Memory problems and cognitive disabilities, including dementia, are on the rise in the U.S. and cases are expected to nearly triple by 2060. Because of this, extensive research is being conducted to determine why cognitive-related conditions are continuing to grow and how they may be prevented.
One such study that has recently been published in the journal Food & Function looked to a relationship between intake of tart cherry juice and improved memory. The researchers from the University of Delaware had recently discovered that tart Montmorency cherries possess some powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers that can help to reduce blood pressure, so they decided to put these powers to the test in this new study focused on brain health.
May Help Improve Cognitive Performance
The most common variety grown in the U.S., Montmorency tart cherries have long been coveted by those seeking a good night’s sleep, or those looking for relief from gout. Even athletes are known for taking tart cherry juice for exercise recovery. But this new evidence helps shed light on the polyphenol’s found in the juice that that may help improve cognitive performance in older adults.
In this randomized controlled trial, 34 participants were split into two groups. One group was assigned to consume 16 ounces (480 mL) of Montmorency tart cherry juice. The other was to consume the same amount of a placebo drink. Both groups were to drink half in the morning and half in the evening, every day for 12 weeks.
All participants were generally healthy, with no prior diagnoses of illness. They were not taking any medications that could affect brain function and were asked to maintain their regular diet and physical activity levels for the duration of the study. During the study, all participants were required to complete a series of questionnaires and tests to evaluate their cognitive function and subjective memory scores.
Researchers found that for those drinking the Montmorency tart cherry juice, after 12 weeks, all participants exhibited improved scores in both cognitive function and subjective memory. Those consuming the tart juice showed a 4% reduction in movement time (a measurement of speed of response to visual stimuli), a 5% increase in satisfaction with their ability to remember things, and a 3% improvement in visual sustained attention (which measures visual information processing). They also exhibited a 23% reduction in errors made during an episodic visual memory task (which assesses visual memory and new learning), and an 18% reduction in errors made during a spatial working memory task (which assesses memory and strategy use) compared to baseline values.
Lead author Sheau Ching Chai, assistant professor of behavioral health and nutrition at the University of Delaware, spoke about the study: “Cognitive function is a key determinant of independence and quality of life among older adults. The potential beneficial effects of tart cherries may be related to the bioactive compounds they possess, which include polyphenols, anthocyanins, and melanin. They may also be related to tart cherry’s potential blood-pressure-lowering effects, outlined in a previous study we conducted in the same population, as blood pressure can influence blood flow to the brain.”
It’s important to note this study was supported by The Cherry Research Committee of the Cherry Marketing Institute, and the sample size of this study was small. Larger, longer studies are needed to confirm its findings.