Bilberries Health Benefits
Bilberry is the European cousin of the American Blueberries and is legendary for curing vision problems. So, are the purported positive effects of bilberry on the eyes really true or is it just a myth? Find out more on this in the given below sections that discuss in detail the various notable health benefits of bilberries.
What is Bilberry?
Bilberry is a dark blue/black colored fruit that is mostly found in the northern European countries. It is not particularly cultivated but just grows in the wild in meadows and forests. The fruit is small in size and tastes a bit sour.
An easy way to differentiate between blueberry and bilberry is to look at their ends. The end of a bilberry is smooth and circular whereas the end of a blueberry is star shaped. The pulp of the two is also different. Bilberry pulp is purple in color and will stain your hands and mouth whereas the pulp of blueberry is yellowish in color and does not stain.
Bilberry is eaten either fresh or frozen. You can also buy bilberry jams and juices. It is also available as a supplement in powdered form.
Nutrient Content of Bilberry
Bilberry’s nutritional profile is similar to other berries like strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. Nutrient-rich bilberry is a good source of many vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, iron, chromium and copper.
But what makes bilberry superior to other berries is its high anthocyanin content.
Anthocyanin is that component that gives fruits their color, like purple or red. Most of the berries health benefits are caused due to the presence of this component. These components have antioxidant properties that are extremely beneficial for the human body and helps protect it from various diseases.
The anthocyanin content in bilberries is in the range of 300-700 mg per 100 grams of the fruit which is definitely more than what is found in other berries.
Main Anthocyanins in Bilberry and Their Relative Concentrations
Bilberries also contain a substance called tannin which acts as a binding agent and can help to treat the symptoms of diarrhea.
There are many more health benefits of bilberries, find out more about them in the given below sections.
10 Striking Health Benefits of Bilberries
Bilberries Helps Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is the human body’s automatic response to an injury. It is characterized by pain, swelling or redness. Through inflammation the body tries to fight infections caused by viruses and bacteria.
But, at times inflammation can occur where not required leading to chronic problems and diseases.
Studies have shown that regular intake of bilberry extract can decrease pro-inflammatory markers in the body thereby decreasing the inflammatory activities. This in turn can help the body fight against diseases caused by chronic inflammation.
Bilberry May Help Fight Cancer
Cancer is caused when the DNA gets damaged leading to uncontrolled cell divisions. One of the probable ways of preventing cancer is to eat food that protects the DNA from any such damage and stress.
Studies on animals have shown that consumption of anthocyanin rich berries can help protect the DNA thereby helping the body to fight cancer. It is one of the most important health benefits of bilberries that should be researched further.
In 2004, a study was done in which a combined extract of 6 berries (bilberry, blueberry, cranberry, strawberry, raspberry and elderberry) was prepared and tested on human cells. It was found that the extract can help reduce the tumor growth by nearly 50%.
Bilberry Used to Treat Diarrhea
This is one of the oldest and most used benefits of bilberry. People in Europe have been using Bilberry to treat diarrhea symptoms for ages. A bilberry tea is made and administered to the patient.
Tannins found in bilberry act as an astringent. Tannins combine with proteins in the gut to form complexes that are difficult to break. This helps prevent any water loss thereby subsiding diarrhea symptoms.
Tannin also contains anti-inflammatory properties that help curb inflammation in the intestines.
Only dried bilberries are used for this purpose. Using fresh bilberries might worsen the condition.
Bilberries May Improve Vision and Help Fight Eye Disorders
A very common story related to bilberries is that during WWII, British pilots consumed bilberry jam to improve their night time vision. Though this story may or may not be true, it does highlight the popular health benefit of bilberries which is related to ocular health.
Studies have shown that consuming bilberry can help prevent cataract progress. During the study, consuming bilberry extracts daily for a month helped to strengthen the blood vessels in the eyes and decreased the chances of hemorrhage.
