Phone

Supplements

bilberry

What Is It?
Health Benefits
Forms
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Cautions
References
Evidence Based rating Scale


What Is It?

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a short, shrubby perennial plant that inhabits the woods and forest meadows of Europe, western Asia, and the Rocky Mountains of North America. As with many other plants that belong to the same plant family (Vaccinium), bilberry bears edible fruits similar to those found on the American blueberry bush. Cranberries and huckleberry belong to this plant family too.

The bilberry's blue-black berry, which is creamy white inside, has been valued as a food since prehistoric times. Commonly referred to as "European blueberry," it is famed as a filling for pies, and for use in cobblers, jams, and other recipes.

In addition, for at least one thousand years, European herbalists have also recommended the plant's fruits and leaves for medicinal purposes, treating a variety of complaints with a strong, boiled tea made from the plant. Urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and diarrhea are just a few of the ailments for which bilberry has been used.

Bilberry's modern reputation as a healing plant was sparked during World War II, when British Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots noticed that their night vision was sharper than usual whenever they ate bilberry preserves before starting out on their evening bombing raids. Subsequent research revealed that bilberries are powerful antioxidants, capable of protecting cells in the eye and other parts of the body against damage from unstable oxygen molecules called free radicals.

Today, bilberry ranks among the most popular of supplements for maintaining healthy vision and for treating various vision disorders, including poor night vision, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
 
 
Researchers intrigued by the improved night vision of the bilberry-eating RAF pilots eventually identified compounds in the berry called anthocyanosides. These substances appear to fortify blood vessel walls, improving blood flow to the tiny blood vessels that keep eyes healthy, as well as to larger blood vessels that help maintain good circulation throughout the body. Anthocyanosides also appear to strengthen collagen, the protein that provides support to healthy connective tissue.

The other important healing substance in bilberry fruits--astringent compounds called tannins--help treat such ailments as diarrhea, sore throat, and inflammations in the mouth. Germany health authorities approve of bilberry fruit for mild cases of diarrhea and mouth and throat inflammation. A cooled tea made from the dried berries can be either drunk or gargled for these purposes.

Specifically, bilberry may help to:

·  Improve night vision as well as prevent and treat macular degeneration and cataracts. Even though the evidence showing that bilberry works for various vision-related problems is still quite weak, the herb's popularity persists. The plant appears to assist the retina, the light-sensitive part of the eye, in adjusting quickly to both dark and light. This is probably a result of the plant's anthocyanosides, which have antioxidant properties and appear to boost oxygen and blood delivery to the eye.

Herbalists have also long considered bilberry useful for treating night blindness and daytime vision impaired by glare. But while some studies indicate at least some short-term effectiveness with bilberry, others find no benefit at all over the use of a placebo (dummy drug or sugar pill) (1).

The herb is also quite popular for preventing macular degeneration, a condition in which the light-sensitive area in the center of the retina breaks down.

It may also help slow the progression of cataracts, a clouding in the eye's lens that is common in older people (2). In one study of 50 patients with age-related cataracts, it was found that taking bilberry extract along with vitamin E supplements stopped the progression of cataracts in nearly all of the participants. It remains unclear, however, whether the vitamin or the bilberry, or even the combination of the two, was responsible for this beneficial effect.

The herb has also shown promise in lessening the effects of diabetic retinopathy, a degenerative eye disease that affects people with diabetes.

·  Improve varicose veins and other circulatory problems. The active ingredients in bilberry appear to enhance blood flow to vessels that circulate blood throughout the body. For this reason, the herb may benefit people suffering from poor circulation in their extremities, painful varicose veins, and hemorrhoids--all discomforts that can be expected to improve with enhanced circulation.

A 1988, single-blind, placebo-controlled study of this herb included 60 patients with poor circulation (or venous insufficiency). The results showed that bilberry extract decreased the participants' discomfort when taken over a period of 30 days. The study had some design flaws, however, and more research on the subject is clearly needed.

·  Promote colon health. Bilberries contain high concentrations of anthocyanin, which cause the bright blues, red and purples of many berries. Anthocyanins are a class of flavinoids, that scientists are currently investigating for their strong antioxidant properties. These compounds help protect the body from free radical damage. Research has shows that these bilberry compounds are readily absorbed into the epithelial cells of the animal and human gastrointestinal tract, thereby possibly offering a chemoprotective effect against colon cancer (3 – 7).

·  Fight bacterial infections. The bioactive components of bilberry have been shown to increase our bodies’ resistance to bacterial invaders (8). The active components seem to work by decreasing the impermeability of the viral cell wall, and inhibiting viral multiplication. Scientists are now looking at bilberry as potent ingredient for both food and medicine.

·  Combat oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been linked to many conditions ranging from aging to chronic fatigue and cancer. Bilberry’s powerful combination of phytochemicals work to reduce the havoc wreaked by oxidation of your cells. Researchers conducted a study on a potent mix of berries and found that these berries helped combat unregulated cell growth, such as that experienced in cancer tumors (9,10). Other avenues of research are exploring the possibilities of using bilberry to treat the oxidative stress present in chronic fatigue syndrome (11). As research in this area grows, bilberry may prove to be an important treatment in many chronic conditions.

