Bilberry for Better Eyes?

Arco Images/Larssen Gitta/Getty Images

A relative of the blueberry, bilberry is purported to improve the health of the eyes. Bilberry is rich in antioxidants, natural substances thought to protect against eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma. Research on bilberry's health effects is limited, but some studies suggest that bilberry supplements may be of some benefit to the eyes.

The Science Behind Bilberry's Benefits for the Eyes

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) classifies bilberry as "possibly effective" for treatment of eye problems linked to diabetes and high blood pressure (also known as hypertension).

In particular, bilberry may help prevent diabetes- and hypertension-related blood vessel damage known to impair the retina (a nerve layer involved in sensing light).

On the other hand, NIH deems bilberry "possibly ineffective" for improving night vision. Indeed, a 2004 review from the journal Survey of Ophthalmology found little scientific support for the theory that bilberry can sharpen night vision in healthy eyes. In their analysis of 30 clinical trials, the review's authors also found "a complete absence of rigorous research" on bilberry's effects on night vision in people with diseases of the eyes.

More Research on Bilberry and the Eyes

For a 2001 report in Alternative Medicine Review, investigators sized up the available research on natural therapies for diseases of the eyes. Results revealed that bilberry shows promise in the treatment of glaucoma, although the report's authors caution that the evidence for this use is "very preliminary." The report also indicates that bilberry may help treat cataracts, a condition linked to free-radical-induced damage.

According to the report's authors, bilberry contains potent antioxidant compounds "with a particular affinity for the eye."

Using Bilberry for Eye Health

Due to the lack of scientific support, bilberry cannot be recommended to improve the health of the eyes. Although bilberry is generally considered safe for most when consumed in regular amounts in food, little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of bilberry supplements.

If you're considering the use bilberry to treat any disease of the eyes, make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen. Self-treating and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.


Canter PH, Ernst E. "Anthocyanosides of Vaccinium myrtillus (bilberry) for night vision--a systematic review of placebo-controlled trials." Surv Ophthalmol. 2004 Jan-Feb;49(1):38-50.

Head KA. "Natural therapies for ocular disorders, part two: cataracts and glaucoma." Altern Med Rev. 2001 Apr;6(2):141-66.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Bilberry [NCCAM Herbs at a Glance". NCCAM Publication No. D312. Created May 2006. Updated July 2010.

National Institutes of Health. "Bilberry: MedlinePlus Supplements". December 2010.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Continue Reading