Tart cherry 'superfood' fuels memory, cuts blood pressure and cholesterol

Tart cherries, the kind that are sour rather than sweet, have a surprising effect on visual memory and other aspects of cognitive performance, at least according to a new study out of the University of Delaware. The researchers studied participants who drank tart cherry juice and compared their cognitive abilities to participants who were given a placebo; they found surprising improvements to multiple aspects of memory in addition to other health benefits.

Though the term has become a cliched reference to any trendy diet product, certain raw foods can be fairly called 'superfoods,' meaning they contain a wide variety of bioactive compounds linked to many health benefits. Blueberries are one such superfood due to the very large quantities of phytochemicals, including polyphenols, they contain.

Another so-called 'superfood' is the lowly tart Montmorency cherry, which is less popular than its sweet counterparts due to the fruit's rather sour flavor. Despite the acquired taste, researchers with the University of Delaware have found that drinking juice made from these cherries may confer multiple health benefits.

Last year, scientists found that bioactive compounds in tart cherries, including polyphenols, may cause a decrease in 'bad' LDL cholesterol and lower systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure readin). A new study out of the university has found that these cherries may also boost one's cognitive abilities.

When compared to participants who were given a placebo drink, the study found that people who drank tart cherry juice experienced cognitive improvements likely due to bioactives in the fruit that reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. These positive effects may improve blood flow in the brain, resulting in the memory and decision-making improvements seen in participants.

The researchers looked at 37 healthy adults ages 65 to 80; the participants assigned tart cherry juice were instructed to drink 8oz of the beverage twice per day, once in the morning and again once at night. The researchers performed cognitive and memory assessments on the participants before and after the study, and also monitored their daily calories and activity levels.

After accounting for other potential factors, the team found that participants who drank the juice could process information faster than before the study, they had improved decision-making skills, and they were more satisfied with their ability to remember things.

It's important to note that as with the blood pressure and cholesterol study, this latest study was quite small and additional research is necessary. However, the results indicate that adding a bit of tart cherry juice to one's daily diet may help support healthy brain function, particularly in older adults.