Historically, a number of approaches to prevent exercise-induced muscle pain and damage have been examined, but few have been effective. Declan Connolly, associate professor of education and director of the human performance laboratory at the University of Vermont and colleagues at New York's Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma and Cornell University, evaluated the efficacy of a fresh, highly-concentrated, specially- processed tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage in a randomized, placebo-controlled study in 14 male college students.
"The anti-inflammatory properties of cherry juice have been examined before, but the focus of this research was on a new area – muscle damage repair," said Connolly. "Only two species of mammals suffer this type of muscle damage – horses and humans."
The study participants were asked to either drink a bottle of the cherry juice blend twice a day for three days before exercise and for four days afterwards, or to drink a placebo juice containing no cherries. The 12-ounce bottle of juice contained the liquid equivalent of 50 to 60 tart cherries blended with commercially available apple juice.
The participants performed a type of muscle-damaging exercise – flexing and tensing one arm 20 times – that creates contractions in which the muscle is lengthened. Muscle tenderness, motion, and strength were assessed on each of the days before and after exercise, using standard pieces of equipment designed for the purpose. Study participants rated their muscle soreness on a scale of one to ten. The whole process was repeated all over again two weeks later, with those who had taken the placebo juice taking the cherry juice blend instead, and vice versa. The other arm was also used.
There was a significant difference in the degree of muscle strength loss between those drinking the cherry juice blend and those taking the placebo juice. This fell by 22 percentage points in those drinking the placebo juice, but only by four percentage points in those drinking cherry juice. Muscle strength had slightly improved after 96 hours in those drinking cherry juice. The degree of soreness differed little between the two groups, but the average pain score was significantly less in those drinking cherry juice. Average pain scores came in at 3.2 for those drinking the placebo juice and 2.4 for those drinking cherry juice. Pain also peaked at 24 hours for those drinking cherry juice, but continued to increase for those on the placebo juice for the subsequent 48 hours.
According to Connolly, next steps include identifying funding sources and collaborators to continue study of the cherry juice's effectiveness in muscle damage repair and possibly arthritis, as well as research involving race horses.
"Current anecdotal evidence suggests the drink may be effective in treatment of arthritis and gout, and thus offer a potentially safer alternative than prescription drugs," said Connolly.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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