The Health Benefits of Bilberry

bilberry health benefits

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), also known as European blueberry or whortleberry, is a type of berry in the blueberry family that has been used for centuries for its various health benefits and medicinal uses. Bilberry is native to mountainous regions of Europe, though it can now be found in parts of North America and Asia as well. (1)

 

For centuries people in Europe have eaten bilberries as food in the summer months or made them into jams or dried food for storage during the winter. Bilberries are very nutritious and are packed with vitamin C, anthocyanins, and other antioxidants that fight free radicals and support your body’s immune system. (2)

 

What Is Bilberry Used For?

bilberry uses

 

Bilberries are known to have many health benefits and have been used for many years to help treat a variety of ailments, including eye disorders, high blood sugar, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, inflammation, and scurvy. (3) They may also help reduce the risk of heart disease. (2) The leaves of the bilberry plant have also been used medicinally and have been shown to be strongly astringent, diuretic, tonic, and act as an antiseptic for the urinary tract (1)

 

What Are the Health Benefits of Bilberry?

health benefits of bilberry

 

Some of the top bilberry health benefits include:

 

1. Bilberry May Help Treat Various Eye Disorders

 

One of the most common traditional and modern uses for bilberry among natural health practitioners is for the treatment of various eye disorders. Bilberry contains powerful polyphenols (also called anthocyanins) found in the red pigments of apples and the blue and purple skin of berries, especially blueberries. Many hydroxyl groups surround their molecular structure, which gives them powerful antioxidant properties. It is the hydroxyl groups in vitamins C and E that are responsible for their antioxidant activity.

 

According to WebMD:

 

The anthocyanins in bilberries can help improve eye function for people with normal-tension glaucoma. Some studies suggest bilberries may help with eye fatigue, which can lead to eye strain, headaches, shoulder tension, and blurred or double vision.” (2)

 

Bilberry also enhances the processes of eye (ocular) biochemistry by increasing the activity of enzymes in the retina and improving capillary circulation and antioxidant protection within the eye. (4) Our eyes are protected by a very thin cellular membrane, and oxidative stress from air pollution, blue light exposure, and other sources of free radicals can damage eye cells, leading to declining eye health. The antioxidants in bilberry may protect eye health and strengthen the cell membrane. Because of bilberry’s eye-protective effects, we use it as one of the primary ingredients in our Eye Support Tonic.

 

2. Bilberry May Fight Free Radicals and Provide Cellular Protection

 

The antioxidants in bilberry help to protect the body’s cells from oxidative damage caused by free radical exposure. (5) Free radicals are molecules with an uneven number of electrons, which allows them to easily react with other molecules, causing chemical reactions in the body, a process called oxidation.

 

Oxidation is a normal process in the body, but oxidative stress can occur when there is an imbalance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity. This can cause damage to cells and ultimately lead to ill health.

 

Antioxidants are molecules that help to fight free radicals in your body and protect the body from oxidative stress. Antioxidants can donate an electron to a free radical, helping to stabilize it and make it less reactive without making themselves unstable.

 

As oxidation is a process that is constantly occurring due to numerous chemical reactions in the body, antioxidants must also regularly work to keep free radicals in balance. For this reason, it is important to include many antioxidant-rich foods in your diet, especially if you live in the city or are exposed to high levels of pollution.

 

3. Bilberry May Improve Skin Health

 

One of the biggest factors in determining the health and appearance of our skin is collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, accounting for nearly one-third of its protein composition. (6) It plays a major role in skin elasticity, which gives our skin the ability to move, stretch and rebound into shape. Collagen also makes up our connective tissue and provides the structure for all of our organs and tissues.

 

After the age of 30, collagen levels begin to decline in the body by about 1-2 percent each year, which eventually leads to the formation of wrinkles and the loss of skin elasticity. (7) The anthocyanins in bilberry bind very tightly to connective tissue by strengthening collagen ten times against damage from collagenase, the enzyme that breaks down collagen. (8) This can help to prevent collagen breakdown and may preserve skin health.

