Bilberry

Botanical Name(s):

Vaccinium myrtillus, Vaccinium uliginosum. Family: Ericaceae

Other Name(s):

blueberry, bog whortleberry, northern bilberry

General Description:

Bilberries are a type of blueberry found in Europe and the Northern United States and are closely related to the U.S. blueberry. Although the entire plant is used, the berries and their juice are the most commonly known. Historically, bilberry was used to improve eye disorders such as retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma. Bomber pilots in WWII would often eat bilberries before a flight in the belief that bilberries improved vision, particularly night vision.

Medically Valid Uses:

Currently, there are no documented valid medical uses for bilberry.

Claims:

Please note that this section reports on claims that have NOT yet been substantiated through scientific studies.

Bilberry fruit contains anthocyanosides (anthocyanidins), which may strengthen the capillary walls and therefore protect the blood vessels and reduce potential excess fluid in the body. Anthocyanidins are also natural antioxidants and may protect the stomach wall from ulcerative damage.

Bilberry may prevent or slow the progress of macular degeneration (a condition causing deterioration of central vision). Although research is ongoing and several studies support this claim, no scientific evidence has yet been provided.

Bilberry may alleviate night blindness.

Bilberry is claimed to have a diuretic effect, increasing the production and elimination of urine from the body, and to be a urinary tract antiseptic and anti-inflammatory agent. Bilberry is also claimed to help control hypoglycemia (regulate insulin levels), alleviate stress and anxiety, and heal gastrointestinal ulcers. Bilberry is claimed to lower lipids (protect low-density lipoproteins from oxidative stress) and strengthen connective tissue. Some claims suggest that bilberry may also slow the progression of cataracts.

Dosing Format:

Bilberry extracts are available in tablets and capsules. Follow packaging instructions for correct dose.

Fresh berries or juice are safe to consume in large quantities.

Side Effects, Toxicity and Interactions:

Excessive intake of bilberry may interfere with the body's ability to absorb iron.

Do not use bilberry if you have an iron deficiency.

Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should consult a physician before taking any herbal medicines.

There are no significant food or drug interactions associated with bilberry.

Additional Information:

Click here for a list of reputable Web sites with general information on nutrition.

References:

  1. Bomser J, Madhavi DL, Singletary K, Smith MA. In vitro anticancer activity of fruit extracts from Vaccinium species. Planta Med. 1996;62(3):212-6.

  2. Fraisse D, Carnat A, Lamaison JL. [Polyphenolic composition of the leaf of bilberry]. Ann Pharm Fr. 1996;54(6):280-3.

  3. Petri G, Krawczyk U, Kery A. [Spectrophotometric and chromatographic investigation of bilberry anthocyanins for qualification purposes]. Acta Pharm Hung. 1994;64(4):117-22.

  4. Laplaud PM, Lelubre A, Chapman MJ. Antioxidant action of Vaccinium myrtillus extract on human low density lipoproteins in vitro: initial observations. Fundam Clin Pharmacol. 1997;11(1):35-40.

  5. Cignarella A, Nastasi M, Cavalli E, Puglisi L. Novel lipid-lowering properties of Vaccinium myrtillus L. leaves, a traditional antidiabetic treatment, in several models of rat dyslipidaemia: a comparison with ciprofibrate. Thromb Res. 1996;84(5):311-22.

  6. Magistretti MJ, Conti M, Cristoni A. Antiulcer activity of an anthocyanidin from Vaccinium myrtillus. Arzneimittelforschung. 1988;38(5):686-90.

  7. Cristoni A, Magistretti MJ. Antiulcer and healing activity of Vaccinium myrtillus anthocyanosides. Farmaco [Prat]. 1987;42(2):29-43.

  8. Lietti A, Cristoni A, Picci M. Studies on Vaccinium myrtillus anthocyanosides. I. Vasoprotective and antiinflammatory activity. Arzneimittelforschung. 1976;26(5):829-32.

  9. Jayle GE, Aubry M, Gavini H, Braccini G, De la Baume C. [Study concerning the action of anthocyanoside extracts of Vaccinium Myrtillus on night vision]. Ann Ocul (Paris). 1965;198(6):556-62.

  10. Urso G. [Effect of Vaccinium myrtillus anthocyanosides associated with beta carotenes on light sensitivity]. Ann Ottalmol Clin Ocul. 1967;93(9):930-8.

  11. Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, eds. PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 1998.

  12. Blumenthal M, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Rister RS, eds. German Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 1997.

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