Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis—each a frustrating, debilitating chronic disease that affects more than 50 million Americans. Could managing symtoms and even lowering risk be as simple as eating 45 Bing cherries a day? A study at the Sandford Burnham Medical Research Institute says yes.
Cherries are chock full of inflammation-reducing flavonoids, so the study's findings, published in the Journal of Nutrition, aren't a huge surprise. Results suggest eating at least 45 of the cherries each day may improve blood circulation for biomarkers of inflammatory disease. The study was conducted by University of California, Davis, researchers in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Western Human Nutrition Research Center's Agricultural Research Service. It looked at 18 otherwise healthy people ages 41-61 with high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is a biomarker for chronic disease that's produced by the liver and increases inflammation risk in the body.
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, CRP levels are affected by sedentary lifestyle, genetics, stress levels and environmental toxin exposure. "Diet has a huge impact," Weil says, "particularly one that contains a lot of refined, processed and manufactured foods." CRP is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other conditions. Normal CRP range is less than 1 mg per liter. Study participants had CRP ranges of 1-14 mg per liter, with a mean CRP of 3.5 mg per liter.
Study participants added 45 Bing cherries (280 grams/2 cups) to their diets for 63 days. Protein levels were evaluated pre-study, at day seven, day 21, day 35 and day 63. Researchers looked for changes in the 89 biomarkers associated with inflammation, immune status, cardiovascular disease, blood clotting, and liver and kidney function. Nine of the indicated biomarkers were lowered with the diet change across study participants. Of the other biomarkers, 67 were unchanged and 13 were below detection limits.
If you add more cherries to your diet, don't forget to buy organic. Not only does the Environmental Working Group rank cherries among the worst when it comes to pesticide residues, but conventional cherries also are often coated with a fungicidal wax to prolong shelf life. Also remember that canned cherries may be tainted by BPA during the canning process and dried cherries may contain sulfites. So fresh, organic Bing cherries are best.
Dr. Weil also recommends those with high CRP eat a comprehensive anti-inflammatory diet with two to three servings of fish per week (or fish oil supplements). And, Weil adds, you should take anti-inflammatory herbs like ginger and turmeric, avoid foods that are primarily flour or sugar and get regular exercise.
Are you at risk for or suffering from chronic disease? Sample these Bing cherry recipes to reduce your risk and your inflammation:
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