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Are there any bad side effects to drinking tart cherry juice?

Tart cherry juice has become an increasingly popular drink due to its purported health benefits. It’s rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, leading many to believe it may help with exercise recovery, sleep, and reducing symptoms of arthritis and gout.

However, some people are concerned about potential side effects of drinking too much tart cherry juice. This article reviews the scientific research on side effects and safety concerns associated with drinking tart cherry juice.

Oxidative Stress

Tart cherry juice is high in antioxidants, compounds that help fight oxidative stress in your body. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your system.

Although antioxidants are beneficial, some research indicates getting too many antioxidants from supplements may interfere with exercise recovery. This is because exercise actually relies on some oxidative stress and inflammation to stimulate muscle growth and strength.

For example, one study gave marathon runners either a placebo or antioxidants before a race. The runners given antioxidants actually performed worse and had reduced muscle damage compared to the placebo group.

The researchers concluded antioxidants may dampen the normal physiological response to exercise. Additional human studies are needed to determine if drinking antioxidant-rich tart cherry juice has similar effects.

Kidney Stones

Kidney stones affect approximately 1 in 11 people during their lifetime. Dehydration is a major risk factor for developing kidney stones.

Tart cherry juice is high in oxalate, a compound that can bind to calcium to form kidney stones. Therefore, people prone to kidney stones may want to limit high-oxalate foods and beverages like tart cherry juice.

One study found consuming more than 1,200 mg of oxalates per day from food and drink may increase your risk of calcium oxalate kidney stones.

Here are the oxalate contents of an 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of tart cherry juice compared to other high-oxalate foods:

Food Oxalate (mg)
Tart cherry juice 55.5
Spinach, boiled 557
Beans, baked 267
Potato, baked with skin 146
Chocolate 122

As you can see, even a single serving of tart cherry juice provides a significant amount of oxalates. People prone to kidney stones should limit high-oxalate foods like spinach, beans, potatoes, chocolate, and tart cherry juice.

Medication Interactions

Tart cherry juice contains naturally-occurring compounds that may interact with several medications.

Blood Thinners

Tart cherry juice is high in antioxidants known as anthocyanins. Anthocyanins have anti-inflammatory and anti-platelet effects, meaning they can thin your blood.

In one study, drinking tart cherry juice reduced some markers of blood clotting. This prompted researchers to indicate it may intensify the effects of blood thinning medications like aspirin or Warfarin.

If you take any blood thinning medications, talk to your healthcare provider before drinking tart cherry juice to avoid negative interactions.

Diabetes Medications

Some research shows compounds in tart cherry juice can reduce blood sugar and insulin levels.

In one study, obese adults with insulin resistance drank 8 ounces (240 ml) of tart cherry juice twice daily for 6 weeks. They experienced significant reductions in insulin levels and blood sugar responses to meals.

Therefore, people taking diabetes medications should monitor their blood sugar closely when drinking tart cherry juice to avoid dangerously low blood sugar levels.

Dietary Concerns

Tart cherry juice is made from a blend of tart Montmorency cherries and apple juice. Therefore, it’s fairly low in calories and carbs.

An 8-ounce (240-ml) glass provides:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 138
Protein 1 gram
Carbs 33 grams
Sugar 24 grams

As you can see, a single serving packs 24 grams of sugar, which is equivalent to about 6 teaspoons. While the sugar is naturally-occurring from the apple juice, it’s something to keep in mind if weight management or diabetes are a concern.

Additionally, some brands add natural flavors or concentrates like lemon juice. People with sensitivities should check the ingredients list carefully.

Risk of Contamination

Like other fruit juices, contamination during production and processing is a potential concern with tart cherry juice. Juice concentrates, in particular, are at higher risk of contamination.

In fact, tart cherry juice concentrates were linked to two E. coli outbreaks in the late 90s. Proper sanitation and processing methods have significantly improved since then.

However, pregnant women, young children, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems may still want to avoid unpasteurized tart cherry juice products.

Teeth Staining

The deep red pigment that gives tart cherries their color is called anthocyanin. This pigment can temporarily stain your teeth, especially if you drink a lot of cherry juice.

One study found that Anthocyanin-based fruit juice led to significantly more staining than beverages without anthocyanins. The stains occurred after just one exposure.

Brushing your teeth after drinking tart cherry juice can help prevent staining. Most staining is temporary but may become more stubborn over time.

Digestive Issues

Tart cherry juice contains sorbitol, a type of sugar alcohol that many people can’t properly digest. Consuming too much sorbitol can lead to digestive upset and diarrhea in some individuals.

Other fruits high in sorbitol include apples, pears, peaches, and prunes. If you experience digestive issues after drinking tart cherry juice, sorbitol may be the culprit.

Headaches

Some anecdotal reports claim tart cherry juice consumption causes headaches in sensitive individuals. However, there’s no scientific evidence to support this claim.

Headaches are not listed as a common side effect in any studies on tart cherry juice. In fact, research actually shows tart cherry juice may reduce headache frequency and severity in those prone to migraines.

It’s possible that the high sugar content could trigger migraines in some people. But overall, there’s no evidence that headaches are a widespread side effect of moderate tart cherry juice intake.

Conclusion

Tart cherry juice makes a delicious beverage that provides antioxidants vital heart health and may provide anti-inflammatory effects. However, it may also have some potential side effects and drawbacks.

To enjoy tart cherry juice safely and effectively, do not exceed 12 ounces (355 ml) per day, drink it in moderation, practice good dental hygiene, watch for medication interactions, and be mindful of its oxalate, sugar and sorbitol content.

Certain groups, like those prone to kidney stones or taking blood thinners, may want to avoid drinking tart cherry juice altogether.

Overall, tart cherry juice is safe for most people when consumed in moderation. But it’s best to consult your healthcare provider if you have any concerns related to pre-existing conditions or medications.