over the place. I just had not seen it before because I was not looking. One website, written by Connie Hargrave summarizes the claims of the many quite well. She writes:
- Cherry juice can also help gout, arthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, headaches, and fibromyalgia.
- How can a flavorful cherry tonic help manage pain?
- Because researchers found that the COX inhibitory activities of anthocyanins from cherries were comparable to those of IBUPROFEN and NAPROXEN at 10 M concentrations.
- The anti-inflammatory properties of TART cherries work like naproxen and ibuprofen -- by blocking COX enzymes.
- Therefore a concentrate can ALLEVIATE CHRONIC PAIN associated with INFLAMMATION, but without negative side effects.
A study from Michigan State University in 2001 found that, at certain concentrations, tart red cherry juice may be MORE effective than aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen for arthritis pain and inflammation.
- The amount of anthocyanins in 20 cherries is enough to shut down the enzymes that are involved in tissue inflammation.
- While providing relief from pain and inflammation, cherry juice does NOT cause the damaging side effects common with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). 
So does it work? I don’t know. I am not a scientist. I am only a consumer. I did decide that I love cherries. I can easily consume 20 to 45 cherries with fervor. In fact, I have a hard time stopping there and often eat more. I like them canned, frozen, dried, and best of all, in pies. I like the juice as well. I have not tried powders because I don’t understand why someone would not want to eat the whole yummy fruit.
OK, so they are delicious and I started to eat a lot of them. How has this cherry orgy affected my pain? Again, I have not run a clinical trial so I cannot definitively express any kind of cause and effect. I can tell you that I have reduced the number of pain killers that I take and my range of motion has increased. It has not been a cure all for the pain from my injury. It has helped me to manage my pain with less stomach upset. There appear to be no negative side effects for me in eating a bunch of cherries. I had a lot of side effects from the narcotics and naproxen. An added benefit to eating all of these cherries is extra fiber in my diet. They fill me up and help me to not want to eat sweets for desert. I just have a bowl of cherries.
The study that started it all! At Least for Me
The University of Michigan Cardiovascular center paired up with the Cherry Marketing Institute in 2008 to examine the claims of health benefits associated with Montmorency Cherries. It all started with old folk remedies for sore throats and other pains. Native Americans have used tart cherries ( Michigan Montmorency) for centuries for pain relief, most notably the bark and roots for sore throat pain. However, getting people to eat bark is not as easy as it sounds. So they decided to study the fruit for beneficial properties. The obvious was of course the antioxidants in the dark colored fruit. That made the Cardiovascular center the obvious choice. In fact, “The results, which were seen in both lean and obese rats that were bred to have a predisposition to obesity and insulin resistance, were presented Sunday at the Experimental Biology 2008 meeting in San Diego, CA by a team from the U-M Cardioprotection Research Laboratory.” was a decrease in the bad cholesterol count which may decrease a person's risk for heart disease.
What happened in the study surprised everyone and opened the door to even more studies. Among the rats that were studied, the researchers noticed that the test results on the blood of the rats indicated a reduction in the markers for inflammation.  This was exciting news. Not to mention that the rats lost weight and lowered their bad cholesterol in the process. Of course, this was associated with the antioxidants that are commonly seen in most dark colored fruit. What was different was the reduction in the markers for inflammation which indicated that these cherries could help manage pain naturally. The University of Michigan (U of M) promotes eating cherries (This includes any variety including the dark sweet ones that you can buy frozen by the bag at the grocer. These are delicious right out of the bag frozen.) to soothe everything from arthritis, and gout to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But since they are in bed with the Cherry Marketing Institute, can these studies be trusted?
In 1950, a study was done on 12 people who complained of gout and were cured by eating cherries. It is quoted in another article relative to U of M about managing Arthritis pain and Gout. It states, “Soothe symptoms and prevent new attacks by eating a half a pound of cherries or drinking an equivalent amount of cherry juice per day.” Granted that 12 people do not make a decent study, it does make a decent hypothesis for a study. That study was conducted by the U of M in 2009.
But believe it or not, these were not the first studies on the anti-inflammatory effects of cherries. The American Society for Nutrition has articles on research going back for years. These studies do not limit themselves only to tart cherries. They include the sweet dark cherries commonly known as Bing cherries which are much more palatable. So why haven’t we heard about this before now? It is easy, the FDA.
 (Tart cherries may reduce factors associated with heart disease and diabetes, 2008)
 (Tart cherries may reduce factors associated with heart disease and diabetes, 2008)
 (Blau, 1950)
Impact of the Federal Drug Administration on Using Natural Foods for Medicinal Purposes
Back in the pioneer days, there was no Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to contend with. If your local herbalist told you that the bark, roots, and tree fruit of the cherry tree could help to relieve your pain, you would most likely just give it a try. If it did not work, you complained to the herbalist or elder who had told you it would work.
Most educated individuals realize that whole; natural foods probably have many more health benefits than we can count. So why can’t we as consumers look at the research and say that cherries work better than most synthetic pain killers without the negative side effects? Because if we say that, then the FDA says that cherries would have to be labeled as a drug. They would then have to go through a process of testing to become “approved” for consumption by the general public. Cherries would be treated like opium poppies.
Let no one claim that Federal Agencies do not use common sense. Read it for yourself. In 2005, The FDA mailed a warning letter to Leslie J. Dorsing, Royal Ridge Fruit & Cold Storage, Royal City, WA who is a purveyor of cherries and cherry products. The letter stated that she could not list the results of the many studies that proved the medicinal value of her cherries on the product itself. The letter advised that cherries would have to be tested and approved by the FDA as a drug for her to list these results on her packaging. So apparently all of us who have eaten cherries for hundreds of years are not proof enough that they are safe for any purpose. Feel free to read the entire letter on Case Watch at http://www.casewatch.org/fdawarning/prod/2005/royalridge.shtml. 
Basically, the facts are straight forward. Too many scientific studies from different sources have been conducted that all reached the same conclusion.
The Results are Clear!!!
Cherries have natural properties that are beneficial to your health. They provide fiber, nutrients, antioxidants, natural melatonin for sleep improvement, and natural pain relief. Regardless of all Federal limitations to call cherries an answer for those of us with chronic pain: I just finished another bowl of frozen ones. I have physical therapy tomorrow and I want to have less pain. It works for me. If you try them and they don’t work for you, then at least you had a yummy bowl of power fruit with fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Decide for yourself.
If life is like a bowl of cherries, eating a bowl of cherries will keep your life out of the pits.
 (Breen, 2005)
Tart cherries may reduce factors associated with heart disease and diabetes. (2008, April 7). Retrieved 10 25, 2011, from UMHS News Room: http://www2.med.umich.edu/prmc/media/newsroom/details.cfm?ID=148
Blau, L. (1950). Cherry Diet Control for Gout and Arthritis. Tex Rep Biol Med, 8, 309-311.
Breen, C. M. (2005, October 17). Warning Letter from Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved October 25, 2011, from Case Watch : http://www.casewatch.org/fdawarning/prod/2005/royalridge.shtml
Hargrave, C. (n.d.). Can’t Sleep? Sleep Again, even with Arthritis, Gout and Pain. Retrieved 10 25, 2011, from Health Discoveries, Alternatives to Medicine: http://www.healthdiscoveries.net/sleep.html
Many. (n.d.). Search page on cherries 1-10 pages. Retrieved October 25, 2011, from ASN 1928, American Society for Nutrition: http://www.nutrition.org/news/useful-links/search/?cx=001361096533598850929%3Ajw5tombi470&cof=FORID%3A11&q=cherries&sa.x=14&sa.y=14#1650