 

Many people try to take animal collagen to improve their skin health, but animal collagen contains the whole collagen molecule, which is difficult for the body to break down. It is much more effective to take collagen precursors that help your body build its own collagen and to prevent collagen breakdown with anthocyanin-rich foods like blueberries and bilberries. (9)

 

4. Bilberry May Help Lower Inflammation

 

Inflammation is a normal immune response that supports the process of healing. In certain cases, however, inflammation can become chronic. When chronic, inflammation can begin to have very negative effects on health and is even considered to be a root cause of many major illnesses. (10) Chronic inflammation can be caused by certain foods in the diet, like oxidized vegetable oils, processed foods, or food allergens. It can be caused by stress or by substances like cigarettes or alcohol. It can also be caused by toxins from the environment or other lifestyle factors. Whatever the cause, chronic inflammation can wreak havoc on your health.

 

Eating anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce inflammation in the body and may protect the body from the damage caused by chronic inflammation. Bilberry has many antioxidants that help to lower inflammation and may help to protect the body’s cells from inflammatory damage. (11)

 

5. Bilberry May Lower Blood Sugar

 

Some studies suggest that bilberry can help to lower blood sugar levels and may help to increase insulin secretion in people with metabolic syndrome. (12) Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of interrelated conditions associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood glucose. Some of the healing benefits of bilberry for these conditions are attributed to its ability to reduce oxidative stress.

 

6. Bilberry May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

 

Bilberry also has many benefits to cardiovascular health and may help to reduce risk factors for heart disease. Bilberry acts as a vasodilator by dilating blood vessels, which in turn helps to reduce blood pressure. It also maintains the integrity of vascular (especially capillary) walls and other tissues. Bilberry also helps to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood. Furthermore, bilberry contains vitamin K, which can help prevent blood clots that could lead to a heart attack or stroke. (13)

 

Additional Health Benefits of Bilberry

bilberry benefits

 

Some of the other health benefits attributed to bilberries include:

 

  • Improving memory and brain function
  • Fighting off harmful bacteria
  • Improving symptoms of ulcerative colitis (UC)
  • Treating varicose veins
  • Promoting weight loss

 

What Are the Active Compounds in Bilberry?

 

The medicinal properties of foods and herbs are typically attributed to the bioactive compounds found within them. Flavonoids, specifically anthocyanosides, are the most pharmacologically active constituents in bilberry fruit. In addition to anthocyanosides, bilberry also contains catechin, epicatechin, pectins, oligomeric procyanidins, and condensed tannins. (14)

 

Summary

 

Bilberry is a fruit in the blueberry family that is native to Europe, though it can now be found in North America and Asia as well. People have used bilberry for hundreds of years as food and medicine. Its most common use is for supporting eye health and vision. However, many other health benefits have been attributed to bilberry, including:

 

  • Helping to treat various eye disorders
  • Fighting free radicals
  • Protecting the body’s cells from oxidative stress
  • Improving skin health
  • Lowering inflammation
  • Lowering blood sugar
  • Reducing the risk of high blood glucose conditions
  • Reducing the risk of heart disease
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Helping to prevent blood clots
  • Improving memory and brain function
  • Fighting off harmful bacteria
  • Improving symptoms of ulcerative colitis (UC)
  • Treating varicose veins
  • Promoting weight loss

 

Bilberries can be consumed fresh, but fresh fruit is not widely available. Most commonly, bilberry is consumed as an extract and used for various medicinal purposes. If you are considering supplementing with bilberry, consult with your healthcare provider to make sure it is a good fit for you.

 

 

References

 

https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Vaccinium+myrtillus

https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-bilberry

https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/bilberry#:~:text=Historically%2C%20bilberry%20has%20been%20used,its%20high%20vitamin%20C%20content.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3444297/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249911/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2846778/#:~:text=Collagen%20is%20an%20abundant%20structural,the%20extracellular%20matrix%20(ECM)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583892/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6161804/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507709/

10 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7147972/

11 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5456284/

12  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7180827/

13 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27993193/

14 https://restorativemedicine.org/library/monographs/bilberry/#:~:text=Flavonoids%2C%20specifically%20anthocyanosides%2C%20are%20the,%2C%20oligomeric%20procyanidins%2C%20and%20pectins. 

Products mentioned in this post

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