Diets rich in fruits and vegetables are known to reduce the risk of chronic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity or select inflammatory disorders. While data on the specific health benefits of cherries is limited, in recent years the U.S. Department of Agriculture has expanded its bioactive food component database to include an analysis of anthocyanin content of select plant foods, and sweet, fresh cherries are considered to be significant sources of anthocyanins in the human diet.
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Sweet cherries have several cancer-preventive components including fiber, vitamin C, carotenoids and anthocyanins. The potential role of sweet cherries in cancer prevention lies mostly in the anthocyanin content, especially in cyanidin. Sweet cherries are a good source of cyanidins, which appear to act as an antioxidant and in this role may reduce cancer risk.
The role of red wine in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease has been studied widely for more than 20 years, and studies suggest anthocyanin found in red wine has important biological effects that reduce cardiovascular disease risk (Corder, 2006). Similarly, sweet cherries have been shown to have significant levels of anthocyanins as well as other pigments in perhaps smaller concentrations that together provide synergistic effects thought to be protective to heart and related vascular tissue (Reddy, 2005).
Evidence suggesting a protective role for cherries for diabetes is relatively rare, but researchers are interested in the role of anthocyanins in reducing insulin resistance and glucose intolerance. In one study, cells exposed to various glucose loads and then exposed to anthocyanins and anthocyanidins showed increased insulin production, suggesting the role of these compounds in blood glucose control should be explored further (Jayaprakasam, 2005). The study suggested that the bioactive compounds found in cherries are responsive, in terms of enhanced insulin production, to a glucose-rich environment and work to control glucose levels.
Flavonoids and procyanidin compounds have been shown to reduce oxidant stress and -amyloid production and may indirectly reduce the risk for Alzheimers disease (Yoshimura, 2003; Heo, 2004). Recent studies have shown the potential role of sweet cherry phenolic compounds in protecting neuronal cells involved in neurological function. The phenolics in sweet cherries include both quercetin and hydroxycinnamic acid as well as anthocyanins. One study exposed neuronal cells to a variety of phenolic compounds found in sweet and tart cherries and showed that total phenolics, and predominantly anthocyanins, demonstrated a dose-dependent reduction in oxidant stress (Kim, 2005). Further study into possible protective effects of sweet cherry bioactive compounds in reducing risk for, or morbidity related to, Alzheimers disease is warranted.