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Bilberry - Uses and Benefits

Bilberry ( Vaccinium myrtillus ) has been used in traditional European medicine for nearly a thousand years, primarily to treat diarrhea. Bilberry fruit contains high concentrations of tannins, substances that act as both an anti-inflammatory and an astringent.

It is a perennial, ornamental shrub that is mainly found in various climates in damp woodlands and moorlands. In the United States they are known as huckleberries, and there are over 100 species with similar names and fruit throughout the Europe, Asia and North America.

Although bilberry has been suggested for many conditions, it has not been proven for the treatment of any health condition. Bilberry appears to be safe, but if you have diabetes or high blood pressure or are prone to bleeding disorders, discuss this with your health care provider before using bilberry. Consult your health care provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Uses and Benefits of Bilberry

Bilberry fruit extracts are currently marketed in the U.S. as "vision" and "capillary" herbal supplements. In World War II, there were rumors that British Royal Air Force aviators experienced increased night vision after eating bilberry jam. This led to support for treating poor night vision and a variety of ophthalmic and microvascular disorders-including myopia, glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and retinal degeneration, as well as capillary fragility, varicose veins, venous insufficiency, and hemorrhoids­with European bilberry extracts. Bilberry contains antioxidants that are also used as herbal supplements in anti-aging diets . Traditionally, bilberry leaves and fruit have been employed for their astringent and antiseptic properties to treat diarrhea, dyspepsia, infections, and burns, and also for diabetes, scurvy, and other disorders.

Bilberry berries are used primarily for acute non-specific diarrhea and inflammation of the mouth and pharynx. There are also reports of their usage in the treatment of eye strain and night vision however this is as yet clinically unproven. It is thought that Bilberry berries may be helpful in the treatment cataracts and glaucoma due to its rich bioflavonoid content. Externally, the berries can be used for mild inflammation , varicose veins, and dermatitis.

The leaves can be used in the same way as those of UvaUrsi . The fruits are astringent, and are especially valuable in diarrhoea and dysentery, in the form of syrup. The ancients used them largely, and Dioscorides spoke highly of them. They are also used for discharges, and as antigalactagogues. A decoction of the leaves or bark of the root may be used as a local application to ulcers, and in ulceration of the mouth and throat.

Bilberry is often said to improve night vision , and the story is told of RAF pilots in World War II using bilberry for that purpose. A recent study [1] by the U.S. Navy found no effect, however, and the origins of the RAF story are unclear; it does not appear to be well known in the RAF itself. [2] . Studies ( [3] , [4] ) have shown that bilberry can reduce or reverse effects of degenerative eye disorders such as macular degeneration . The overall therapeutic use of bilberry is still clinically unproven.

It may have other beneficial effects on capillaries due to the strong antioxidant properties of its anthocyanidin flavonoids .

The leaves have historically been used to treat gastrointestinal ailments, applied topically or made into infusions. The effects claimed have not been reproduced in the laboratory, however.

The dried herb has also traditionally been used as a remedy for diarrhoea , indigestion, and diabetes .

While bilberry extract has also been traditionally used as a diarrhea treatment, in more recent years it has been touted as a promoter of good eye health; due to the reports issued by the Royal Air Force pilots. It is believed that the tannic and cinnamic acids contained within the plant are responsible for this marvel.

How To Prepare

To make a tea from the bilberry, place 5 to 10 grams (about 1-1/4 to 2-1/2 teaspoonfuls) of mashed berries in cold water, bring the mixture to a simmer for 10 minutes, then strain.
    Although not recommended, Bilberry leaf tea can be prepared by pouring boiling water over 1 gram (about 1-3/4 teaspoonfuls) of finely cut leaves. Steep for 10 to 15 minutes, then strain.
    Extracts of the berries are available in capsule and tablet form.

Dosage

Bilberry herbal extract in capsules or tablets standardized to provide 25% anthocyanosides are typically recommended at 240-600 mg per day. 13 Herbalists have traditionally recommended taking 1-2 ml two times per day in tincture form, or 20-60 grams of the fruit daily.

Adverse Side Effects of Bilberry

Before taking bilberry, you must talk to your family health care provider - this is especially important if you have some allergies (especially to plants) or are suffering from any medical condition. If you take drugs to control diabetes or to lower blood pressure and are considering using bilberry, discuss this with your health care provider. Bilberry may not be recommended in some situations, so it is very important to go to a doctor first.

There are usually no significant adverse effects of bilberry extracts reported in the clinical trials. Myrtocyan was well tolerated in a European post-marketing surveillance study of 2295 patients, in which 94 subjects (4.1 %) reported side effects that included mainly gastrointestinal, skin, or nervous system complaints.

Few side effects have been reported when bilberry is used at recommended doses. Safety is often assumed because bilberry has historically been used as a food source and has appeared to be safe.

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