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What is Bilberry?

Move over strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries. There’s a “new” berry in town. It’s common knowledge that berries are a rich nutrient food. Yet, it’s likely you haven’t heard about the bilberry and all its wonderful health properties. The bilberry is a plant relative of traditional berries including blueberries and huckleberries. It’s a darker and more tart neighbor of the blueberry. Bilberries are primarily found in the wild in northern Europe.1

What Makes This Berry a Superfood?

The super health properties of the bilberry are known to come from the plant’s pigments called anthocyanosides, which contain one of the richest sources of antioxidants. One of the benefits of antioxidants is that they search the body for free radicals with the objective of helping to prevent or reverse cell damage.2

The History of Bilberry

The bilberry has a long history especially in Europe. Bilberry started growing in popularity in the 16th century when herbalists used it for a variety of ailments including lung, liver, and menstrual ailments. The bilberry claim to fame happened during World War II when British Royal Air Force pilots discovered the benefits of the berry for vision. When pilots consumed the bilberry before a night mission, they found a significant improvement in vision.2

The Science Behind the Bilberry Super Fruit

The power of this berry lies in a phytochemical mix of compounds, such as flavonols, tannins, phenolic acids, and anthocyanins. Of all the different types of berries, bilberry has the greatest concentration of anthocyanins. All the compounds are redox-active antioxidants and iron chelators, and naturally occurring in red, blue, and purple-colored fruits, and vegetables.3

Bilberry Nutrition

Bilberries are low in calories and rich in nutrients. Just 100 grams of bilberries contain 44 calories, .7 grams protein, 11.5 g of carbohydrates, and only .5 g of fat. Ensure you know how to get all your nutrients by discovering below what the bilberry is loaded with in both vitamins and minerals4:

Vitamins   Minerals  
Vitamin A 1.08 RE Calcium 15 mg
Vitamin C 44 mg Iron 0.8 mg
Thiamine 0.03 mg Magnesium 7 mg
Riboflavin 0.03 mg Phosphorus 9 mg
Niacin 0.583 NE Potassium 103 mg
Vitamin B6 0.06 mg Sodium 3 mg
Folate 6 mcg Zinc 0.1 mg
Pantothenic Acid 0.16 mg Copper 0.11 mg
Beta-carotene 13 mcg Manganese 3.3 mg
    Selenium 0.0 mcg
    Chromium 1 mcg

 

Bilberry Awareness and Medical Interactions

While consuming all types of berries is relatively safe, studies have shown that the leaves and extracts of the bilberry contain tannins, which can cause muscle spasms and severe weight loss, if large amounts are consumed. As with any herb, possible medical interactions may occur with other medicines, so it is always good to discuss your diet with your health physician if you have any health concerns or conditions. Since bilberry can reduce blood glucose, it may interact with diabetes drugs or result in hypoglycemia. Bilberries also can reduce blood thinning so be aware of possible interactions with blood thinning drugs or anticoagulants.5

How Bilberry is Used for Treatment and Prevention

The 10 Top Bilberry Benefits

Bilberries have great health benefits due to the compounds inside including Anthocyanins, Resveratrol (health compound in red wine), Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Ellagic acid. There are many benefits including these top ten:

1. Improves day and night vision for the eyes. Bilberries have amazing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, the bilberry may benefit glaucoma, cataracts, and vision but more research is warranted. Despite the British pilot story of bilberries consumed for night vision, further research is still needed to substantiate overall eye health benefits. However, there are many other verified benefits of this berry, and many other foods that benefit healthy eyes.6

2. Lowers blood sugar (glucose). Bilberries have been used for controlling blood sugars in people with diabetes. Studies indicate that bilberries can inhibit glucose spikes following high sugar content meals.7

3. Anti-inflammatory: The anthocyanins contained in bilberries have anti-inflammatory benefits. The human body uses inflammation as a protective mechanism but as we age many diseases result in chronic inflammation. The phenolic compounds in bilberries help fight degradation of cell proteins.8

4. Promotes urinary tract health and protects against urinary tract infections. Bilberries have a long past of treating UTI’s. This is due to the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of bilberries. Studies show that a treatment can be as simple as drinking 2-3 cups of bilberry leaf tea a day for a week.9

5. Promotes antioxidant defense. The bilberry is an antioxidant powerhouse like cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or plums, and is a top antioxidant leader. It’s effective in scavenging free radicals and defending the body against oxidation.10

6. Helps eliminate circulation problems. The cardiovascular system can be subject to many diseases of aging including high blood pressure, high uric acid, raised cholesterol and more. Berries and their berry cousin bilberries have cardioprotective properties attributed to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.11

7. Lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Early research shows that Alzheimer symptoms may be reduced from the anthocyanins in bilberries. This is promising and more research is warranted.12

8. Effective for treating diarrhea. Bilberries have a colorful past in Europe of helping treat diarrhea. The tannins contained in berries have anti-inflammatory and astringent properties that can decrease intestinal inflammation, thereby, helping with the symptoms of diarrhea.12

9. Helps prevent cancer. Cancer is the result of genetic mutations or damage to the DNA. While many studies have shown the general benefits of consuming more fruit and vegetables to prevent cancer, there is limited research on the benefits of individual foods. Research has demonstrated that berries and even bilberries alone have anticancer properties.13

10. Bilberry benefits for weight loss: According to a study published in Nutrition and Metabolism, the anthocyanins in bilberries interfere with insulin suppressing the genes triggered by high blood glucose levels. By regulating blood sugar levels, the bilberry can impact fat deposits.14

All berries have been a common companion in the human diet for centuries. Of all types of berries, the bilberry contains many health properties but it is especially the anthocyanins that have the broadest health benefits. Given the superfood powers of the bilberry, most people would benefit from adding this marvelous berry to your diet. We would love to hear about your experiences, benefits, and recipes with berries, or specifically bilberries. Share with the LifeSeasons community and support our belief that knowledge is power and our community our life source.

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References:
14. Suzuki, R. et. al, (2011). Anthocyanidins-enriched bilberry extracts inhibit 3T3-L1 adipocyte differentiation via the insulin pathway. Nutrition & metabolism, 8(1), 14.