Bilberry is a small fruit berry found growing wild on scrubs in Europe. It is dark in color, purplish-blue and is similar to the blueberries found in the United States, but is actually more closely related to huckleberries. It is the dark purplish-blue color that is the active ingredient of bilberries, called anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is one of the organic substances of the Flavoinoid class of antioxidants. Anti-oxidants react with damaging free radicals in our bodies to prevent or reverse cell damage that can lead to disease. These same substances are also found in berries such as raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, and sour cherries. Bilberry is notable for having the highest concentration of anthocyanin meaning it has powerful anti-oxidant capability.
The bilberry fruit has been used in herbal medicine to treat stomach problems, diarrhea, scurvy, infections, and kidney stones. Along with its anti-oxidant effect it is also thought to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial effects. The bilberry, when combined with other nutrients, such as vitamin C, E, and A, is thought to support blood vessel integrity by decreasing vascular permeability and capillary fragility.
Bilberry and the Eye
The story is that during World War 2, Royal Air Force pilots claimed greater night vision after consuming bilberry jam. This, it turns out, was a myth perpetrated by the RAF to explain away the sudden accuracy of bombing raids in a way to conceal the new technology of radar. The phenomenon of enhanced night vision and contrast sensitivity has not been proven by researchers to be an actual benefit of bilberry consumption.
Bilberry is beneficial to eye health for its protective effect on the collagen structure of blood vessels that support circulation to the eye.
Its anti-oxidant function is beneficial for those with macular degeneration.
There is a study that linked bilberry extract with vitamin E as a way of halting the progression of cataracts.
Another study done on patients with normal tension glaucoma showed an improvement in visual function with a combination of Gingko biloba and bilberry extract. (Open angle glaucoma is the more common form of glaucoma.) At this time there is no herbal substitution recommendations for the treatment of glaucoma.
Bilberry has also been recommended for diabetics as a way of glucose control and stabilizing blood vessels to prevent bleeding. This suggests that it may play a role in stabilizing the retinopathy associated with diabetic eye disease.
Bilberry Supplements and Dosages
Bilberry has the highest concentration of the active substance, anthocyanin. Bilberry supplement preparations are in the form of extracts, and the manufacturer should indicate the percentage of anthrocyanin. The percentage of antocyanin should be a minimum of 25%. 37% would be a high percentage. The bilberry is listed in milligrams (mg) of 20 or 60 mg of which there is 25% extract. Recommendations suggest 2 to 3 capsules per day.
Side effects: although relatively safe , it is recommended that high doses for extended periods of time could be toxic.