Tart Cherry Juice Improves Brain Function

Montmorency tart cherry juice has
long been coveted by gout sufferers, athletes for exercise recovery, and those
seeking a good night’s sleep. Now there’s evidence that this polyphenol-rich
beverage may help improve cognitive performance in older adults.

In a new study published in the
journal Food & Function, researchers at the University of Delaware
found daily intake of Montmorency tart cherry juice improved memory scores
among adults, ages 65 to 73 years. In this randomized-controlled trial, 34
participants were assigned to consume either 16 ounces (480 mL) of Montmorency
tart cherry juice or the same amount of a placebo drink, half in the morning
and half in the evening, every day for 12 weeks.

All participants were generally
healthy (not heavy smokers, no prior diagnosis of heart disease, diabetes,
cancer, psychiatric disorders, etc.), were not taking any medications that
could affect brain function and were asked to maintain their regular diet and
physical activity levels for the duration of the study. Before and after the
12-week trial, researchers analyzed cognitive function and subjective memory
scores via a series of questionnaires and tests.

After 12 weeks, those drinking Montmorency
tart cherry juice exhibited improved scores in both cognitive function and
subjective memory. Specifically, the tart cherry group showed a 5% increase in
satisfaction with their ability to remember things, a 4% reduction in movement
time (a measurement of speed of response to visual stimuli) and a 23% reduction
in errors made during an episodic visual memory task (which assesses visual
memory and new learning) compared to placebo. They also exhibited a 3%
improvement in visual sustained attention (which measures visual information
processing) and an 18% reduction in errors made during a spatial working memory
task (which assesses memory and strategy use) compared to baseline values.

“Cognitive function is a key
determinant of independence and quality of life among older adults,” said
lead author Sheau Ching Chai, assistant professor of behavioral health and
nutrition at the University of Delaware. “The potential beneficial effects
of tart cherries may be related to the bioactive compounds they possess, which
include polyphenols, anthocyanins and melanin. They may also be related to tart
cherry’s potential blood-pressure lowering effects, outlined in a previous
study we conducted in the same population, as blood pressure can influence
blood flow to the brain.”

Compliance rate throughout the
12-week trial was high (94.2%), suggesting tart cherry juice twice a day was a
manageable addition to these participants’ daily routine.

The sample size of this study was
small, and larger, longer studies are warranted to confirm its findings.

Montmorency tart cherries are the
most common variety of tart cherries grown in the U.S.