When it comes to any food, chances are you are going to find somebody who does not respond well to it. Some foods such as chocolate, bell peppers, hot peppers, bananas or sweet cherries typically cause minor side effects of the likes of stomach upset, indigestion, acid reflux, diarrhea and even constipation. Other foods such as shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels and seafood in general, but also smoked meat, raw honey, mushrooms, nuts, avocado or strawberries can pose more serious risks to one’s health by causing food allergies with the potential for anaphylactic shock, for example. Whatever the food, it’s possible for someone somewhere to experience some form of adverse reaction to it, be it mild or severe.
What does eating too many cherries cause?
It’s rare for sweet cherries to cause side effects, but nonetheless possible. The bulk of side effects associated with consumption of sweet cherries are a result of overeating or malabsorption issues and typically mild. Eating cherries is known to primarily cause digestive upset with symptoms such as bloating, burping, flatulence or gas, constipation and loose stools and diarrhea and associated abdominal cramps. In rare cases, eating cherries can lead to allergic reactions that can potentially result in anaphylactic shock. The incidence of cherry allergy is unknown, but estimated to be relatively low, especially when compared to other food allergens. Overall, diarrhea and constipation are the two most common side effects associated with consumption of sweet cherries which is intriguing since the fruit is also employed as a natural remedy for the treatment of both diarrhea and constipation.
Cherries and diarrhea
Does eating sweet cherries really cause diarrhea? Yes, it does. However, not all cases of cherry-associated diarrhea are caused by the same mechanisms. But how can eating cherries cause diarrhea? There are actually quite a few possibilities. In some people, it’s overeating cherries that causes diarrhea. In other people, the diarrhea is caused by a sensitivity or intolerance to one or more components in the fruit (e.g. sorbitol or other sugar alcohols). And, in rare instances, the diarrhea is a symptom of an allergic reaction to proteins in the fruit. For the most part, you can tell what is the cause behind the diarrhea based on accompanying symptoms.
- (1) Overeating cherries and dietary fiber intake
Cherries are naturally laxative. Their laxative effects are directly proportional to intake so the more of the fruit you eat, the more pregnant the laxative effects. More exactly, cherries are a source of dietary fiber, indigestible (bulking, gelling or fermentable) plant material. A cup of sweet cherries with pits at roughly 138 g provides 2.9 g of dietary fiber. The average adult requires anywhere between 20-38 g of dietary fiber a day. Eating a lot of cherries, which is fairly easy to do since they’re so good it’s hard to stop, can increase daily fiber intake and lead to loose stools and diarrhea.
But how do cherries make you poop? The insoluble fiber in the fruit gives bulk to stools which, in turn, stimulates peristalsis (contractions of the muscles of the digestive tract) to move food along the digestive tract and out. Soluble fiber such as pectin, found in larger amounts in the skin of cherries (and apples and pears), absorbs water and has a gelling effect which softens stools, promoting easy and regular bowel movements. Fermentable fiber exerts prebiotic properties, enhancing the health of the gut medium which further promotes easy and regular bowel movements. Getting significantly more fiber than you need on a daily basis, such as from overeating cherries for example, exacerbates these effects and can result in loose stools and diarrhea and associated symptoms (painful cramps, urgency to have a bowel movement, bloating and gas).
- (2) Sensitivities or intolerance to components in the fruit
Instances of food sensitivity and food intolerance are as common as can be and tend to manifest most readily as digestive disturbances such as bloating, burping, gas, abdominal cramps, loose, watery stools and diarrhea. For example, people with lactose intolerance are not able to drink or eat sweet milk or fresh cheeses without experiencing digestive upset. People sensitive to or intolerant of sugar alcohols can’t eat pumpkin, plums, dried plums, grapes or drink grape juice and more without experiencing digestive upset.
