The Power of Bilberry Extract - Benefits and Uses

What is Bilberry Extract?

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a small, blueberry-like fruit that is native to Europe and Asia. It is commonly used in traditional medicine to treat a range of ailments, including diarrhea, diabetes, and inflammation. Bilberry extract is made by boiling the berries and then extracting the active compounds[1].

Bilberry has a long history of use in traditional medicine. During World War II, British pilots reportedly used bilberry jam to improve their night vision. In traditional European medicine, bilberry was used to treat digestive issues, inflammation, and eye problems.

In recent years, bilberry extract has become increasingly popular as a supplement, particularly for its potential eye health benefits. It is available in various forms, including capsules, powders, and extracts.

Traditional Uses of  Bilberry Extract As A Ayurvedic Medicine

Bilberry has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to treat a variety of health conditions, particularly those related to the eyes. In Ayurveda, bilberry is known as "Neela" or "netravallabha," and it is used to improve vision, treat eye strain and fatigue, and prevent eye infections and diseases[2].

In addition to its eye health benefits, bilberry has also been used in Ayurveda to improve digestion, relieve inflammation, and boost the immune system. It is often combined with other herbs and spices such as ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon to create traditional Ayurvedic remedies for a range of health concerns.

Nootropic Benefits

Bilberry extract has been shown to improve cognitive function and protect against age-related cognitive decline. It can improve memory and learning, enhance focus and attention, and increase mental clarity.

Memory and Learning

Studies have shown that bilberry extract can improve memory and learning in both humans and animals. In one study, participants who took bilberry extract performed better on memory tests than those who did not[3].

Focus and Attention

Bilberry extract can enhance focus and attention by increasing blood flow to the brain. Studies have shown that it can improve reaction time and attention span in both healthy individuals and those with cognitive impairment[4].

Other Health Benefits of Bilberry Extract

Apart from its impact on cognitive abilities, Bilberry extract has been researched for its possible uses in various other fields. These encompass:

May Help Protect Against Cancer

Antioxidants are substances that shield our cells from harm caused by free radicals, which are molecules that can cause damage to our cells and potentially result in cancer[5]. Bilberries are rich in antioxidants and have demonstrated the ability to decrease the impact of free radicals in experiments carried out on animals and in laboratories. Although more research is needed to verify the anticancer benefits of bilberries in humans, the preliminary findings are encouraging.

 

May Reduce Inflammation

Bilberries have anthocyanins that act as antioxidants and possess anti-inflammatory characteristics. Studies have indicated that consuming bilberries may be beneficial in reducing inflammation.

 According to a recent study, individuals who drank bilberry and red grape juice daily for nine weeks displayed noticeable progress in the biomarkers of inflammation and tissue damage[6].

 Additionally, another review has suggested that the fruit could potentially decrease metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors[7]. However, large-scale studies are required to substantiate these results.

Lowers Blood Sugar Levels

 

Bilberry has been traditionally employed as a natural treatment to lower blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes.

Recent research indicates that bilberry extract could be effective in reducing blood sugar levels among individuals with type 2 diabetes[8].

Another study has revealed that consuming bilberries leads to an increase in insulin secretion, which may aid in diabetes management[9]. Nevertheless, further research is needed to determine its potential applications.

Improves Eye Health

 

Bilberries are frequently believed to enhance eye health, with reports dating back to British pilots during World War II consuming bilberry jam to boost night vision.

 

A 2015 small-scale study discovered that consuming bilberry extract regularly lessened the symptoms of eye exhaustion, such as eye pain, heaviness, discomfort, and the feeling of a foreign object[10]. Despite the need for additional research, the outcomes are encouraging.

May Reduce the Risk of Heart Issues

 

Polyphenols are abundant in bilberries and are believed to decrease blood pressure. According to one study, bilberry extract that is rich in anthocyanins may aid in the reduction of "bad" cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. High levels of bad cholesterol have been associated with heart disease, stroke, and other medical conditions [11].

