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Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)

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Also listed as: Vaccinium myrtillus anthocyanoside
Related terms
Background
Evidencetable
Tradition
Dosing
Safety
Interactions
Attribution
Bibliography

Related Terms
  • Airelle, anthocyanidins, anthocyanins, anthocyanosides, antocyans, Bickbeere (German), bilberry leaf, black whortle, Blaubeere (Dutch), blaubessen, bleaberry, blueberry, blueberry leaf, bogberry, bog bilberry, burren myrtle, cranberry, dwarf bilberry, dyeberry, epicatechin, Ericaceae (family), European blueberry, flavonoids, Heidelbeere (Dutch), Heidelbeereblatter, heidelberry, huckleberry, hurtleberry, hydroquinone, lingonberry, lowbush blueberry, Mirtillo nero (Italian), Mirtoselect®, Myrtilli folium, Myrtilli fructus, Myrtilus niger Gilib., neomyrtillin, oleanolic acid, Optiberry, quercetin, resveratrol, sambubiosides, sodium, tannins, Tegens®, trackleberry, ursolic acid, Vaccinium angulosum Dulac, Vaccinium montanum Salibs., Vaccinium myrtillus anthocyanoside extract, Vaccinium mytrillus L., Vaccinium uliginosum L., VMA extract, VME, whortleberry, wineberry.
  • Select combination products: Difrarel® (comprised of 100 milligrams of bilberry extract and 5 milligrams of beta-carotene), Focus (comprised of 50 milligrams of bilberry extract including 12.5 milligrams of anthocyanidin, 2 milligrams of lutein, 1 milligram of lycopene, 3 milligrams of beta-carotene, 0.5 milligrams of vitamin A, 1.7 milligrams of vitamin B2, 70 milligrams of vitamin C, 10 milligrams of vitamin E, and 15 milligrams of zinc), Medox® (comprised of purified anthyocyanins isolated from bilberries and blackcurrant), MirtogenolT (comprised of 40 milligrams Pycnogenol®, French maritime pine bark extract, and 80 milligrams of Mirtoselect®, a standardized bilberry extract).

Background
  • The bilberry plant is a leafy perennial shrub that is native to northern Europe, the northern United States, and Canada. The plant produces a purple-black fruit similar to the American blueberry that ripens from July through September. The name comes from a Danish word that means "dark berry."
  • Bilberry is related to blueberry and has a long history of use in medicine. The dried fruit has been used for diarrhea, mucus membrane inflammation, and eye disorders such as poor night vision, eyestrain, and nearsightedness. Bilberry is also used as a food to make jams, pies, cobblers, syrups, and beverages. Fruit extracts are also used to color wines.
  • Bilberry fruit and extract contain compounds called anthocyanosides that are thought to have possible health benefits. Bilberry extract has been studied for its effects as an antioxidant, as well as for benefits in lowering blood sugar, inflammation, and cholesterol. Although early evidence is promising, there is a lack of support for or against the use of bilberry at this time. The available evidence suggests that bilberry may lack benefit for night vision improvement.

Evidence Table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. GRADE *


Focus, a product that contains bilberry, has been studied for benefits in people who have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an eye disorder. Although early results are promising, more research is needed to determine the possible effects of bilberry alone.

C


Bilberry extract has been used for many eye disorders, including cataracts. It is thought that some compounds in bilberry may benefit people with cataracts. However, research is limited and often involves combination treatments. Further study is needed in this area.

C


Bilberry extract has been studied for chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), a circulation disorder that may cause swelling, pain, itching, and ulcers in the legs. Early studies suggest that bilberry extract may have benefits in this disorder. However, more research is required before conclusions can be made.

C


There is limited evidence to support the use of bilberry in painful menstrual symptoms such as cramps, headache, nausea, and vomiting. It is thought that bilberry compounds may help relax smooth muscle and improve symptoms as a result. However, further study is needed before the use of bilberry can be supported for this purpose.

