Bilberry is one of several berries rich in antioxidants which means it's bursting with nutrients. It's best known for helping eyesight and for strengthening blood vessels. During World War Two British fighter pilots reported improved night vision after eating bilberry jam.
What is bilberry
The bilberry is a shrub with fruit similar in appearance and taste to the blueberry. It has been used in North Europe for centuries to make jams and for medicinal purpose.Bilberries can be eaten fresh, dried or in tea. When buying bilberry extract check the label to ensure it contains 25% anthocyanidin or flavonoids - the health giving component of the fruit. A typical dose is between 80-120mg taken twice a day.
Why do I need bilberry?
Bilberry fruit contains special plant pigments called anthocyanosides which are sometimes dubbed super-antioxidants. Antioxidants block some of the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals cause cell damage in the body and are associated with many diseases including cancer and heart disease.
Bilberry is also a good source of vitamin C - another antioxidant. This double boost of antioxidant power makes bilberry a good healthy choice. Bilberry extract may protect the eyes against conditions such as glaucoma* and cataracts.
It's also known to strengthen blood vessels and improve circulation and may help in the treatment of varicose veins. Some studies suggest the plant's health giving compounds can reduce the risk of blood clots and possibly keep cholesterol levels in check. Bilberry is also known to help control blood sugar which may make it useful for people with diabetes.
Traditionally bilberry has also been used as a treatment for diarrhoea and to help reduce bruising. More studies are needed to support all these claims.
Can bilberry ever be bad for you?
Because bilberry may help thin the blood, you should check it's okay to take if you are already on blood-thinning medication such as aspirin or warfarin. Likewise, due to its blood sugar lowering properties - you should consult your doctor before taking bilberry if you are on diabetic medication. It is sensible to stop taking bilberry at least two weeks before any scheduled surgery.