Sensitivity or intolerance to cherries is real and can be caused by components in the fruit known as sugar alcohols (e.g. sorbitol, mannitol). Sugar alcohols are actually a form of lower-calorie naturally-occurring sugars. And the reason they’re lower-calorie than actual sugars is because they don’t get digested, completely or almost at all in some cases. Which is also the cause why some people get diarrhea after eating a lot of cherries, or after eating what is believed to be a reasonable serving size of the fruit. Depending on the severity of one’s sensitivity or intolerance to various components in the fruit, diarrhea as a result of eating cherries may occur with smaller or larger intakes of the fruit, so it’s not always a matter of overeating.
On average there are around 0.45-6.8 g of sorbitol/100 g of fresh sweet cherries. Eating 300 g of fresh cherries provides about 20 g of sorbitol, an intake that can easily trigger severe diarrheal episodes in some people. But even the recommended serving size can have this effect. An extreme sensitivity to sugar alcohols resulting in diarrhea episodes following consumption of cherries, prunes, plums apples, pears, peaches and other fruits and foods could potentially indicate a hidden digestive condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), celiac disease or other malabsorption issues.
- (3) Symptom of an allergic reaction
The least common cause of diarrhea after eating cherries is cherry allergy. Food allergies are extremely common and, in theory, you can be allergic to essentially any food. Cherry allergy is not very common, at least not as common as peanut allergy, other nut allergies, sesame seed allergy, egg or milk allergy. But it exists nonetheless. Cherry allergy can be caused by the immune system overreacting to proteins in the fruit known as Pathogenesis-related (PR) proteins (that is, proteins with a plant-defense function that are produced when a plant is damaged, stressed or attacked by a pathogen). Cherry allergens include Pru av 1, Pru av 2 and Pru av 3.
Food allergies in general can manifest at the level of multiple organs and systems hence the range of symptoms including respiratory (coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, closing of the airways), skin (hives with red, itchy bumps and swelling), eyes (itchy, watery, red eyes), nose (itchy and runny nose with abundant clear or white mucus discharge), ears (itchy ears and swelling), cardiovascular (low blood pressure, shortness of breath), neurological (headaches, agitation, fainting, seizures, loss of consciousness), digestive (nausea, vomiting, loose stools and diarrhea), and systemic (anaphylactic shock).
In case of a cherry allergy, the symptoms may be limited to the mouth and throat. This is known as oral allergy syndrome and typically involves symptoms such as itching and swelling of the lips, tingling sensation in the mouth or throat, swelling of the tongue or throat and also difficulty breathing and closing of the airways. In rare cases, more severe symptoms and progression to anaphylactic shock may occur. Another possibility is a full-range allergic reaction that culminates with anaphylactic shock unless emergency treatment is provided in due time. Progression to anaphylactic shock can occur within minutes which is why it’s important to carry essential medication with you at all times if you have known food allergies and make those around you aware of your condition so that they may be able to provide timely assistance with administering your essential medication and seek medical help.
Cherries and constipation
Some people find cherries constipating. Under normal circumstances, cherries do not constipate. On the contrary, they are good for constipation (find out these 7 real benefits of eating cherries). Cherries are a naturally laxative food thanks to their good dietary fiber content and promote easy and regular bowel movements. It’s actually rare to experience constipation from eating cherries, or overeating them, but not unheard of.
- How do cherries constipate?
The exact mechanisms behind cherries causing constipation have not been worked out yet. However, it is presumed that an excessive intake of the fruit, eating the fruit with pits or an underlying intolerance or digestive condition could lead to such an outcome.
- Overeating cherries can cause diarrhea as well as constipation. Different people will experience different outcomes. Similarly, what constitutes an excessive intake varies with each person.
- Eating cherries with pits. While uncommon, some people and children in particular may eat cherries with pits. Because cherry pits are not normally digested, eating them will impact digestion which can lead to constipation. Too many can, in rare instances, lead to an intestinal blockage.
- Food intolerance and underlying conditions. Underlying conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are known to cause constipation (and diarrhea) in response to certain trigger-foods. Cherries are a FODMAP, a type of food containing fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (e.g. sorbitol, mannitol) which can trigger IBS flareups which may explain the constipating effect.