Anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in berries may explain why cherries can speed recovery after a marathon by reducing muscle pain in long-distance runners.
Images thanks to Simply Bike via Flickr, and thanks to Ellen Reid and Minh Nguyen for their keynote help.
The burning sensation during strenuous exercise may be related to the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles, but that's different than the delayed onset muscle soreness that occurs in the days following a bout of extreme physical activity, which is thought to be due to inflammation caused by muscle cell damage, little micro-tears in the muscle. If it's an inflammatory reaction, than might anti-inflammatory phytonutrients help? The bioflavonoids in citrus might help with the lactic acid buildup, but we may need to ramp up to the anthocyanin flavonoids in berries to deal with the inflammation.
We know, for example, that if you eat about 45 cherries a day you can significantly reduce the levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein in your bloodstream. Such anti-inflammatory effects “may be beneficial for the management and prevention of inflammatory diseases," but what about reducing muscle soreness?
Well, if you take some guys and make them flex their biceps against way too much weight over and over and over again, the next day the strength in their arms is way down, about a 30% drop, and man are their arms sore! But if they were drinking some cherry juice their arms end up hurting less—and they were able to better preserve their strength. Why not just feed them cherries? Well then you can't do a placebo group, since you can't really create a convincing fake cherry, but you can make fake cherry juice, in the form of cherry Kool-Aid.
This was the first study to examine the effect of the consumption of any cherry product on the symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage, and it seemed to work. Follow-up studies show it also works on reducing muscle pain in long-distance runners, speeding recovery after a marathon. And, as we know, "Optimizing recovery from exercise is the holy grail of exercise science.”
A similar study showing anti-inflammatory effects of eating blueberries took it a step further and actually paid athletes enough to take a muscle biopsy so they could see what's happening to their muscles on a microscopic level. It's like this study showing massage could decrease inflammation. At first I was like: “ooh, I wouldn't mind being part of that study—free relaxing massage!” until I read the protocol: you got to rest a few minutes then, the scalpels emerge and they cut out some muscle samples. No thanks.
Bottom line, there's all sorts of new high tech treatments for sore muscles, from needle electrodes, ultrasound, hyperbaric oxygen—even whole body vibration! Don't those ladies look happy?
And of course there's drugs, there’s always drugs, but with drugs there are side effects, so this cherry study, noted a editorial comment, may provide more of a sensible and realistic treatment option for those suffering from sore and damaged muscles. The scientific question of how to treat the damaged muscle is an important one, and these researchers should be applauded for finding a potential treatment that is not only practical, but one that can be enjoyed!
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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How about improving athletic performance more directly? See my video series on performance-enhancing vegetables described in my blog Using Greens to Improve Athletic Performance.
What about reducing the immediate burning sensation during strenuous exercise? See my last video Reducing Muscle Fatigue with Citrus.
Mushrooms (Boosting Immunity While Reducing Inflammation), nuts (Fighting Inflammation in a Nut Shell), and purple potatoes (Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Purple Potatoes) may also reduce inflammation (along with plant foods in general, see Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants and Aspirin Levels in Plant Foods). In fact so well that plant-based diets can be used to treat inflammatory conditions. See, for example, Dietary Treatment of Crohn’s Disease, Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Potassium and Autoimmune Disease. Animal products on the other hand may increase inflammation through a variety of mechanisms, including endotoxins (How Does Meat Cause Inflammation?), arachidonic acid (Chicken, Eggs, and Inflammation), and Neu5Gc (The Inflammatory Meat Molecule Neu5Gc).
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