C


Early evidence suggests that taking bilberry extract with fish oils and lutein may help improve symptoms of eye strain. However, research is needed on the possible benefits of bilberry alone. Further study is needed in this field.

C


There is early evidence suggesting a possible benefit of bilberry in treating fibrocystic breast disease, a condition in which the breast tissue feels lumpy. More study is needed before firm conclusions can be made.

C


One study has looked at the use of compounds from bilberry, cranberries, and grape seed in people who have fibromyalgia. Early findings suggest that these compounds may improve sleep, fatigue, and general health. Although promising, more research is needed on the effect of bilberry alone.

C


High pressure in the eyes is thought to be a risk factor for glaucoma. One study reports that MirtogenolT, a product containing bilberry and Pycnogenol®, may help reduce eye pressure after six months. In another study, bilberry was shown to improve vision. However, more high-quality studies are needed to confirm these early results.

C


Early human evidence suggests that compounds in berries such as bilberry may benefit people who have high cholesterol, blood sugar disorders, or metabolic disorder. However, the available research has looked at treatments involving multiple berries, including bilberries used with black currants. Other studies have looked at the use bilberries in combination with other foods. There is some evidence that these treatments may benefit body weight, waist circumference, inflammation, insulin, and blood sugar. Though promising, more information is needed on the use of bilberries alone.

C


Early human research suggests that bilberry may help reduce inflammation. However, most available research has looked at the use of combination treatments involving various berries. More information on the effects of bilberry alone is needed before conclusions can be made.

C


Early evidence suggests that a combination containing powdered bilberry fruit may help improve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. However, further high-quality studies are needed to determine the possible benefit of bilberry alone.

C


More research is still needed on the effectiveness of bilberry in treating diabetic eye disease. Early animal studies suggest that an extract of bilberry may have benefit as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. More information is needed before conclusions can be made on the use of bilberry for this condition.

C


Early studies in the 1960s and 1970s suggested a benefit of bilberry on night vision. However, recent research has failed to demonstrate effect. Two reviews reported inconsistent findings. The available evidence suggests a lack of benefit for this purpose. Without more positive evidence from high-quality studies, the use of bilberry products for night vision may not be considered scientifically supported.

D
* Key to grades

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use
B: Good scientific evidence for this use
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use
D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work)
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)


Tradition / Theory

The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

  • Angiogenesis (blood vessel growth), antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiseptic, antiviral, arthritis, astringent, bleeding gums, bloody urine, breast feeding, burns, cancer, chest pain, common cold, cough, diabetes, dysentery (bloody diarrhea), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), fatigue, fevers, gout, hemorrhoids, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, indigestion, kidney disease, kidney stones, laxative, liver disease, mouth sores, peripheral vascular disease (blocked arteries in the legs), retinal protection, scurvy, skin ailments, skin infections, scratchy throat, sore throat, stomach ulcer, swelling, tonic, urinary tract infections, varicose veins of pregnancy, vision (nearsightedness), wound healing.

Dosing

Adults (18 years and older)

