Nutritionist says juice can reduce risk of heart attack or stroke

Two glasses of tart cherry juice a day could cut the risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack, according to new research. The fruit drink is rich in healthy plant compounds called polyphenols that lower blood pressure and cholesterol - protecting against cardiovascular disease.

A study of 65 to 80-year-olds also found those consuming the beverage were less prone to inflammation and oxidative stress that trigger serious illness. This was shown by reduced their amounts of CRP (c-reactive protein) and MDA (malondialdehyde) - chemicals in the blood that signify the processes.

The tart cherry juice slashed 'bad cholesterol' or LDL (low-density lipoprotein) by 11 percent and CRP by 25 percent - in just 12 weeks. Levels of MDA fell by three percent. It also boosted the activity of a gene called OGG1 that is known to be involved in the repair of DNA.

Lead researcher Dr Sheau Ching Chai, a nutritionist at Delaware University in the US, said: "Our findings suggest Montmorency tart cherry juice may be a good addition to a heart-healthy diet."

The study involved 34 older men and women who were picked at random to consume either 8 ozs of the juice or a control drink twice a day during the period. Dr Chai said: "At the end participants in the tart cherry group had lower systolic blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, as well as lower levels of certain substances in the blood that indicate inflammation and oxidative stress, including the biomarkers of CRP and MDA, compared to the control group."

Systolic blood pressure is the first number that measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. A blood pressure less than 120/80 mmHg is normal. Dr Chai said: "The compliance rate of our participants was quite high, at 94%, suggesting a cup of tart cherry juice twice a day can easily be incorporated and enjoyed in an overall diet."

Dr Chai said 16 ounces of Montmorency tart cherry juice - the daily regimen - contain only 181 calories and 34 grams of sugar. This is lower than other commonly consumed fruit juices and soft drinks. It did not change the participants' body weight, insulin levels or insulin resistance.

Dr Chai said: "This suggests Montmorency tart cherry juice can easily be incorporated into the diet without increasing calorie or sugar intake - especially if consumed in place of sugar-sweetened beverages."

Tart cherries - also known as sour or dwarf cherries - have become increasingly popular in recent years. They are different to sweet cherries that are enjoyed fresh. The juice is made from the fruit of the Prunus cerasus tree - native to southwest Asia and Europe.

It has also been linked to a number of other health benefits including boosting muscle strength, improving sleep, reducing symptoms of arthritis and protecting against brain disorders like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Dr Chai, whose study was funded by the Cherry Marketing Institute that represents US growers, said the study is the most extensive human trial of its kind.

She called for larger and longer follow-up studies to confirm the findings.