Reducing Muscle Soreness with Berries

Reducing Muscle Soreness with Berries
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Anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in berries may explain why cherries can speed recovery after a marathon—by reducing muscle pain in long-distance runners.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The burning sensation during strenuous exercise may be related to the buildup of lactic acid in our 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 it 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, instead of juice? 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 cherries indeed seemed to work. Follow-up studies show they also work on “reducing muscle pain” in long-distance runners, speeding recovery after a marathon. And, “Optimizing recovery from exercise is [really] the holy grail of exercise science.”

A similar study found anti-inflammatory effects of eating blueberries. They took it a step further, actually, and paid athletes enough to take a muscle biopsy, so the researchers could actually see what’s happening to their muscles on a microscopic level. It’s like this study showing massage can 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, and then the scalpels come out, and slice out some muscle samples. No thanks.

Bottom line, 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, you know, 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!”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Simply Bike via flickr. Thanks to Ellen Reid and Minh Nguyen for their Keynote help.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The burning sensation during strenuous exercise may be related to the buildup of lactic acid in our 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 it 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, instead of juice? 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 cherries indeed seemed to work. Follow-up studies show they also work on “reducing muscle pain” in long-distance runners, speeding recovery after a marathon. And, “Optimizing recovery from exercise is [really] the holy grail of exercise science.”

A similar study found anti-inflammatory effects of eating blueberries. They took it a step further, actually, and paid athletes enough to take a muscle biopsy, so the researchers could actually see what’s happening to their muscles on a microscopic level. It’s like this study showing massage can 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, and then the scalpels come out, and slice out some muscle samples. No thanks.

Bottom line, 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, you know, 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!”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Simply Bike via flickr. Thanks to Ellen Reid and Minh Nguyen for their Keynote help.

Doctor's Note

How about improving athletic performance more directly? See my video series on performance-enhancing vegetables, described in my blog post, Using Greens to Improve Athletic Performance.

What about reducing the immediate burning sensation during strenuous exercise? See Reducing Muscle Fatigue with Citrus.

Mushrooms (see Boosting Immunity while Reducing Inflammation), nuts (see Fighting Inflammation in a Nut Shell), and purple potatoes (see 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 & Autoimmune Disease. Animal products, on the other hand, may increase inflammation through a variety of mechanisms, including endotoxins (see How Does Meat Cause Inflammation?), arachidonic acid (see Chicken, Eggs, & Inflammation), and Neu5Gc (see The Inflammatory Meat Molecule Neu5Gc).

For further context, check out my associated blog posts: Citrus to Reduce Muscle Fatigue and Berries to Prevent Muscle Soreness.

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