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Bilberry Benefits

Updated on May 2, 2017

What is Bilberry?

Bilberry is a member of the genus Vaccinium, as are cranberry, American blueberry, and 200 other species. Bilberry looks very similar to blueberry, bilberries are slightly smaller and darker, with a red or purple inner coloration. Bilberries are delicious berries that are native to Northern Europe and have been valued for their therapeutic effectiveness in the conventional system of European medicine for many centuries. Bilberry also grows in North America and northern Asia.

Historically, bilberry has served as a highly nutritious food. Medicinally, bilberry has been used to treat diarrhea, urinary complaints,including infections and stones, scurvy and other conditions. During World War 2 British Royal Air Force pilots forced to fly at night complained of poor visibility and discovered by accident that consuming significant quantities of bilberry jam before a flight helped improve their night vision.

Bilberry also shows many other health benefits such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, eye disorders including macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentousus, diabetic retinopathy, and night blindness.

What is Bilberry Extract?

In the United States, it can be very difficult to find natural bilberry growing in the wild, as it is more common in Europe. It can be found as a jam, however, jam can often contain high levels of sugar and preservatives. Because fresh bilberries are almost impossible to come by in the United States, consumers gobble up bilberry extract, which is one of the top-selling herbal supplements in the U.S., with sales of $28 million in 2010.

The standardized amount of anthocyanosides contained in bilberry extract is 25%. In a bilberry itself, anthocyanidin content ranges from 300 mg to 700 mg per 100 grams or 3.5 ounces of fruit, depending on the region where they are picked.

What is the Science Behind Bilberry?

Bilberry is one of the richest natural sources of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are polyphenolic components that give bilberry its blue and black color and also they are loaded with super-high antioxidant content. Bilberry contains numerous phenolic compounds, including the flavonols, quercetin and catechins, tannins, ellagitannins and phenolic acids.The anthocyanins found in the bilberry are, by far, the largest contribution to its phytonutrient density.

Anthocyanoside is one of the active components of bilberry. Fifteen different anthocyanosides originate from five different anthocyanidins found in bilberry. The concentration of anthocyanosides in bilberry ranges from 1/10 to 1/4 to 1 %. Concentrated extracts of bilberry yeild about an anthocyanidin content of almost 25%.

These powerful anthocyanins are believed to play a huge role which are responsible for many health benefits of bilberry. Bilberry is most famous for its ability to improve vision. It helps to increase retinal pigments that allow the eye to tolerate light, and therefore help to decrease light sensitivity. It helps to maintain the flexibility of red blood cells, allowing them to pass through the capillaries and supply oxygen. In addition, it has also been shown to be a vasodilator that opens blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.

Bilberry is also used in prevention of diseases associated with inflammation, dyslipidemia, hyperglycemia, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, dementia and other age-related disease by promoting antioxidant defense and lowering oxidative stress.

Bilberry: An Amazing Supplement for Your Eyes

Health Benefits of Bilberry.

Improve Vision

  • The health of the eye is dependent on a rich supply of oxygen and nutrients. When nutrient and oxygen delivery of the eye fail, eye disorders develop, such as cataract, macular degeneration, and other disorders related to aging.
  • Bilberry seems to benefit the eye by increasing oxygen and nutrient supply to the eye.
  • The vasculature in the eye is protected by the blood–retinal barrier (BRB), which is maintained by tight junctions between retinal capillary endothelial (RCE) cells and retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells, which form the inner and outer BRB, respectively. RCE cells possess intercellular tight junctions, which are formed by RCE and glial cells. Loss of normal BRB function is a common feature of many retinal degenerative disorders including age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and retinal vein occlusion.The excess permeability has been attributed both to the overstimulated, abnormal vasculature and to changes of the tight junction in the eye (Claesson-Welsh).
  • Bilberry improves night vision and decrease light sensitivity with antioxidant properties that support healthy vision by helping to regenerate light-sensitive pigments in cells of the retina and also by decreasing vascular permeability and capillary fragility.
  • Bilberry also may be useful in the treatment of retinopathy, damage that can occur to the retina of the eye due to chronic high blood sugar or high blood pressure.
  • Bilberry may also protect against macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts (Wing-Kwan, 2011).

Protection against liver damage

  • Bilberry antioxidant properties have protective effect against stress that stimulate liver damage.
  • Scientific research has shown the inhibitory and radical scavenging activity of bilberry extracts, which enhances the level of beneficial glutathione and vitamin C in the body and reduces the concentration of nitric oxide in the liver tissues (Wing-Kwan, 2011).

Improve Blood Sugar in Diabetics

  • Bilberry leaves have been used as folk medicine for people with diabetes to control blood sugar levels and to reduce hyperglycemia.
  • Studies show that bilberry extract helps in improving the condition of hyperglycemia and insulin sensitivity in the people suffering from type 2 diabetes by activating an enzyme that stimulates fat burning and inhibits cholesterol production, leading to improved glucose absorption in muscles, lower glucose level, and reduce fat in the liver after eating a high-sugar meal (Takikawa, 2010).
  • If you are on blood glucose lowering medication, you may need to monitor your blood glucose levels and take precautions to ensure blood sugar levels don’t go too low if you decide to take Bilberry extract. Always consult your health care provider before adding any supplement to your regimen.

