Scientists say eating fresh Bing cherries might help fight the inflammation of arthritis, heart disease, and cancer.

In a study conducted by chemist Dr. Darshan Kelley and colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, California, 18 healthy men and women aged between 45 and 61 ate about 45 fresh Bing cherries a day for a month.

Blood samples showed that three indicators of inflammation—nitric oxide, C reactive protein, and a marker for T-cell activation—dropped by 18 to 25 percent by the end of the cherry-eating stint.

Blood samples taken four weeks later indicated that the volunteers’ T-cell activation level continued to decline, but their nitric oxide and C reactive protein levels had increased.

Natural chemicals in cherries apparently work selectively, suppressing production of some of the body’s inflammation-linked compounds, but not others, the researchers report. They found no significant decrease in levels of more than three dozen other markers of inflammation.

A smaller study of Bing cherries that Kelley reported in 2003 had also shown decreases in nitric oxide and C reactive protein levels. The follow-up investigation may be the longest ever conducted to explore the anti-inflammatory effects of sweet cherries, using healthy volunteers who ate fresh cherries instead of extracts.

The California Cherry Advisory Board helped fund the research.