Herb of the Month - Bilberry!

Author: Gemma Shelton   Date Posted:2 May 2016 

Almost half the world’s population (nearly 5 billion) will be short-sighted by 2050, with around a fifth of those at an increased risk of permanent blindness, according to a new study from the Brien Holden Vision Institute.

An increasingly urbanised society, lifestyle changes such as less time spent outdoors in natural light and more time not only engaging but relying on ‘close-range’ activities (i.e. computer screens and smart-phones) may be responsible for an increase in eye complaints. Cessation of technology is a big ask, and when it’s difficult to resist this change in lifestyle, traditional herbs may be our salvation in modern times.

Bilberry to the rescue!

Bilberry, not to be mistaken with blueberry, is a perennial shrub which produces a similar dark-purple fruit. And yes, as a close relative of the blueberry has been commonly used as an ingredient to make jams, syrups and pies….. Berrylicious.

Modern interest in bilberry’s medicinal properties was sparked in WWII when the British Royal Air Force pilots noticed improvements in their night vision after consuming the berries. Recently there has been some literature investigating the use of Bilberry, mainly the Bilberry VMA extract (standardised to contain 25% anthocyanidins) for its role in various visual disorders such as myopia and impaired night vision.

What makes Bilberry so special?

As the name suggests, the Bilberry shrub produces berries rich in a compound known as anthocyanosides. It’s the anthocyanosides which are responsible for their deep pigment and action-packed properties including antioxidant, vasoprotective and anti-inflammatory effects.

As a vasoprotectant, Bilberry can stimulate capillary repair and in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, individuals with peripheral vascular disorder, who supplemented with Bilberry, experienced a reduction in pain, heaviness and oedema.

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Eye health:

Tired eyes can result from prolonged periods of reading, driving or working at a computer. When it comes to eye health, Bilberry may be beneficial because it can improve microcirculation in the eyes and provide protection against their susceptibility to oxidative damage caused by environmental factors (such as exposure to artificial light).

The anthocyanosides can also accelerate the resynthesis of rhodopsin, a pigment involved in light adaptation allowing the eye to adapt to darkness and glare. Although the benefits for our eyes may be the most touted in recent times, bilberries indications are certainly not eyesolated to our vision…

Way back when… Bilberry’s medicinal use was initially described in the 12th Century by a German herbalist who recommended its use for the induction of menses and many years later was also recommended for the prevention of scurvy, due to its Vitamin C content. Bilberry’s astringent action - meaning it can ‘tone’ the mucous membrane, explains its’ long history in addressing conditions such as diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, gastrointestinal inflammation and to ‘dry up’ breast milk.

In summary, bilberry may be beneficial for:

  • Eyestrain
  • Visual fatigue
  • Night vision
  • Poor peripheral circulation

Note: Bilberry may interact with certain medications, and it is best to seek advice from a medical practitioner if you are considering supplementation.
 

Written by Gemma Shelton, Naturopath
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Gemma BHSc (Naturopathy); BA (Public Communication & International Studies); is a qualified naturopath and believes in the importance of a balanced lifestyle. She places emphasis on eating nutritious foods, without depriving yourself of the occasional treat. Gemma spent some time living in Japan where she was immersed in traditional diet and kampo medicine (Japanese herbal medicine), and an interest in natural medicine was sparked. She holds a degree in Health Science majoring in Naturopathy, and previous experience consulting in nutrition communications. Gemma loves the sunshine, good quality chocolate and herbal teas.