  • According to some experts, common doses based on traditional use include: 55-115 grams of fresh berries three times daily or 80-160 milligrams of extract three times daily.
  • To treat diarrhea, 4-8 grams of dried fruit have been taken by mouth with water two times daily. A decoction of dried fruit (5-10 grams of crushed dried fruit in 150 milliliters of water for 10 minutes, strained while hot) has been taken by mouth three times daily. Cold dried fruit (soaked in 150 milliliters of water for several hours) has been taken by mouth three times daily. Some experts warn that only dried bilberry should be used for diarrhea, since the fresh fruit may have a laxative effect.
  • To reduce inflammation, a bilberry-rich diet containing an equivalent of 400 grams of fresh bilberries has been taken by mouth. Bilberry juice has been taken by mouth for four weeks. To reduce inflammation of the mucus membrane, a mouthwash of 10 percent dried fruit has been gargled in the mouth.
  • To reduce heart disease risk, bilberry-rich diets containing an equivalent of 400 grams of fresh bilberries have been taken by mouth. A dose of 100 grams of fresh bilberries has been taken by mouth daily for 33-35 days. Bilberry juice has also been taken by mouth for four weeks.
  • To treat circulation problems, a bilberry extract equivalent to 173 milligrams of anthocyanins has been taken by mouth daily for 30 days. Doses of 100-150 milligrams of bilberry anthocyanins have been taken by mouth daily for two weeks monthly over a period of two months. A dose of 480 milligrams of bilberry anthocyanins (Tegens®) has been taken by mouth daily for up to six months.
  • To treat painful menstrual symptoms, 160 milligrams of bilberry VMA extract (Tegens®) has been taken by mouth twice daily for eight days, starting three days before the period.
  • To treat night vision, doses of 12-2,880 milligrams of anthocyanosides have been taken by mouth daily for up to 28 days. A dose of 1,000 milligrams of bilberry anthocyanosides has been taken by mouth.
  • To treat diabetic eye disease, 160 milligrams of bilberry extract (Tegens®) has been taken by mouth twice daily for one month. A dose of 80 milligrams of bilberry VMA extract has been taken by mouth twice daily.
  • To treat ulcers, one-half of a cup of fresh bilberries or doses of 20-40 milligrams of anthocyanidin extract have been taken by mouth three times daily.

Children (under 18 years old)

  • There is no proven safe or effective dose for bilberry in children.

Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Allergies

  • Avoid in people with a known allergy or sensitivity to bilberry, its parts, members of the Ericaceae family, or other Vaccinium species, including cranberry and blueberry.

Side Effects and Warnings

  • Bilberry is likely safe when taken by mouth in amounts typically found in foods. It is likely safe as a fruit extract taken by mouth in recommended doses by healthy people for short periods of time.
  • Bilberry may increase the risk of bleeding. Caution is advised in people with bleeding disorders or taking drugs that may increase the risk of bleeding. Dosing adjustments may be necessary.
  • Bilberry may affect blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in people with diabetes or low blood sugar, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Blood sugar levels may need to be monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist, and medication adjustments may be necessary.
  • Bilberry may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in people taking drugs or herbs and supplements that lower blood pressure.
  • Use caution in people who have stomach and digestion problems. Bilberry fruits may have laxative effects and dried bilberry may cause constipation.
  • Use caution in pregnant or breastfeeding women, due to a lack of information.
  • Avoid using large amounts of bilberry. Avoid using bilberry leaves. There may be a risk of poisoning or stomach distress.
  • Avoid using in children, due to a lack of information.
  • Avoid in people who are allergic or sensitive to bilberry, its parts, members of the Ericaceae family, or other Vaccinium species, including cranberry and blueberry.
  • Bilberry may also cause heartburn, nausea, and upset stomach.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • There is a lack of scientific evidence on the use of bilberry during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Interactions

Interactions with Drugs

  • Bilberry may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with drugs that increase the risk of bleeding. Some examples include aspirin, anticoagulants ("blood thinners") such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or heparin, anti-platelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix®), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Naprosyn®, Aleve®).
  • Bilberry may affect blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using medications that may also affect blood sugar. People taking drugs for diabetes by mouth or insulin should be monitored closely by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.
  • Bilberry may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in people taking drugs that lower blood pressure.
  • Bilberry may also interact with agents that may affect blood vessel growth, agents that may affect the immune system, agents that may be toxic to the liver, agents that may treat heart disorders, agents that may treat stomach disorders, antibiotics, anticancer agents, antidiarrheal agents, anti-inflammatory agents, antiulcer agents, cholesterol-lowering agents, estrogens, eye agents, and insulin preparations.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

  • Bilberry may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with herbs and supplements that are believed to increase the risk of bleeding. Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, and fewer cases with garlic and saw palmetto. Numerous other agents may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding, although this has not been proven in most cases.
  • Bilberry may affect blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that may also affect blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may require monitoring, and doses may need adjustment.
  • Bilberry may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in people taking herbs or supplements that lower blood pressure.
  • Bilberry may also interact with antibacterials, anticancer herbs and supplements, antidiarrheals, anti-inflammatories, antioxidants, antiulcer herbs and supplements, cholesterol-lowering herbs and supplements, herbs and supplements that affect blood vessel growth, herbs and supplements that may affect the immune system, herbs and supplements that may be toxic to the liver, herbs and supplements that may treat heart disorders, herbs and supplements that may treat stomach disorders, hormonal herbs and supplements, phytoestrogens, quercetin, resveratrol, vitamin C, and vitamin E.

