The Health 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 and cranberries, bilberry has been consumed for centuries, both medicinally and as a food.

Bilberry contains a variety of compounds thought to influence health. The fruit appears to be rich in anthocyanins (a class of substances with antioxidant properties), vitamin C, flavonoids, tannins, and caffeic and chlorogenic acids.

Why Do People Use Bilberry?

Bilberry is often touted as a remedy for eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, and retinal disorders.

The anthocyanins in bilberry appear to help protect the retina and increase the production of the pigment rhodopsin, which may improve night vision and help the eye adapt to changes in light.

According to legend, British Royal Air Force pilots reportedly ate bilberry jam during World War II to improve their night vision, although there is contradictory evidence about the effectiveness of bilberry for improving night vision.

Related: Natural Approach to Glaucoma

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 conditions like cognitive decline.

The anthocyanins in bilberry are said to strengthen the walls of blood vessels, reduce inflammation, and stabilize tissues containing collagen such as cartilage, tendons and ligaments.

Grape seed contains similar substances, however, bilberry's anthocyanins are thought to have specific benefits for the eye.

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

Possible Side Effects

Although bilberry is generally considered safe when consumed in amounts typically found in food, the safety of long-term use or high doses of bilberry supplements isn't known.

Bilberry leaf may lower blood sugar levels.

Pregnant and nursing women and children should avoid bilberry. 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 it, talk with your healthcare provider first to weigh the pros and cons and to discuss whether it's appropriate for you.

Some Final Thoughts

Should you take bilberry?

While it 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:

Tjelle TE, Holtung L, Bøhn SK, et al. Polyphenol-rich juices reduce blood pressure measures in a randomised controlled trial in high normal and hypertensive volunteers. Br J Nutr. 2015 Oct 14;114(7):1054-63. pub 2015 Jul 31.

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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