Eat Cherries to Ease Your Gout, Arthritis and Inflammation

Ripe cherries on the tree in our backyard were a reason to celebrate when I was a child. It meant that school vacation was only about a week away (mid-June).  Mom would be baking pies and canning what we could not eat right away to enjoy for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

When I was about 11 or 12 years old, Dad enlisted me to be his helper as he plucked the juicy cherries from the tree that nudged up against the back corner of the house.  My grandfather, who lived next door,  was convinced that one should pick fruit while standing firmly on the ground and lent us his long pole with a claw-like basket at the tip.

But, my Dad liked to get close to the action so he could fill buckets at a time without bruising the fruit. Carefully positioning a sturdy ladder, my father climbed up on the roof of our house to reach into the tree.  After clearing the low hanging fruit, Dad decided to climb higher into the tree.

So he would not have to leave his perch to empty the buckets, I became his “runner”  traveling  up and down the ladder to empty each filled bucket. Quickly, the pails on the ground were filing up as the tree had fewer and fewer cherries to pick. And I was relishing every minute of my job as his helper.

Up the ladder with an empty bucket. Down the ladder with a bucket of cherries. Empty the cherries into the big pail and climb the ladder again.

Then, My Mother Came Outside

She saw me scrambling up and down the ladder. From the shocked look on her face, I thought she was going to faint!

“Hi, Mom, I’m helping Dad with the cherries,” I chirped cheerfully.

“Young ladies don’t run up and down ladders!” she scolded, emphasizing the word “ladies” as she watched me climb down for the last time.  Even though it was the 1960′s,  Mom had NOT caught the fervor for Women’s Lib.

Fortunately, we had just finished. All of the ripe cherries had been plucked from the tree and sat waiting in the pails on the ground.

Fast Forward to the Summer of 2005 . . .

Dad is again picking dark, luscious cherries and I’m helping him. Only this time we’re in the supermarket scooping them into plastic bags. I’ve come to help my father get ready to move to a retirement community.  Fresh cherries were on special.  They looked too good to resist.

When we get back to his house, he measures out enough cherries for both of us into a large plastic bowl and washes them in the kitchen sink. Then, he divides the cherries into two bowls which he places on the kitchen table.

Taking a summer afternoon break to savor those plump, juicy morsels allows us to connect to earlier times. Father and daughter share a happy moment and remember summers past.

Dad, who worked at local farms to earn money for school, seemed to know that eating cherries is a healthy habit. He claimed that his fruit eating kept him regular. I didn’t correlate his cherry eating with relief from his arthritis until my husband suffered a gout attack shortly after I returned home.

Cherries for Relieving Pain of Gout

The painful joints (especially the big toe) associated with gout are caused by sharp uric acid crystals that settle in the joints. Uric acid is a natural by-product of protein (purines) metabolism. Uric acid is normally broken down into harmless substances by enzymes in the body.

Some individuals have limited ability to break down the uric acid, so it accumulates in their joints, especially the feet if the person is not very active. Elevated blood uric acid levels over a prolonged period of time may also signal cardiovascular problems. So, in addition to relieving pain, lowering uric acid in the body can help your heart, lungs and kidneys.

The drug that doctors typically prescribe for gout has some potentially serious side effects. Long term use is not a good idea. Healthier habits can keep gout under control. The gout sufferer needs to eat less of foods that are high in purines, drink more water to dilute uric acid and flush it out through the kidneys. Getting more exercise improves circulation to move uric acid out of the joints faster.

But, sometimes a person can get off of his routine. Drinking less water over a period of several weeks had shifted the delicate balance. There was my husband cradling his foot, rubbing his swollen and inflamed big left toe.

I consulted my favorite reference book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 4th Edition. It mentioned eating cherries and drinking cherry juice to reduce pain and get the body back in balance as a well known folk remedy.

Cherries have a low glycemic index so eating them doesn’t skyrocket your blood sugar and leave you hungrier later.  This is very important for a diabetic like my father. It is also the key to keeping weight under control even if you are not a diabetic.

Fresh cherries are in season throughout the summer in the US. Bottled cherry juice and dried cherries are available all year round.  I bought both fresh cherries and bottled juice for my husband to try.

Within a few hours of eating cherries, my husband’s pain started to disappear. After two days, he was able to resume walking for exercise. And after a week, he was back to normal. And, his positive results are not unique.

Research Proves Cherries Help You Heal

US Agricultural Research Service Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, California conducted a study that confirmed that eating cherries does lower the amount of uric acid in the blood in healthy adults. The results from this study were published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2003.

A follow up study published in 2006 by the US Agricultural Research Service demonstrated a 25% drop in the levels of C-reactive protein in healthy adults who included 280 grams (a bit more than a half pound) of cherries in their diets for 28 days.  C-reactive protein is an indicator of inflammation anywhere in the body, not just gout.

So,  the evidence suggests that eating fresh cherries is good for anyone who might have inflammation (including infections, other inflammatory conditions, insulin resistance, obesity, certain medications and chronic allergies) not just gout sufferers.

Doctors have been recommending  for years that adults take aspirin daily to reduce the inflammation related to cardiovascular problems. But,  while aspirin definitely relieves inflammation, long term use can erode the stomach lining leading to ulcers. Anyone with a history of stomach ulcers like my Dad should not take aspirin long term.

Cherries can be added to anyone’s diet on a long term basis. It’s important, though, to continue to eat a variety of foods not just cherries because some people can have allergic reactions to cherries. And, if you are allergic to almonds or tree pollen, you may also be sensitive to cherries. Rotating a variety foods in your meals is a good way to avoid triggering an allergic response.

The best part of eating cherries for better health is that they taste so delicious! It is easy to get children interested in eating  them.  And, that’s good because the tendency for gout often runs in families.  Our youngest son developed symptoms in middle school when he cut back on drinking water during the school day. He was trying to avoid having to take a bathroom break during class time.

When we discussed his symptoms with his doctor, the doctor pointed out that problems with gout often run in families.  Our son began drinking cherry juice every day in addition to drinking more water during the day (and timing his bathroom breaks better). His problem cleared up and has not returned.

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