Tart Cherry Demonstrates Chemoprevention Potential


Tart cherry (Prunus cerasus) is part of the species of Prunus and is native to Europe and southwest Asia.  It is also known as sour cherry or dwarf cherry. 

It is distinct from the sweet cherry (Prunus avium), which is commonly found in grocery stores.  Tart cherries are more acidic than sweet cherries and are typically used in juices and foods, rather than sold as a whole fruit.  The health benefits attributed to cherries are due to the tart cherry and not the sweet cherry.

There are a number of varieties of the tart cherry:

  • Morello cherry  (dark red)
  • Amarelle cherry  (light red)
  • Montmorency cherry (the most popular of the tart cherries)

Figure 1.   Montmorency cherry

Through numerous scientific studies, tart cherry has demonstrated a wide range of health benefits and its ability to counteract some key chronic conditions, including:

  • Reversing cardiovascular risk factors
  • Protection against oxidative stress
  • Inhibiting the early development of diabetes
  • Inhibiting the inflammatory pathway of gout
  • Regulates sleep-wake cycle in humans (due to high melatonin content)
  • Supports muscle recovery after exercise
  • Provides relief from pain associated with exercise exertion 
  • Provides anti-microbial effects 

Tart cherries are rich in anthocyanins, which are water-soluble vacuolar pigments that may appear red, purple, or blue.  They belong to the flavonoids group.  Other fruits and berries contain anthocyanins, but tart cherries are the only berry that contains all six of the key anthocyanins, including:  1

  • Cyanidin
  • Cyanidin 3-glucosylrutinoside (anthocyanin 1)
  • Cyanidin 3-rutinoside (anthocyanin 2)
  • Cyanidin sophoroside
  • Peonidin
  • Peonidin 3-glucoside

The health benefits of tart cherries can be attributed to their rich and broad anthocyanin content.  The anthocyanin content is also responsible to their anticarcinogenic effects.

Research is showing that tart cherries can exert a variety of chemopreventive effects and counteract cancer through various mechanisms by naturally switching off genes that promote cancer.  These genes activate:  2  3  4

  • inflammation
  • cell proliferation
  • angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels)

The broad range of anthocyanins in tart cherries trigger apoptosis (programmed cell death), which effectively cleans up precancerous cells by having them self-destruct.  5  6 

Tart cherries has been shown to be effective against colon cancer.

A published study from 2003 demonstrated that mice consuming the cherry diet, anthocyanins, or cyanidin had significantly fewer and smaller cecal adenomas than mice consuming the control diet or sulindac.

Anthocyanins and cyanidin also reduced cell growth of human colon cancer cell lines HT 29 and HCT 116. The IC(50) of anthocyanins and cyanidin was 780 and 63 microM for HT 29 cells, respectively and 285 and 85 microM for HCT 116 cells, respectively.

These results suggest that tart cherry anthocyanins and cyanidin may reduce the risk of colon cancer.  7

Tart Cherries Chemoprevention Potential  8

Inhibits Inflammation Pathways

Arrests Cancerous Cell Proliferation

Inhibits Angiogenesis

Promotes and Triggers Apoptosis