Other Potential Benefits

Further evidence is required, but ongoing research is exploring the potential health advantages of incorporating bilberries into one's diet, including:

  • Ulcerative colitis: A preliminary study suggests that individuals with ulcerative colitis may find relief through treatment with an oral supplement of anthocyanin-rich bilberry[12].
  • Itching: According to an earlier study on mice, anthocyanins derived from bilberry may have the potential in treating itching caused by atopic dermatitis[13].
  • Gum health: A study has revealed that the consumption of significant amounts of bilberries may diminish markers of gingivitis; however, it is noteworthy that the sugar content in bilberries may outweigh any potential benefits[14].
  • Antimicrobial properties: Bilberries are abundant in tannins, which are reported to have antibacterial properties against specific foodborne pathogenic and spoilage bacteria.

Mechanism Of Action

  • Anthocyanosides, the main compounds found in bilberry fruit, are beneficial for the body in several ways. These compounds strengthen the blood vessels and promote circulation throughout the body.
  • They also work to prevent blood platelets from clumping together, which in turn reduces the risk of blood clots. Moreover, anthocyanosides act as antioxidants, protecting cells from the damage caused by free radicals.
  • Additionally, anthocyanidins increase the production of rhodopsin, a pigment that improves night vision and aids the eyes in adapting to changes in light.
  • Bilberry fruit is also a rich source of tannins, which have astringent properties. Tannins possess anti-inflammatory properties and may help in managing diarrhea.

 

Dosages and Potential Side Effects of Bilberry Extract

  • Bilberries are safe in moderate amounts for most people, but high doses of supplements may be problematic over extended periods.
  • Bilberries contain vitamin K, which can cause blood clotting, so consult a healthcare provider before taking supplements if you require blood thinners.
  • Bilberry supplements are not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women or children and may interact with other medications.
  • Bilberry leaves are toxic and should not be consumed.
  • Determining an effective dose of bilberry is challenging due to limited studies and dosage variations, but human studies have used doses ranging from 50 grams of fresh bilberries to 500 mg of bilberry supplements.

How to Take Bilberry Extract

  • Bilberry extract can be taken in a variety of forms, including capsules, tablets, and liquid extracts. It is important to choose a high-quality supplement from a reputable manufacturer.
  • There is no ideal time of day to take bilberry extract, as it can be taken with or without food. However, it is important to follow the manufacturer's instructions for the specific supplement being taken.
  • Bilberry extract may be taken alone or combined with other supplements, such as vitamins C and E, to increase its potency.
  • Combining bilberry extract with other natural remedies for eye health, like lutein and zeaxanthin, is also common.

 

 

Personal Experiences with Bilberry Extract

Many people have reported positive experiences with bilberry extract. Some users have reported improved vision and reduced eye strain, while others have reported better blood sugar control and decreased inflammation.

A user said that "Bilberry helps me greatly with vision, including night vision, and with the dry eyes that resulted from my (ill-advised) cataract surgery”.

Another user said that “Bilberry definitely improved my night driving vision which was affected by cataracts. One day I forgot to take my bilberry, and that night there was a noticeable deterioration in my night driving vision”.

Comparisons with Other Supplements

A. Blueberry Extract

While both bilberry and blueberry extracts are rich in antioxidants and have potential health benefits, they are not the same thing. Bilberry is a smaller berry and is typically higher in anthocyanins than blueberries. The blueberry extract may have its own unique benefits, such as reducing inflammation and supporting brain health.

B. Cranberry Extract

Cranberry extract is often used for its potential urinary tract health benefits, while bilberry extract is typically used for eye health and circulation. Both extracts are rich in antioxidants and may have potential health benefits.

C. Acai Berry Extract

Acai berry extract is often marketed as a superfood and may have potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. While it is also rich in anthocyanins, acai berry extract is typically higher in fat and calories than bilberry extract.

 

Future Research on Bilberry Extract

While bilberry extract has been studied extensively for its potential health benefits, there is still much to learn about this powerful berry. Future research may focus on exploring the potential benefits of bilberry extract for brain diseases, skin health, and digestive health, as well as examining the mechanisms of action behind these benefits.

 

Final Thoughts

Bilberry extract is a promising natural supplement that may offer a range of potential health benefits. Whether you are looking to improve your eye health, support your cardiovascular system, or control your blood sugar levels, bilberry extract may be worth considering as a safe and natural way to support your overall health and well-being.

