The bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) is a low-growing shrub native to northern Europe, but is now also found in parts of North America and Asia. Bilberry is also known as European blueberry, whortleberry, huckleberry, and blaeberry. The bilberry is a small (5-9 mm) fruit, bluish black in color, with many seeds. Bilberry is one of the richest natural sources of anthocyanins. These polyphenolic components give bilberry its high antioxidant content, and they are the key bioactives responsible for the many reported health benefits of bilberry and other berry fruits.

What bilberry is used for:

-improving vision

-lowering blood glucose

-lowering oxidative stress

-bilberry has anti-inflammatory and lipid-lowering effects

-promote antioxidant defense

-bilberry has a potential value in the treatment or prevention of conditions associated with inflammation, dyslipidemia, hyperglycemia or increased oxidative stress, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and dementia and other age-related diseases. There are also reports that bilberry has antimicrobial activity.

Bilberry contains a variety of phenolic compounds, including flavonols (quercetin, catechins), tannins, ellagitannins, and phenolic acids, but anthocyanins make the largest contribution to its phytochemical mix. Anthocyanins are potent antioxidants that scavenge radicals and chelate metal ions.

The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of anthocyanins are of relevance to potential cardioprotective effects of bilberry and other berries. Antihypertensive, lipid-lowering, hypoglycemic, and antiobesity effects would also be cardioprotective. Anthocyanins and bilberry have also been reported to have antiobesity and hypoglycemic effects, which would also bring cardioprotective benefits. Several mechanisms of action of anthocyanins have been described: (1) strong antioxidant properties17; (2) stabilization of collagen fibers and promotion of collagen biosynthesis (3) decreased capillary permeability and fragility (4) inhibition of platelet aggregation (5) prevention of the release and synthesis of proinflammatory compounds such as histamine, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes and (6) lower blood glucose levels.

Although convincing evidence from well-designed human experimental studies is lacking, there is sufficient evidence from in vitro studies of anthocyanins to support clinical studies of cancer chemopreventive effects.

Chronic inflammation increases oxidative stress. Many studies suggest that anthocyanins have anti-inflammatory effects.

The bilberry plant is reputed to possess antidiabetic properties, and its berries and leaves have been used for centuries to ameliorate the symptoms of diabetes. (Type 2 diabetes is associated with increased oxidative stress, inflammation, and dyslipidemia)

Bilberry has a long history of use for eye disorders and in promoting vision. Many studies have shown positive effects, including improvement in retinal abnormalities, increased capillary resistance, slowing of progression of lens opacity and myopia, and improved dark adaptation.

A 2012 study results suggest that bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) anthocyanins and Ginkgo biloba eytract may be helpful in improving visual function in some individuals with normal tension glaucoma. Normal Tension Glaucoma (NTG) is a form of open-angle glaucoma in which damages to the optic nerve and visual field are present, despite normal intraocular pressure.

 Bilberry is classified as a Class 1 herb by the American Herbal Products Association (Upton 2001), meaning it can be safely consumed when used appropriately. No mutagenic activity has been reported, and there are no cited contraindications to its use.

 Sources: 1. J Med Food. 2012 Sep;15(9):818-23. Epub 2012 Aug 7., 2. Bookshelf ID: NBK92770PMID: 22593936  Chapter 4Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) Wing-kwan Chu, Sabrina C. M. Cheung, Roxanna A. W. Lau, and Iris F. F. Benzie., photo: Pixabay