|| Vaccinium myrtillus
|| European blueberry, huckleberry
Diarrhea and wounds
Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) has
been used in traditional European medicine for nearly a thousand years,
primarily to treat diarrhea. Bilberry fruit contains high concentrations of
tannins, substances that act as both an anti-inflammatory and an astringent. The
latter quality in particular may help wounds heal more quickly. Bilberry is
believed to help people with diarrhea by reducing the intestinal inflammation
associated with the condition.
Bilberry leaves have traditionally been used to
control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. A couple of modern day
reports of a few individuals with type 2 (adult onset) diabetes as well as
animal studies suggest that this traditional use may have merit. Rigorous
scientific studies are needed.
A close relative of the cranberry, bilberry
fruits contain flavonoid compounds called anthocyanidins. Flavonoids are plant
pigments that have excellent antioxidant properties. This means that they
scavenge damaging particles in the body known as free radicals and have been
shown to help prevent a number of long-term illnesses such as heart disease,
cancer, and an eye disorder called macular degeneration (a disease of the retina
that can lead to blindness; see Visual Disturbances listed below). Animal
studies have found that anthocyanidins may strengthen blood vessels, improve
circulation, and prevent the oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, a major risk
factor for atherosclerosis (plaque in blood vessels that leads to blockage and,
therefore, heart attack and stroke). Research in people is needed.
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Some experts propose that bilberry
may relieve the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome because of its antioxidant
Studies in rats have found that anthocyanidins from
bilberry fruits help prevent stomach ulcers caused by a variety of factors
including stress, medications, and alcohol. Whether this will translate into
help for people requires research.
Anthocyanidins found in bilberry fruits
may also be useful for people with vision problems. During World War II, British
fighter pilots reported that bilberries improved their nighttime vision and
helped them quickly adjust to darkness. A recent study, however, comparing a
bilberry extract of anthocyanidins to placebo in young men with normal vision
did not confirm any improvement in night vision from this supplement. The study
only included 12 men. Therefore, more research is needed to know whether the
long standing stories of improvement in night vision from bilberry for some
individuals is scientifically true or not.
Today, it is believed that anthocyanidins may help protect the retina, the
nerve layer that lines the back of the eye and sends nerve impulses to the
visual areas of the brain. Studies conducted in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s suggest
that the anthocyanidins contained in bilberry fruit preparations improve
symptoms of a variety of visual disturbances including nearsightedness,
cataracts, and macular degeneration.
Bilberry is a shrub that grows to about 16 inches in height. It has oval,
pointed leaves and small pink and white flowers, which bloom from April through
June. In the late summer, its dark purple berries are ripe to pick. Bilberry is
a relative of blueberry, cranberry, and huckleberry, and its fruit looks and
tastes much like the American blueberry.
|What's It Made Of?|
The key compounds in bilberry fruit are called anthocyanidins. These
compounds help build strong capillaries and improve circulation to all areas of
the body. They also prevent blood platelets from clumping together (helping to
reduce the risk of blood clots which may lead, for example, to heart attack or
stroke). On the other hand, bilberry fruit is also rich in tannins, a substance
that acts as an astringent, thereby helping bleeding to stop. The tannins and
anthocyanidins, therefore, may balance each other out when the whole bilberry
fruit is used for medicinal purposes.
Anthocyanidins also boost the production of rhodopsin, a pigment that
improves night vision and helps the eye adapt to light changes. The tannins have
anti-inflammatory properties and may help control diarrhea.
Bilberries may be eaten fresh or in dried forms. Fresh or dried berries as
well as the leaves of the bilberry plant may be used to make bilberry tea.
Bilberry extract should be standardized to contain 25% anthocyanidins. The
extract contains the highest percentage of anthocyanidins, making it the most
potent form of bilberry.
|How to Take It|
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and
treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger
side effects and that can interact with other herbs, supplements, or
medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the
supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
Bilberry has been used safely in children 2 years of age and older for the
treatment of diarrhea:
- 4 to 8 grams of crushed, dried bilberry should be added to 150 mL (2/3
of a cup) of cold water and brought to a boil for 10 minutes; the preparation
should be strained while hot. Children then drink this preparation several times
daily until diarrhea resolves.
- Diarrhea: 5 to 10 grams of crushed dried bilberries in 150 mL (2/3 of
a cup) cold water, brought to a boil for 10 minutes, then strained.
