The Benefits of Bilberry

Can these tiny blue berries boost your well-being?

Bilberry and milk
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A fruit closely related to blueberries, bilberries are native to Europe. Also known as whortleberry, huckleberry, or European blueberries, bilberries are often eaten fresh or made into jam, juices, or pies. Bilberries are also available in powder, juice, or supplement form.

Uses for Bilberry

Rich in antioxidants known as anthocyanins and polyphenols, bilberries have been used for medicinal purposes for conditions ranging from eye conditions to diabetes.

Bilberry is often touted as a remedy for eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, dry eyes, age-related macular degeneration, and retinitis pigmentosa.

Being a rich source of antioxidants, bilberry are thought to curb inflammation and protect against diseases associated with oxidative stress, such as inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gingivitis, and age-related cognitive decline.

The anthocyanins in bilberry are said to reduce inflammation, and stabilize tissues containing collagen such as cartilage, tendons and ligaments. 

Bilberry is said to strengthen the walls of blood vessels and is sometimes taken orally for varicose veins and hemorrhoids.

The Benefits

So far, very few studies have tested the health effects of bilberry. Still, there’s some evidence that it shows promise in the treatment of certain conditions. Here’s a look at some findings from the available research:

Eye Fatigue

Bilberry shows promise in the treatment of eye fatigue, suggests a small study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging. In tests on 281 people who used video display terminals, researchers determined that treatment with bilberry extract may help improve both objective and subjective measures of eye fatigue.

Other Eye Conditions

Preliminary studies suggest that bilberry extract may play a possible role in the treatment of retinal disorders and other eye conditions. In studies on animals, for example, bilberry was found to protect retinal cells against degeneration.

Gingivitis (Gum Inflammation)

Bilberry may help to control gum (gingival) inflammation in people with gingivitis, according to a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Participants in the study consumed either 250 grams of bilberries, 500 grams of bilberries, or a placebo, or received standard care for seven days. The researchers concluded that 500 grams of bilberries resulted in a reduction of gum (gingival) inflammation.

Possible Side Effects

Although bilberry fruit is generally considered safe when consumed in amounts typically found in food, allergic reactions can occur.

Bilberries naturally contain substances known as tannins (found in many foods such as coffee, tea, red wine, blueberries, cranberries, chocolate, and some nuts and beans). If you have an allergy or sensitivity to foods containing tannin, you should avoid bilberry.

The safety of long-term use or high doses of bilberry supplements isn't known.

Some experts caution that use of large amounts or highly concentrated bilberry supplements may result in adverse effects related to the excessive intake of tannins.

Bilberry fruit and bilberry leaf extracts can reduce blood sugar levels.

Pregnant or nursing women should avoid bilberry extracts, as the safety isn't known.

It's important to keep in mind that supplements aren't tested for safety, adverse reactions are often not reported, and that dietary supplements are largely unregulated.

Anthocyanins may inhibit drugs such as anticancer medications, antibiotics, beta blockers, arthritis medication.

High flavonoid intake from bilberry supplements could theoretically increase the risk of bleeding when taken with blood-thinning drugs like warfarin, NSAIDS, and aspirin, or when taken by people with bleeding disorders.

You can get further tips on using supplements here, but it's important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care for any condition (such as glaucoma) may have serious consequences. If you're considering trying the supplement, talk with your healthcare provider first to weigh the pros and cons and to discuss whether it's appropriate for you.

The Bottom Line

While bilberry shouldn't be used as a substitute for standard treatment or preventative measures for any medical condition, in some cases, eating more bilberries (or other anthocyanin-rich fruit) may have some protective benefits.

You can find bilberries fresh, frozen, dried, powdered, or in packaged foods like jam. In addition to eating them fresh, you can try adding frozen or powdered bilberries to a smoothie or use them to make a sauce or preserves.

Sources:

Ozawa Y, Kawashima M, Inoue S, et al. Bilberry extract supplementation for preventing eye fatigue in video display terminal workers. J Nutr Health Aging. 2015 May;19(5):548-54.

Widén C, Coleman M, Critén S, et al. Consumption of bilberries controls gingival inflammation. Int J Mol Sci. 2015 May 11;16(5):10665-73.

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.

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