A class of drugs called PPAR agonists that help regulate fat and glucose was considered promising by doctors who prescribed them for patients with metabolic syndrome - a collection of risk factors linked to heart disease and type 2.
However, studies have shown the long-term use of these drugs can also increase stroke risk, which has prevented many from securing FDA approval.
The new research from the U-M Cardioprotection Research Laboratory suggests that tart cherries can reduce the risk of stroke even when taken with these pharmaceutical options.
The group's previous research has shown that intake of US produced, Montmorency tartcherries activates PPAR isoforms (peroxisome proliferator activating receptors) in many of the body's tissues.
Researchers believe that anthocyanins - the pigments that give the fruit its red color - may be responsible for PPAR activation.
PPARs regulate genes involved in fat and glucose metabolism, and when modified can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
PPAR agonists, among them medications such as Actos (pioglitazone), act in a similar way but cardiovascular side effects have limited their use.
The researchers compared the effect of tart cherries and the drug Actos in stroke-prone rats by measuring the animals' systolic blood pressure as well as locomotion, balance, coordination, all of which can show the aftereffects of a stroke.
By putting the rats through various physical tests, such as walking on a tapered beam and climbing a ladder, the researchers found that compared to Actos, tart cherry intake significantly improved balance and coordination, and at the same time lowered blood pressure.
While the research results indicate that rats who consumed only tart cherries had the best results, those who had the combination of tart cherries and Actos also did better than those who only took the drug.