Obesity Prevention

  • Obesity is a strong predisposing factor for type 2 diabetes. Berry polyphenols may help prevent obesity by inhibiting digestive enzymes, such as lipase, thereby lowering fat absorption (McDougall, Kulkarni, and Stewart 2008).
  • Cyanidin-3-glucoside has been shown to suppress the development of obesity in mice fed a high-fat diet and to regulate human adipocyte function (Tsuda 2008).

Help Prevent Cancer

  • Bilberry extracts have been found to be effective against the development of various cancers including colon cancer, breast cancer and leukemia.
  • A comparative study conducted on different berries has shown bilberry to be the most potent in inhibition of cancerous cells. This is due to presence of phenolic components delphinidin and glycosides in bilberry, which prevent the proliferation of malignant cells and induces apoptosis (Vepsäläinen, 2012).
  • In vitro work and animal tumorigenic models have demonstrated that Bilberry anthocyanins have cancer-preventive qualities and suppressive activity due to antioxidants. Bilberries also have anti-inflammatory effects. In a DNA study, an anti-inflammatory profile was seen in macrophages treated with a bilberry extract. Since inflammation is an important risk factor for cancer, bilberry may be very useful in its prevention (Wing-Kwan, 2011).

Heart Health Benefits

  • Bilberry is effective in maintaining cardiovascular health, which is one of the major causes of death all around the world.
  • This heart protective effect is attributed to the potential of anthocyanins present in bilberry, which helps in improving the LDL and HDL cholesterol levels in the body. Levels of high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, the good form of cholesterol, increased significantly with bilberry supplementation, while levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, the bad form of cholesterol, decrease.
  • There are also positive effects of its fruit on the blood pressure and vascular health leading to the inhibition of platelet aggregation and smooth muscle contraction. Possible antihypertensive effects of bilberry are also suggested by the finding of inhibition of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) activity in cells in vitro (Wing-Kwan, 2011).
  • Another study has suggested the anti-ischemic and anti-arrhythmic activity of bilberry on the heart which helps stimulate the coronary flow and is important in preventing multiple cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis (Wing-Kwan, 2011).
  • Atherosclerosis is a coronary artery disease that involves deposition of fats inside the arterial walls. This makes the arteries narrow and leads circulation problems including heart attack or stroke. Bilberry contains Anthocyanosides that can improve blood circulation, stop the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, strengthen the blood vessels, and decrease the risk of blood clot formation (Wing-Kwan, 2011).

Effective for Treating Diarrhea

  • Bilberry has been used in European medicine to treat diarrhea for many years. The fruit contains tannins, substances that act as both an anti-inflammatory and an astringent that helps with constricting and tightening tissues.
  • By reducing intestinal inflammation, bilberry is believed to help with reducing the symptoms of diarrhea. However, drinking Bilberry juice in excessive amounts can lead to Diarrhea. Bilberry also helps to heal inflammation caused in the mucous membranes of throat and mouth when applied topically(Wing-Kwan, 2011).

Anti-microbial effects

  • Bilberry contains phenolic components which have also been found to exert anti-microbial activity. This inhibitory action of bilberry works against various human pathogens including Salmonella, H.pylori, Bacillus, clostridium and Staphylococcus aureus, and prevents the development of associated diseases. Recent scientific findings also suggest the potential of its extract in fighting antibiotic-resistant organisms (Wing-Kwan, 2011).

Lower the Risks of Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Evidence suggests that fruit and vegetable juices containing various phenolic compounds can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In some cases, symptoms of Alzheimer’s was significantly decreased upon treatment with myricetin, quercetin or anthocyanin-rich extracts found in bilberry and showed that behavioral abnormalities may have been alleviated (Vepsäläinen, 2012).

Health Benefits of Bilberry

Side Effects and Interactions of Bilberry

  • Bilberry fruit is considered safe when consumed in amounts typically found in foods, or as an extract in recommended doses for short-term use.
  • When taken in high amounts, the herb can increase level of toxicity in the body thus poisoning the physical system and even cause death in extreme cases.
  • Tannins present in bilberries may lead to severe weight loss, muscle spasms, and even death if large amounts of concentrated extracts are used long-term.
  • The safety of bilberry during pregnancy and breast-feeding isn’t known, so it is best to avoid use at these times. Because bilberry can affect blood glucose levels, which could interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery, so it is best to stop taking bilberry two weeks before scheduled surgery.

Anticoagulants (blood-thinning medication)

  • Anthocyanosides in bilberry may stop blood from clotting, there may be an increased risk of bleeding if you take bilberry with blood-thinning medication, including aspirin.
  • It is best to avoid them if you are on blood-thinning medications to minimize the risk of bleeding.
  • It is best to stop taking bilberry two weeks before scheduled surgery. The whole fruit may be safer in these instances. Ask your doctor before taking bilberry if you take blood-thinning medication.

