Health Benefits of Bilberry

Bilberry, Image from Wikimedia CommonsBilberry, Vaccinium myrtillus, is a close relative of blueberry and a native plant of Europe. It is also called as huckleberry, whortleberry, trackleberry, bleaberry, whinberry, and burren myrtle. Its fruits are commonly used ingredient in jams, pies, and cakes. The plant’s leaves and fruits have been used by Europeans as traditional herbal medicine for thousand years. Scientists have been discovering substances in bilberry that provide health benefits to humans.

Chemical Compositions

The pigments that give bilberry fruit its deep blue color are anthocyanosides, which act as antioxidants inside the body. Antioxidants are compounds that scavenge free radicals, which are unstable and reactive atoms that damage cells and tissues. Free radicals have been linked to various long-term illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, neurodegenerative disorders, diabetes, and diseases of the eye. In addition to anthocyanosides, bilberry also contains vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant.

Bilberry Health Benefits

Although there are several claims on bilberry health benefits, only few of them are supported by scientific studies. More studies are needed to thoroughly evaluate the effectiveness of bilberry in preventing and treating diseases.

Bilberry fruit is a time-honored herbal remedy for various illnesses. It has been used by Europeans to treat diarrhea for thousand years.   The fruit contains tannins, compounds with astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. Bilberry tannins help people with diarrhea by reducing inflammation of the intestines.

Eating bilberry may help people with vision problems. The anthocyanosides and other antioxidants in bilberry protect the retina from damage (retinopathy).  British fighter pilots during World War II reported improved night vision after eating bilberry jam. Since then, bilberry became a popular food for the eyes. However, studies on the association between bilberry consumption and improved vision produced mixed, mainly negative results. Bilberry consumption has been suggested as a way of preventing cataract worsening, but there are no studies to back up this suggestion.

Researchers found out that anthocyanosides improve blood circulation, strengthen blood vessels, and inhibits the oxidation of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the bad cholesterol). Oxidized LDL cholesterol is deposited to the inner linings of the arteries to form cholesterol plaques that harden the arteries and obstruct blood flow, leading to stroke and heart attack.

Anthocyanosides are able to improve blood circulation by minimizing the physical aggregation of platelets. They work like commercial blood-thinners such as warfarin, heparin, and clopidogrel.

Bilberry leaves are traditionally used as herbal remedy to control blood sugar levels in diabetic people. In animal studies, bilberry leaf extract has been found to lower blood sugar levels. Studies are needed to find out if bilberry leaf extract is also effective in lowering blood sugar levels in humans.

Bilberry extract is traditionally used in Europe to treat chronic venous insufficiency, which occurs when valves in veins in the legs that carry blood to the heart are damaged.[ad#afterpost]