- Eye conditions and circulation: standardized bilberry extract (with
25% anthocyanidin) in encapsulated form, dosage of 480 milligrams a day in two
to three divided doses. Reduce to 240 milligrams per day once symptoms improve
(maintain this dosage to help prevent these conditions).
- Diabetes: Pour boiling water over 1 g (approximately 1½ tsp) bilberry
leaf and strain after 10 to 15 minutes. People with in particular diabetes
should only drink bilberry tea under the supervision of a healthcare provider.
- Ulcer prevention: 20 to 40 milligrams bilberry extract three times a
day, 2 to 4 mL tincture (1:5) three times a day, or one half cup of fresh
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications,
bilberry extracts and anthocyanidin preparations should be taken only under the
supervision of a knowledgeable healthcare provider.
Bilberry fruit and extract are considered generally safe, with no known side
effects. Bilberry leaf is safe with appropriate usage, but should not be taken
in large quantities over an extended period of time because it may become toxic.
Blood-thinning medications, anticoagulants
In theory, because
the anthocyanidins in bilberry may inhibit blood from clotting, there may be an
increased risk of bleeding in those taking anthocyanidin extracts from bilberry
along with blood thinners, particularly warfarin. This has not been tested
scientifically, but those taking warfarin or other blood thinners in the same
class, known as anticoagulants, should be very careful if considering use of
bilberry and should be followed closely by a doctor who will check your INR (a
measurement to indicate, in part, your risk of bleeding).
There has been one case report of a woman taking many herbs and supplements,
including bilberry, experiencing a serious bleed following surgery for breast
cancer. The other herbs and supplements she was taking that may have contributed
to the risk of bleeding include ginkgo, ginseng, and vitamin E.
The whole bilberry fruit, therefore, which contains both anthocyanidins and
tannins (that may help stop bleeding) is likely safer if you are on a blood
thinner than the isolated anthocyanidin extracts.
Bailey C, Day C. Traditional plants medicine as treatments for diabetes.
Diabetes Care. 1989;12:553-564.
Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. The Complete German Commission
E Monographs. Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998.
Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine Expanded
Commission E Monographs. Newton, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications;
Bomser J, Madhavi DL, Singletary K, Smith MA. In vitro anti-cancer activity
of fruit extracts from Vaccinium species. Planta Med.
Cignarella A, Nastasi M, Cavalli E, Puglisi L. Novel lipid-lowering
properties of Vaccinium myrtillus L. leaves, a traditional antidiabetic
treatment, in several models of rat dyslipidaemia: a comparison with
ciprofibrate. Thromb Res. 1996;84(5):311-322.
Duke J. The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus, Pa: Rodale Press; 1997.
Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C et al, eds. PDR for Herbal
Medicines. 2nd ed. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company Inc; 2000.
Head KA. Natural therapies for ocular disorders, part two: cataracts and
glaucoma. Altern Med Rev. 2001;6(2):141-166.
Laplaud PM, Lelubre A, Chapman MJ. Antioxidant action of Vaccinium myrtillus
extract on human low density lipoproteins in vitro: initial observations.
Fundam Clin Pharmacol. 1997;11(1):35-40.
Logan AC, Wong C. Chronic fatigue syndrome: oxidative stress and dietary
modifications. Altern Med Rev. 2001;6(5):450-459.
Magistretti NJ, Conti M, Cristini A. Antiulcer activity of an anthocyanidin
from Vaccinium myrtillus. Arzneim-Forsch.
Muth ER, Laurent JM, Jasper P. The effect of bilberry nutritional
supplementation on night visual acuity and contrast sensitivity. Altern Med
Norred CL, Finlayson CA. Hemorrhage after the preoperative use of
complementary and alternative medicines. AANA J. 2000;68(3):217-220.
Schulz V, Hansel R, Tyler VF. Rational Phytotherapy. Berlin, Germany:
|Review Date: April 2002|
|Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Constance Grauds, RPh (April
1999), President, Association of Natural Medicine Pharmacists, San Rafael, CA;
Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley
Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine,
Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson
Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February
2001), Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; R. Lynn Shumake, PD,
Director, Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary &
Healing Arts, University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; Tom Wolfe,
P.AHG (April 1999), Smile Herb Shop, College Park, MD; Elizabeth Wotton, ND
(April 1999), private practice, Sausalito, CA. All interaction sections have
also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000),
The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August
2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy
(March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of
Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin,
MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for
Integrative Medicine, Honolulu, HI.|
Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc
The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of
the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse
of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage
to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or
otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents
of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds
currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a
guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare
practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts)
regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed