What is it?
Bilberry is a plant. The dried, ripe fruit and leaves are used to make medicine.
Bilberry is used for improving eyesight, including night vision. In fact, during World War II, British pilots in the Royal Air Force ate bilberry jam to improve their night vision, but later research showed it probably didn’t help. Bilberry is also used for treating eye conditions such as cataracts and disorders of the retina. There is some evidence that bilberry may help retinal disorders.
Some people use bilberry for conditions of the heart and blood vessels including hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), varicose veins, decreased blood flow in the veins, and chest pain.
Bilberry is also used for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), hemorrhoids, diabetes, osteoarthritis, gout, skin infections, gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, kidney disease, and urinary tract infections (UTIs).
It is sometimes applied directly to the inside of the mouth for mild mouth and throat soreness.
How effective is it?
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
The effectiveness ratings for BILBERRY are as follows:
Possibly effective for...
- Problems with the retina of the eye in people with diabetes or high blood pressure. Research studies used a product that had a high concentration of the chemicals in bilberry that seem to improve blood circulation.
Possibly ineffective for...
- Improving night vision. There is contradictory evidence about the effectiveness of bilberry for improving night vision. However, the weight of evidence suggests bilberry is not effective for night vision.
Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...
- Chest pain (angina).
- Varicose veins.
- Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
- Arthritis (osteoarthritis).
- Skin problems.
- Urinary tract problems.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of bilberry for these uses.
Bilberry contains chemicals called tannins that can help improve diarrhea, as well as mouth and throat irritation, by reducing swelling (inflammation). There is some evidence that the chemicals found in bilberry leaves can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Some researchers think that chemicals called flavonoids in bilberry leaf might also improve circulation in people with diabetes. Circulation problems can harm the retina of the eye.
The dried, ripe fruit of bilberry is LIKELY SAFE for most people when eaten in typical food amounts. Bilberry fruit products, such as powders or extracts, also seem to be safe for most people.
Bilberry leaf is POSSIBLY UNSAFE for most people when taken in high doses or for a long time. If you have diabetes, keep in mind that bilberry leaf might lower blood sugar. Monitor your blood sugar closely.
Special precautions & warnings:
Pregnancy or breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of bilberry during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Surgery: Bilberry might affect blood glucose levels. This could interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery. Stop taking bilberry at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Be cautious with this combination.
Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs)
Bilberry leaves might decrease blood sugar. Diabetes medications are also used to lower blood sugar. Taking bilberry leaves along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.
Some medications used for diabetes include glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (Diabeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glipizide (Glucotrol), tolbutamide (Orinase), and others.
Medications that slow blood clotting (Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs)
There is some concern that bilberry might slow blood clotting. Taking bilberry along with medications that also slow clotting might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding. However, there is not enough information to know if this is a serious concern.
Some medications that slow blood clotting include aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), diclofenac (Voltaren, Cataflam, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), naproxen (Anaprox, Naprosyn, others), dalteparin (Fragmin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), heparin, warfarin (Coumadin), and others.
Herbs and supplements that contain chromium
Bilberry contains chromium and could increase the risk of chromium poisoning when taken with other chromium-containing herbs and supplements such as brewer's yeast, cascara, or horsetail.
Herbs and supplements that might lower blood sugar
Bilberry leaves might decrease blood sugar. Taking bilberry leaves along with other herbs that can lower blood sugar might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Herbs that might lower blood sugar include devil's claw, fenugreek, garlic, guar gum, horse chestnut, Panax ginseng, psyllium, Siberian ginseng, and others.
There are no known interactions with foods.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- The typical dose of the dried, ripe berries: 20-60 grams daily. People also drink a type of tea made from 5-10 grams (1-2 teaspoons) of the mashed berries.
- A dose of 160 mg of bilberry extract taken twice daily has been used in people with diseased retinas.
- Bilberry leaf is commonly used as a tea. The tea is prepared by steeping 1 gram, 1-2 teaspoons, finely chopped dried leaf in 150 mL boiling water for 5-10 minutes, and then straining. Don’t use bilberry leaf long-term.
Airelle, Arándano, Bilberry Fruit, Bilberry Leaf, Black Whortles, Bleaberry, Blueberry, Brimbelle, Burren Myrtle, Dwarf Bilberry, Dyeberry, European Bilberry, Feuille de Myrtille, Fruit de Myrtille, Gueule Noire, Huckleberry, Hurtleberry, Mauret, Myrtille, Myrtille Européenne, Myrtilli Fructus, Raisin des Bois, Swedish Bilberry, Trackleberry, Vaccinium myrtillus, Whortleberry, Wineberry.
To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.methodology (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/methodology.html).
To see all references for the Bilberry page, please go to http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/202.html.
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Last reviewed - 01/14/2012
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