Drinking cherry juice is as good as taking drugs at reducing blood pressure, researchers have found.
People who drank 60ml of cherry concentrate, diluted with water, saw their blood pressure drop by 7 per cent within three hours.
This was enough to slash the risk of a stroke by 38 per cent or heart disease by 23 per cent.
Patients who take blood pressure medication see a similar impact, scientists at Northumbria University said.
High blood pressure affects some five million people in England and, if left untreated, increases risk of heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease, stroke and dementia.
The research team, whose work is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, tested 15 people who were displaying early signs of high blood pressure.
The volunteers were given either 60ml of a Montmorency cherry concentrate diluted with 100ml of water, or the same volume of a ‘placebo’ drink, a fruit-flavoured cordial.
The scientists found that the participants given the cherry concentrate saw their peak blood pressure drop 7 per cent further than those who drank the fruit cordial.
The scientists think that cherry juice has such a strong impact on blood pressure because it is rich in phenolic acids – a type of naturally-occuring antioxidant.
When tracking the volunteers, the team found that the greatest improvement in blood pressure oc-curred when two phenolic acids – protocatechuic and vanillic acid – reached peak levels in patients’ blood.
Study leader Karen Keane, whose work was funded by the Cherry Marketing Institute in the US, said: ‘The majority of cardiovascular disease is caused by risk factors that can be controlled, treated or modified.
‘These include high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, tobacco use, lack of physical activity and diabetes.
‘Raised blood pressure is the leading cause of deaths from cardiovascular disease, yet relatively small reductions in blood pressure can have a large impact on mortality rates.
‘The magnitude of the blood pressure lowering effects we observed was comparable to those achieved by a single anti-hypertensive drug and highlights the potential importance that Montmorency cherries could have in the effective management of high blood pressure.’
Co-author Professor Glyn Howatson added: ‘This is the first study to investigate the acute effects of Montmorency tart cherry consumption on blood pressure, arterial stiffness and microvascular vasodilation in males with early hypertension.
‘This exciting set of data complements a growing body of research to show that eating the right sorts of foods can provide potential health benefits.
‘We believe these benefits might be linked to the combined actions of some of the plant compounds within the Montmorency concentrate and the positive impact they exert on vascular function.’