Medication for diabetes

  • Bilberry can help lower blood sugar, it could make the effects of diabetes medication stronger by causing a rapid, excessive reduction in blood sugar. Be sure to monitor your blood sugar carefully.
  • Taking bilberry with other herbs can also lower blood sugar, which may result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Herbs that also lower blood sugar include ginger, ginseng, fenugreek, and garlic.
  • DO NOT take bilberry if you take medications for diabetes.
  • Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

What are the Nutritional Value Of Bilberry?

Bilberry contains a range of vital nutrients including vitamins such as

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
  • vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
  • vitamin K (phylloquinone).

Mineral treasure present in it comprises of

  • copper
  • chromium
  • manganese
  • zinc
  • iron.

It is a rich provider of

  • alkaloids
  • carbonic acids

It has a number of phenolic components such as

  • quercitin
  • anthocyanins
  • tannins
  • pectin
  • catechins.

How to Buy Bilberry

  • Bilberry is sold as a plain extract and in various concentrations such as a 4 to 1 extract. You will most often find bilberry that contain lutein and zeaxanthin for vision improvement.
  • Bilberry is typically sold as fresh, frozen or dried whole berries but is often found in the form of preserves, jams and juices.
  • It’s increasingly seen as liquid or powdered concentrates in the supplements section at the grocery.
  • Bilberry leaves and fruit can be used to make teas and are also made into extracts.
  • While shopping for bilberries, make sure that they are not overly ripe and that they have a tight, smooth skin. Avoid buying bumpy or moldy pieces, as these will not taste good and will decay much faster compared to fresh, healthy bilberries.
  • Bilberries can be stored for long duration by freezing. To do so, all you need to do is wash them with delicate hands in cold water and pat them dry. Place them in a cookie tray and put them into the freezer.
  • Once they are frozen, move them into an airtight container and store them in the freezer. If you do not want to store them for a long interval, you can directly place them in a jar and cover them with a plastic wrap. However, avoid washing them as added moisture will cause them to rot much faster.
  • When looking for a bilberry extract and capsules, they should be standardized to contain 25 percent anthocyanins.
  • Because of the powerful claims of bilberry, it is common that marketing tactics are used to make you think a product is filled with bilberry or bilberry extract. Because of this, there are specific standards that have been developed, but regardless, you need to make sure you are getting the real product, not some fake thing.

Bilberry Recommended Dosage

  • Bilberry extract can be taken with or without food.
  • Bilberry fruit extract has no known side effects when taken at recommended doses, even when used on a long-term basis
  • Baptist Health Systems recommends that Bilberry extract dosage should always be between 120 and 240 mg preferably 2x a day.
  • 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.
  • To treat eyestrain, use 25 to 50 mg of bilberry extract. The effects are most noticeable in the first four hours but wear off in 24 hours
  • 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, cover the tea for 10 minutes, then strain. Commercial teabags are also available. Drink up to 4 cups daily as needed. Don’t use this remedy for more than four days.
  • For other uses, take 80-120 mg twice a day of standardized bilberry extract with 25 percent anthocyanins.
  • For circulatory problems, the dosage is 80 to 480 mg of bilberry extract in capsule form (Weil).

Summary

  • Bilberry is a member of the genus Vaccinium, as are cranberry, American blueberry, and 200 other species. Similar in appearance to blueberries, bilberries are slightly smaller and darker, with a red or purple inner coloration.
  • Bilberry is one of the richest natural sources of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are polyphenolic components that give bilberry its blue/black color and super-high antioxidant content.
  • Historically, bilberry has served as a highly nutritious food.
  • Medicinally, bilberry has been used to treat diarrhea, urinary complaints, such as infections and stones, scurvy and other conditions.
  • Bilberries contain a potent type of flavonoid antioxidant called anthocyanosides
  • The standardized amount of anthocyanosides contained in bilberry extract is 25%.
  • These powerful anthocyanins are believed to be the key bioactives that are responsible for many health benefits of bilberry.
  • Bilberry is considered as an important and prized botanical owing to its multiple beneficial properties, including ability to improve vision, prevent liver damage, improve blood sugar in diabetics, prevent obesity, prevent cancer, offer numerous cardiovascular benefits, effective for treating diarrhea, it has anti-microbial effects, and also ability to lower the risks of Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Anthocyanosides in bilberry may stop blood from clotting, there may be an increased risk of bleeding if you take bilberry with blood-thinning medication, including aspirin. Avoid taking bilberry when taking anticoagulants.
  • Bilberry can lower blood sugar, it could make the effects of diabetes medication stronger by causing a rapid, excessive reduction in blood sugar. Monitor blood sugar carefully
  • Bilberry is typically sold as fresh, frozen or dried whole berries but is often found in the form of preserves, jams and juices
  • Baptist Health Systems recommends that Bilberry extract dosage should always be between 120 and 240 mg preferably twice a day.
  • When looking for a bilberry extract and capsules, be sure to look for the 25 percent anthocyanins.

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