References

  1. Chu WK, Cheung SC, Lau RA, Benzie IF. Bilberry (vaccinium myrtillus L.). Herbal Medicine. 2011 Mar 28;20115386:55-71.
  2. Brasanac-Vukanovic S, Mutic J, Stankovic DM, Arsic I, Blagojevic N, Vukasinovic-Pesic V, Tadic VM. Wild Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L., Ericaceae) from Montenegro is a source of antioxidants for use in the production of nutraceuticals. Molecules. 2018 Jul 26;23(8):1864.
  3. Whyte AR, Cheng N, Fromentin E, Williams CM. A Randomized, Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Study to Compare the Safety and Efficacy of Low Dose Enhanced Wild Blueberry Powder and Wild Blueberry Extract (ThinkBlue™) in the Maintenance of Episodic and Working Memory in Older Adults. Nutrients. 2018 May 23;10(6):660.
  4. Gallet C. Allelopathic potential in bilberry-spruce forests: influence of phenolic compounds on spruce seedlings. Journal of chemical ecology. 1994 May;20:1009-24.
  5. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/antioxidants-fact-sheet#r1
  6. øhn SK, Myhrstad MCW, Thoresen M, Erlund I, Vasstrand AK, Marciuch A, Carlsen MH, Bastani NE, Engedal K, Flekkøy KM, Blomhoff R. Bilberry/red grape juice decreases plasma biomarkers of inflammation and tissue damage in aged men with subjective memory impairment -a randomized clinical trial. BMC Nutr. 2021 Nov 22;7(1):75.
  7. Poles J, Karhu E, McGill M, McDaniel HR, Lewis JE. The effects of twenty-four nutrients and phytonutrients on immune system function and inflammation: A narrative review. J Clin Transl Res. 2021 May 27;7(3):333-376. PMID: 34239993; PMCID: PMC8259612.
  8. Grohmann T, Litts C, Horgan G, Zhang X, Hoggard N, Russell W, de Roos B. Efficacy of Bilberry and Grape Seed Extract Supplement Interventions to Improve Glucose and Cholesterol Metabolism and Blood Pressure in Different Populations-A Systematic Review of the Literature. Nutrients. 2021 May 17;13(5):1692.
  9. de Mello VD, Lankinen MA, Lindström J, Puupponen-Pimiä R, Laaksonen DE, Pihlajamäki J, Lehtonen M, Uusitupa M, Tuomilehto J, Kolehmainen M, Törrönen R, Hanhineva K. Fasting serum hippuric acid is elevated after bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) consumption and associates with the improvement of fasting glucose levels and insulin secretion in persons at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017 Sep;61(9).
  10. Ozawa Y, Kawashima M, Inoue S, Inagaki E, Suzuki A, Ooe E, Kobayashi S, Tsubota K. Bilberry extract supplementation for preventing eye fatigue in video display terminal workers. J Nutr Health Aging. 2015 May;19(5):548-54. doi 10.1007/s12603-014-0573-6. PMID: 25923485.
  11. Hong J, Kim M, Kim B. The Effects of Anthocyanin-Rich Bilberry Extract on Transintestinal Cholesterol Excretion. Foods. 2021 Nov 18;10(11):2852. doi 10.3390/foods10112852. PMID: 34829135; PMCID: PMC8624570.
  12. Roth S, Spalinger MR, Gottier C, Biedermann L, Zeitz J, Lang S, Weber A, Rogler G, Scharl M. Bilberry-Derived Anthocyanins Modulate Cytokine Expression in the Intestine of Patients with Ulcerative Colitis. PLoS One. 2016 May 6;11(5):e0154817. doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0154817. PMID: 27152519; PMCID: PMC4859486.
  13. Yamaura K, Shimada M, Ueno K. Anthocyanins from bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) alleviate pruritus in a mouse model of chronic allergic contact dermatitis. Pharmacognosy Res. 2011 Jul;3(3):173-7. doi 10.4103/0974-8490.85002. PMID: 22022165; PMCID: PMC3193617.
  14. Widén C, Coleman M, Critén S, Karlgren-Andersson P, Renvert S, Persson GR. Consumption of bilberries controls gingival inflammation. Int J Mol Sci. 2015 May 11;16(5):10665-73. doi: 10.3390/ijms160510665. PMID: 25970751; PMCID: PMC4463668.

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