·  Control glucose levels in diabetes. Early studies conducted on animal models suggest that bilberry may help to control sugar levels in type II diabetes. More research is needed to prove that this benefit also holds true for humans. However, bilberry continues to be one of the most prescribed herbal remedies for type II diabetes in Europe (12).

  • liquid
  • dried herb/tea
  • capsule

Dosage Information

Special tips:

--In parts of Europe, high-quality, pharmaceutical-grade bilberry is made into potent extracts from the whole, dried, ripe fruit. The extracts of anthocyanidins are then standardized to a certain level for greatest effectiveness. Look for extracts standardized to contain 23% to37% bilberry anthocyanosides.

--Bilberry has been used internally as well as externally in the form of compresses and other formulations made from the strong tea (which is then cooled).

For cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye problems: Take 80-160 mg of standardized extract or 1/2 teaspoon liquid extract two or three times a day.

For the prevention of diabetic retinopathy: Take 80-160 mg (standardized to 25-37% anthocyanosides) three times a day.

For varicose veins: Take 80-160 mg standardized extract three times a day.

For sore throat and diarrhea: Prepare bilberry tea by pouring 1 cup of very hot water over 1 or 2 tablespoons of dried whole berries (or 2 or 3 teaspoons of crushed berries). Let the tea steep, covered, for 10 minutes, then strain. Commercial teabags are also available. Drink up to 4 cups daily as needed.

Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.

 

·  Bilberry extract can be taken with or without food.

·  The dried fruits of the bilberry plant are safe to use, but it's probably best to avoid the leaves because not much is known about their effectiveness or safety.

·  Bilberry may impair blood clotting. Ask you physician before beginning a supplement regimen containing bilberry if you take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) containing aspirin (13).
 

Bilberry fruit extract has no known side effects when taken at recommended doses, even when used on a long-term basis.

 

·  Bilberry appears to be safe to take at commonly recommended dosages.

·  If you suspect that you have developed an eye problem or a circulation disorder, consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

·  If you have a case of diarrhea that persists beyond a few days, consult your doctor.

·  If you regularly take aspirin or other NSAIDs talk to your doctor before supplementing your diet with bilberry. When combined these drugs may interact to impair your blood’s clotting mechanism.

References

  1. Muth ER, Laurent JM, Jasper P. The effect of bilberry nutritional supplementation on night visual acuity and contrast sensitivity. Altern Med Rev. 2000 Apr;5(2):164-73.
  2. Head KA. Natural therapies for ocular disorders, part two: cataracts and glaucoma. Altern Med Rev. 2001 Apr;6(2):141-66.
  3. He J, Magnuson BA, Giusti MM. Analysis of anthocyanins in rat intestinal contents-impact of anthocyanin chemical structure on fecal excretion. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Apr 20;53(8):2859-66.
  4. Zhao C, Giusti MM, Malik M, Moyer MP, Magnuson BA. Effects of commercial anthocyanin-rich extracts on colonic cancer and nontumorigenic colonic cell growth. J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Oct 6;52(20):6122-8.
  5. Talavera S, Felgines C, Texier O, Besson C, Manach C, Lamaison JL, Remesy C. Anthocyanins are efficiently absorbed from the small intestine in rats. J Nutr. 2004 Sep;134(9):2275-9.
  6. Katsube N, Iwashita K, Tsushida T, Yamaki K, Kobori M. Induction of apoptosis in cancer cells by Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and the anthocyanins. J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Jan 1;51(1):68-75.
  7. Bomser J, Madhavi DL, Singletary K, Smith MA. In vitro anticancer activity of fruit extracts from Vaccinium species. Planta Med. 1996 Jun;62(3):212-6.
  8. Puupponen-Pimia R, Nohynek L, Alakomi HL, Oksman-Caldentey KM. Bioactive berry compounds-novel tools against human pathogens. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2005 Apr;67(1):8-18. Epub 2004 Dec 2.
  9. Bagchi D, Sen CK, Bagchi M, Atalay M. Anti-angiogenic, antioxidant, and anti-carcinogenic properties of a novel anthocyanin-rich berry extract formula. Biochemistry (Mosc). 2004 Jan;69(1):75-80, 1 p preceding 75.
  10. Hou DX. Potential mechanisms of cancer chemoprevention by anthocyanins. Curr Mol Med. 2003 Mar;3(2):149-59.
  11. Logan AC, Wong C. Chronic fatigue syndrome: oxidative stress and dietary modifications. Altern Med Rev. 2001 Oct;6(5):450-9.
  12. Cicero AF, Derosa G, Gaddi A. What do herbalists suggest to diabetic patients in order to improve glycemic control? Evaluation of scientific evidence and potential risks. Acta Diabetol. 2004 Sep;41(3):91-8.
  13. Abebe W. Herbal medication: potential for adverse interactions with analgesic drugs. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2002 Dec;27(6):391-401.

Evidence Based Rating Scale 

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements and therapies demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.

Condition

Rating

Explanation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cataracts

 

 

 

 

Date Published: 04/18/2005

Previous  |  Next
> Printer-friendly Version Return to Top


© 2000- 2017 . WholeHealthMD.com, LLC. 21251 Ridgetop Circle, Suite 150, Sterling, VA 20166. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. Privacy Policy

Disclaimer: All material provided in the WholeHealthMD website is provided for educational purposes only. Consult your physician regarding the applicability of any information provided in the WholeHealthMD website to your symptoms or medical condition.