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bilberry (generic name)

an herbal product - treats Atherosclerosis, Diabetes mellitus, Painful menstruation, Diarrhea, Cataracts, Glaucoma, Retinopathy, Fibrocystic br...
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Alternate Title

Vaccinium myrtillus anthocyanoside

Category

Herbs & Supplements

Synonyms

Airelle, anthocyanins, Bickbeere (German), bilberry leaf, black whortle, Blaubeere (Dutch), blaubessen, bleaberry, blueberry, bogberry, bog bilberry, burren myrtle, cranberry, dwarf bilberry, dyeberry, Ericaceae (family), European blueberry, Heidelbeere (Dutch), Heidelbeereblatter, heidelberry, huckleberry, hurtleberry, lingonberry, lowbush blueberry, Mirtillo nero (Italian), Myrtilli folium, Myrtilli fructus, Myrtilus niger Gilib., Optiberry, resveratrol, sambubiosides, trackleberry, Vaccinium angulosum Dulac, Vaccinium montanum Salibs., Vaccinium myrtillus anthocyanoside extract, VMA extract, VME, whortleberry, wineberry.

Background

Bilberry, a close relative of blueberry, has a long history of medicinal use. The dried fruit has been popular for the symptomatic treatment of diarrhea, for topical relief of minor mucus membrane inflammation, and for a variety of eye disorders, including poor night vision, eyestrain, and myopia.

Bilberry fruit and its extracts contain a number of biologically active components, including a class of compounds called anthocyanosides. These have been the focus of recent research in Europe.

Bilberry extract has been evaluated for efficacy as an antioxidant, mucostimulant, hypoglycemic, anti-inflammatory, "vasoprotectant," and lipid-lowering agent. Although pre-clinical studies have been promising, human data are limited and largely of poor quality. At this time, there is not sufficient evidence in support of (or against) the use of bilberry for most indications. Notably, the evidence suggests a lack of benefit of bilberry for the improvement of night vision.

Bilberry is commonly used to make jams, pies, cobblers, syrups, and alcoholic/non-alcoholic beverages. Fruit extracts are used as a coloring agent in wines.

Evidence

DISCLAIMER: 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.

Atherosclerosis ("hardening" of the arteries), peripheral vascular disease: Bilberry has sometimes been used traditionally to treat heart disease and atherosclerosis. There is some laboratory research in this area, but there is a lack of clear information in humans.
Grade: C

Cataracts: Bilberry extract has been used for a number of eye problems, including the prevention of cataract worsening. At this time, there is limited scientific information in this area.
Grade: C

Chronic venous insufficiency: Chronic venous insufficiency is a condition that is more commonly diagnosed in Europe than in the United States, and it may include leg swelling, varicose veins, leg pain, itching, and skin ulcers. A standardized extract of bilberry called Vaccinium myrtillius anthocyanoside (VMA) is popular in Europe for the treatment chronic venous insufficiency. However, there is only preliminary research in this area, and more studies are needed before a recommendation can be made.
Grade: C

Diabetes mellitus: Bilberry has been used traditionally in the treatment of diabetes, and animal research suggests that bilberry leaf extract can lower blood sugar levels. Human research is needed in this area before a recommendation can be made.
Grade: C

Diarrhea: Bilberry is used traditionally to treat diarrhea, but there is a lack of reliable research in this area.
Grade: C

Fibrocystic breast disease: There is limited research suggesting a possible benefit of bilberry in the treatment of fibrocystic disease of the breast. More study is needed before a strong recommendation can be made.
Grade: C

Glaucoma: High intraocular pressure is considered a risk factor for developing glaucoma. Products containing bilberry may reduce the risk for developing glaucoma. Additional study is needed.
Grade: C

Painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea): Preliminary evidence suggests that bilberry may be helpful for the relief of menstrual pain, although more research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Grade: C

Retinopathy: Based on animal research and several small human studies, bilberry may be useful in the treatment of retinopathy in patients with diabetes or high blood pressure. However, this research is early, and it is still unclear if bilberry is beneficial for this condition.
Grade: C

Stomach ulcers (peptic ulcer disease): Bilberry extract has been suggested as a treatment to help stomach ulcer healing. There is some support for this use from laboratory and animal studies, but there is a lack of reliable human evidence in this area.
Grade: C

Night vision: Traditional use and several unclear studies from the 1960s and 1970s suggest possible benefits of bilberry on night vision. However, more recent well-designed studies report no benefits. Based on this evidence, it does not appear that bilberry is helpful for improving night vision.
Grade: D

Tradition

WARNING: DISCLAIMER: 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.
Age-related macular degeneration, angina (chest pain), angiogenesis (blood vessel formation), antifungal, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiseptic, antiviral, arthritis, bleeding gums, burns, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chemoprotectant, chronic fatigue syndrome, common cold, cough, dermatitis, dysentery (severe diarrhea), edema (swelling), encephalitis (tick-borne), eye disorders, fevers, gout (painful inflammation), heart disease, hematuria (blood in the urine), hemorrhoids, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, kidney disease, lactation suppression, laxative (fresh berries), leukemia, liver disease, macular degeneration, oral ulcers, pharyngitis, poor circulation, retinitis pigmentosa, scurvy, skin infections, sore throat, stomach upset, tonic, urine blood, urinary tract infection, varicose veins of pregnancy, vision improvement.

Dosing

Adults (18 years and older)

Fresh berries 55 to 115 grams three times daily or 80 to 480 milligrams of aqueous extract three times daily by mouth (standardized to 25% anthocyanosides) have been used traditionally.

Dried fruit 4 to 8 grams by mouth with water two times per day has been used traditionally, or decoction of dried fruit by mouth three times per day (made by boiling 5 to 10 grams of crushed dried fruit in 150 milliliters of water for 10 minutes and straining while hot), or cold macerate of dried fruit by mouth three times per day (made by soaking dried crushed fruit in 150 milliliters of water for several hours). Experts have warned that patients should use dried bilberry preparations because the fresh fruit may actually worsen diarrhea.

Some experts recommend using a mouthwash gargle of 10% dried fruit decoction as needed for mucus membrane inflammation.

Children (younger than 18 years)

There is not enough scientific evidence to recommend the use of bilberry in children.

Safety

DISCLAIMER: Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

Allergies

People with allergies to plants in the Ericaceae family or to anthocyanosides may have reactions to bilberry. However, there is a lack of reliable published cases of serious allergic reactions to bilberry.

Side Effects and Warnings

Bilberry is generally believed to be safe in recommended doses for short periods of time, based on its history as a foodstuff. There is a lack of known reports of serious toxicity or side effects, although if taken in large doses, there is an increased risk of bleeding, upset stomach, or hydroquinone poisoning.

Based on human use, bilberry fresh fruit may cause diarrhea or have a laxative effect. Based on animal studies, bilberry may cause low blood sugar levels. Caution is therefore advised in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Serum glucose levels may need to be monitored by a healthcare provider and medication adjustments may be necessary.

In theory, bilberry may decrease blood pressure, based on laboratory studies.

With the use of bilberry leaf extract, there is a theoretical increased bleeding risk, although there are no reliable published human reports of bleeding. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders, taking drugs that may increase the risk of bleeding, or prior to some surgeries and dental procedures.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

There is not enough scientific evidence to recommend the safe use of bilberry in pregnancy or breastfeeding, although eating bilberry fruit is believed to be safe based on its history of use as a foodstuff. One study used bilberry extract to treat pregnancy-induced leg swelling (edema), and no adverse effects were reported.

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