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Health News Archive 339 - Muscle Pain
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Cherry Juice Reduces Exercise-Induced Muscle Pain

Drinking cherry juice could reduce the pain and damage in muscles induced by exercise, says a small intervention study from the US. “These results have important practical applications for athletes, as performance after damaging exercise bouts is primarily affected by strength loss and pain,” wrote lead author Declan Connolly from the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Vermont.

The new study, published ahead of print in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, claims to be the “first study to examine the effect of consumption of cherries, or a cherry product, on symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage”.

Researchers assigned 14 men to drink a bottle of a cherry juice blend or a placebo liquid twice per day for eight days. A bottle of juice provided the equivalent of 50 to 60 tart cherries combined with apple juice. On the fourth day of the study, participants were instructed to perform two sets of 20 repetitions of elbow flexion contractions using one arm. The experiment was repeated two weeks later with the other arm, with the group who received a placebo receiving the cherry juice blend this time and the other group receiving the placebo. Participants rated muscle tenderness, motion, and strength on each day of the study.

Muscle strength among subjects who received cherry juice fell by only 4 percentage points after exercising, compared to 22 points among those who received the placebo. Participants who received cherry juice reported improvement in muscle strength 96 hours after exercising, and less pain. The highest pain scores in the cherry juice drinkers occurred 24 hours following exercise, while among those who received the placebo pain increased for 48 hours.

The researchers found that the weakening of the elbow flexion strength in the cherry group was significantly lower than the placebo group. The strength loss after four days, tested on an arm curl bench, was only four per cent for the cherry juice group, but was 22 per cent for the placebo group. The development of pain in the muscles, quantified by the volunteers themselves on a scale of zero to ten (zero for no pain, ten for excruciating pain), was also significantly lower for the cherry group (2.4) compared to the placebo group (3.2). No difference was observed in either the loss of range of motion after exercise, or muscle tenderness.

One previous study (Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 136, pp. 981-986) reported that a daily consumption of 45 cherries could reduce circulating concentrations of inflammatory markers, and the Vermont researchers propose a similar mechanism. The researchers propose that the flavonoids and anthocyanins in the cherries exert an anti-inflammatory effect and may lessen the damage response to exercise. The 12-ounce bottles of cherry juice use in this experiment is reported to contain the equivalent of 50 to 60 cherries, giving a daily dose of between 100 and 120 cherries.

“The initial damage response of eccentric contractions is a mechanical disruption of myofibrils and injury to the cell membrane. When myofibrillar disruption is extensive, this triggers a local inflammatory response that leads to an exacerbation of damage,” said the researchers. It is possible that the anti-inflammatory and/or antioxidant properties of the flavonoids and anthocyanins could mediate this secondary response and thereby reduce the level of muscle fibre damage.

"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," Dr Connolly commented. "Only two species of mammals suffer this type of muscle damage – horses and humans."

"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," he observed.

Source: British Journal of Sports Medicine (doi:10.1136/bjcm.2005.025429)

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