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A Tart Cherry a Day May Lower the Risk of Stroke

Update Date: Apr 23, 2013 02:17 PM EDT

In fact, a tart cherry a day may keep the doctor away.

Metabolic syndrome, a collection of risk factors, has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and of type 2 diabetes. In order to lower the risk of these dangerous conditions, many doctors prescribe patients with drugs that activate the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPARs), a group of proteins that regulate the production of glucose and fat. However, many of these drugs can also elevate the risk of stroke.

Previous research has found that the red color in tart cherries may come from pigments that activate PPARs in cells. "Our previous research has shown that Montmorency tart cherries can have a positive effect on cardiovascular health and can reduce risk factors like high cholesterol and diabetes," E. Mitchell Seymour, Ph.D., supervisor of the Cardioprotection Research Laboratory, said in a statement. "While prescribed drugs improve the outlook for certain risk factors, they've also shown to have undesirable side effects. We wanted to see if a tart cherry-rich diet might provide similar cardiovascular benefits without the risk of heart attack or stroke."

Researchers from the University of Michigan Health System performed a study on rats who were engineered to be prone to strokes. By performing a number of physical tests, like walking on a balance beam and climbing a ladder, the rats who were administered tart cherries outperformed those who were given Actos, a PPAR agonist, or a combination of the two. In fact, in addition to lowering the risk of stroke, ingesting tart cherries lowered the rats' blood pressure and significantly improved balance and coordination. Balance and coordination were tested because both can give way in the aftermath of a stroke.

More research will need to be conducted on the matter, because research on rats cannot necessarily be directly applied to humans. Regardless, the research is potentially a good sign for people taking medication for metabolic syndrome or who are otherwise at risk for stroke.

The results were presented today at an annual meeting for Experimental Biology in Boston.

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