Attribution
  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

Bibliography
  1. Cravotto G, Boffa L, Genzini L, et al. Phytotherapeutics: an evaluation of the potential of 1000 plants. J.Clin.Pharm.Ther. 2010;35(1):11-48.
  2. de Mello VD, Schwab U, Kolehmainen M, et al. A diet high in fatty fish, bilberries and wholegrain products improves markers of endothelial function and inflammation in individuals with impaired glucose metabolism in a randomised controlled trial: the Sysdimet study. Diabetologia 2011;54(11):2755-2767.
  3. Egorov EA, Gvetadze AA, and Vinogradova EP. [Efficacy of vision correcting system "focus" for prevention and treatment of dry form of age macular degeneration]. Vestn.Oftalmol. 2012;128(1):44-46.
  4. Erlund I, Koli R, Alfthan G, et al. Favorable effects of berry consumption on platelet function, blood pressure, and HDL cholesterol. Am.J.Clin.Nutr. 2008;87(2):323-331.
  5. Gottikh MB and Tashlitskii VN. [Determination of the qualitative and quantitative composition of antocyan pigments as components of dietary supplements and drugs for vision]. Vestn.Oftalmol. 2010;126(5):34-37.
  6. Granfeldt YE and Bjorck IM. A bilberry drink with fermented oatmeal decreases postprandial insulin demand in young healthy adults. Nutr.J. 2011;10:57.
  7. Hawrelak JA and Myers SP. Effects of two natural medicine formulations on irritable bowel syndrome symptoms: a pilot study. J.Altern.Complement Med. 2010;16(10):1065-1071.
  8. Jensen IJ, Abrahamsen H, Maehre HK, et al. Changes in antioxidative capacity of saithe (Pollachius virens) and shrimp (Pandalus borealis) during in vitro digestion. J.Agric.Food Chem. 11-25-2009;57(22):10928-10932.
  9. Karlsen A, Paur I, Bohn SK, et al. Bilberry juice modulates plasma concentration of NF-kappaB related inflammatory markers in subjects at increased risk of CVD. Eur.J.Nutr. 2010;49(6):345-355.
  10. Kawabata F and Tsuji T. Effects of dietary supplementation with a combination of fish oil, bilberry extract, and lutein on subjective symptoms of asthenopia in humans. Biomed.Res. 2011;32(6):387-393.
  11. Kolehmainen M, Mykkanen O, Kirjavainen PV, et al. Bilberries reduce low-grade inflammation in individuals with features of metabolic syndrome. Mol.Nutr.Food Res. 2012;56(10):1501-1510.
  12. Koli R, Erlund I, Jula A, et al. Bioavailability of various polyphenols from a diet containing moderate amounts of berries. J.Agric.Food Chem. 4-14-2010;58(7):3927-3932.
  13. Shim SH, Kim JM, Choi CY, et al. Ginkgo biloba extract and bilberry anthocyanins improve visual function in patients with normal tension glaucoma. J.Med.Food 2012;15(9):818-823.
  14. Steigerwalt RD, Gianni B, Paolo M, et al. Effects of Mirtogenol on ocular blood flow and intraocular hypertension in asymptomatic subjects. Mol.Vis. 2008;14:1288-1292.
  15. Zhu Y, Xia M, Yang Y, et al. Purified anthocyanin supplementation improves endothelial function via NO-cGMP activation in hypercholesterolemic individuals. Clin.Chem. 2011;57(11):1524-1533.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)


The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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