Bilberry

Bilberry has been used for centuries, both medicinally and as a food in jams and pies. It is related to the blueberry and is native to Northern Europe. Bilberry fruit contains chemicals known as anthocyanosides, plant pigments that have excellent antioxidant properties. They scavenge damaging particles in the body known as free radicals, helping prevent or reverse damage to cells. Antioxidants have been shown to help prevent a number of long-term illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, and an eye disorder called macular degeneration. Bilberry also contains vitamin C, which is another antioxidant.

Not many studies have examined bilberry specifically. Even fewer studies have been done in humans. Recommendations about bilberry come from research on similar antioxidants, or from test tube and animal studies.

Chronic venous insufficiency

In Europe, health care professionals use bilberry extracts to treat this condition, which occurs when valves in veins in the legs that carry blood to the heart are damaged. Studies have reported improvements in symptoms, but most were poorly designed.

Diabetes

Traditionally, bilberry leaves have been used to control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Research shows that all berries help reduce the body's glucose response after eating a high sugar meal. Studies suggest bilberry may be effective for managing blood sugar levels, particularly when combined with oatmeal. More research is needed. At this time, bilberry is not recommended to help manage diabetes.

Atherosclerosis

Studies show that anthocyanosides may strengthen blood vessels, improve circulation, and prevent the oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, a major risk factor for atherosclerosis (plaque that blocks blood vessels, leading to heart attack and stroke). More research is needed.

Diarrhea and wounds

Bilberry has been used in European medicine for nearly one thousand years, primarily to treat diarrhea. The fruit contains tannins, substances that act as both an anti-inflammatory and an astringent (constricting and tightening tissues). Bilberry is believed to help people with diarrhea by reducing intestinal inflammation. No studies, however, have examined bilberry's use for diarrhea.

Vision

Anthocyanosides found in bilberry fruits may also be useful for people with vision problems. During World War II, British fighter pilots reported improved nighttime vision after eating bilberry jam. Studies have shown mixed results, however. Bilberry has been suggested as a treatment for retinopathy (damage to the retina) because anthocyanosides appear to help protect the retina. Bilberry has also exhibited protective effects against macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts. However, studies are lacking.

Other Disorders

Preliminary studies suggest the anthocyanosides may help lower the risk of chronic diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer disease.

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Uses of this Herb

AtherosclerosisCataractsChronic fatigue syndromeDiabetesDiarrheaMacular degenerationMyocardial infarctionPeptic ulcerStrokeWounds

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Herbal medicine

Review Date: 6/22/2015  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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