The traditional use of bilberry differs significantly from its modern uses. Traditional European medicine has documented it as a cure for diarrhoea probably because the fruit contains high concentrations of tannins, substances that act as both an anti-inflammatory and an astringent. This property may explain why it was also noted as a wound-healing agent helping wounds heal more quickly.
Modern analysis revealed antioxidant secret
Modern analysis of bilberries now reveals that the key compounds in the fruit are natural antioxidants known as anthocyanidins. These compounds are known to help build strong capillaries and improve circulation to all areas of the body. They also prevent blood platelets from clumping together. This action may be helpful in reducing the risk of blood clots, which may lead to heart attack or stroke.
As mentioned earlier, bilberry fruit is also rich in tannins. These substances act as natural astringents, and may help reduce bleeding and ease inflammation. When it comes to helping boost vision, bilberries probably offer the best natural support available.
Special support for diabetics
The anthocyanidins content increases the production of a key vision chemical called rhodopsin. This pigment improves night vision and helps the eye adapt to light changes. This sight assisting function combined with the anti-inflammatory and capillary strengthening actions explains why bilberry extract supplements are so prized by diabetics seeking to preserve and support their sight. To help keep blood sugars in check bilberry leaves have traditionally been used. A couple of modern studies indicate that those with type 2 diabetes may benefit from supplements containing leaf extract as well as the berry concentrate.
Keeping cholesterol in balance
Bilberry fruits also contain other important compounds called flavonoids as well as anthocyanidins. Flavonoids are plant pigments and offer additional antioxidant properties ridding the body of unwanted and potentially damaging free radicals. These substances are produced within the body as a by-product of simply being alive. If an excessive level of free radicals accumulates, cellular damage can occur. This has been linked with an increased predisposition to a number of long-term illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and an eye disorder called macular degeneration. Studies have found that anthocyanidins may strengthen blood vessels, improve circulation, and prevent the oxidation of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, a major risk factor for atherosclerosis, stroke and coronary artery disease.
The eyes have it!
As mentioned above, the anthocyanidins content of the fruits may also be useful for people with vision problems. During World War II, British fighter pilots reported that bilberries improved their night-time vision and helped them quickly adjust to the darkness. Modern thinking believes that the anthocyanidins may help protect the retina, the nerve layer that lines the back of the eye and sends nerve impulses to the visual areas of the brain. Studies conducted in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s also show that the anthocyanidins contained in bilberry fruit preparations improve symptoms of a variety of visual disturbances including near-sightedness, cataracts, and macular degeneration. On-going research is now showing that other factors such as vitamin B2, beta carotene and the plant pigment lutein are also key agents that may reduce the acceleration of eye degenerative disease.
Getting your daily bilberries
Fresh bilberries taste great! They can be eaten as they are or in dried forms. Fresh or dried berries as well as the leaves of the bilberry plant may be used to make bilberry tea. Bilberry extract should be standardised to contain 25% anthocyanidins – check the product label. The standardised extract contains the highest percentage of anthocyanidins, making it the most potent form of bilberry. Tinctures are also available, these are best taken in water, 15-20 drops twice a day.
A word of caution
In theory, because the anthocyanidins in bilberry may inhibit blood from clotting, there may be an increased risk of bleeding in those taking anthocyanidins extracts from bilberry along with blood thinners, particularly warfarin. This has not been tested scientifically, but those taking warfarin or other blood thinners in the same class, known as anticoagulants, should be very careful if considering use of high dose bilberry supplements.
So, not only are bilberries useful for improving your vision, they may also boost your circulation and help to protect you from heart disease! You can find a range of bilberry products here. We love these bilberry capsules from Natures Plus!