Bilberries can also help the eyes to adapt to darkness quickly, fight many ocular disorders and prevent vision loss due to age and disease.
The anthocyanin in bilberries can help to protect retina hence the fruit can also be used to treat retinopathy. Bilberry has also been used to fight other eye problems like glaucoma and macular degeneration.
Bilberry Keeps the Heart Healthy
The anti-inflammatory properties of bilberries help to reduce oxidative stress in the body which is one of the causes of many heart ailments. Anthocyanin content of bilberries also helps to regulate blood pressure.
Bilberries also help prevent obesity, keep blood sugar in control and have anti-hypertensive effects which all contribute towards keeping the heart healthy.
Bilberries May Prevent Type-2 Diabetes
One of the amazing benefits of bilberry is its effectiveness in preventing diabetes.
Bilberry is a popular choice of herbalists in European countries to treat diabetes. They use both the fruit and leaves of the bilberry plant for this purpose.
Studies have shown that taking a dose of bilberry extract can stimulate insulin secretion and can help decrease the glucose levels in the blood.
Sometimes, obesity can also be a cause of type-2 diabetes. Certain components in Bilberry can help to lower the fat absorption in the body thereby preventing obesity.
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of bilberries can also help to prevent development of any complications arising due to diabetes.
Used to Treat Mouth and Throat Soreness
The bilberry juice is sometimes applied directly inside the mouth to treat mouth ulcers. People also gargle with the juice to reduce throat soreness.
Used for the Treatment of Chronic Venous Insufficiency
Chronic venous insufficiency is caused by damaged valves in the legs that do not let the blood to flow back up to the heart. This causes the blood to pool-up in the veins in the legs causing a painful condition called CVI.
CVI can cause pain and swelling in the legs and ulcers.
Animal studies have shown that intake of bilberry extract can help the blood flow correctly. It can reduce the leakiness of the blood vessels thereby reducing swelling and providing relief from pain.
Bilberries Can Prevent Certain Infectious Diseases
One of the lesser known benefits of bilberry is its effectiveness in fighting certain pathogens. Yes, bilberries have anti-microbial properties that help to fight certain diseases like meningitis and pneumonia. It can also inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria like Salmonella.
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Bilberry Can Help to Increase the Cognitive Function
Studies have shown that regular intake of bilberries can increase the release of dopamine and improve interneuron communication in the brain. One of the amazing benefits of bilberry is that it can help to increase short term memory.
Most of the studies related to bilberries have been performed on animals and sufficient data related to human studies is lacking. Its usage is more traditional and lacks scientific backing.
Traditionally, bilberries have also been used to treat scurvy, urinary tract infection, menstrual cramps and so on. Bilberries are also said to help in skin disorders and hair problems like dandruff and hair fall.
Uses of Bilberry
Bilberry is being used by people for ages now. Some of the traditional and modern uses of bilberry are:
- Bilberry fruit is crushed and its juice is used as a dye to color cloth and paper.
- Bilberry in the form of tea, juice or extract is used as a medicine to cure diarrhea and mouth soreness.
- Dried bilberries are used to make tea.
- Fresh bilberries are crushed to produce tasty juice.
- Jams and jellies are also made from fresh bilberries.
- Bilberries can also be used to make various desserts like pies and muffins.
- If you do not find the taste too intense then you also eat bilberries raw.
- Bilberry extract is mixed with honey and is applied as a face mask.
- Powdered bilberry is mixed with oil and egg whites to make a hair mask.
Wrapping Up – Health Benefits of Bilberries
Bilberry might not be as popular as strawberries or blueberries, but it has some amazing nutritional powers that surpass the benefits provided by other such berries. Hence, it is not surprising that it is one of the favorite herbs used by European herbalists.
The only problem is that the benefits of bilberries lack scientific backing. Hence, more research is needed to prove the effectiveness of bilberry on various health problems.
Till then, simply enjoy the fruit in its various amazing forms.