Common Names: bilberry, European blueberry, whortleberry, huckleberry
Latin Names: Vaccinium myrtillus
- The bilberry bush is native to northern areas of Europe and Asia, the northern United States, and Canada. Its dark berries resemble blueberries.
- Its name is derived from the Danish word bollebar, which means “dark berry.”
- Bilberry has been used for medicinal purposes since the Middle Ages. The berries and leaves are the parts of the plant that are used. Historically, bilberry has been used for a variety of conditions, including diarrhea, inflammation of the mouth, urinary problems, and diabetes. It’s also been used traditionally to prevent scurvy, due to its high vitamin C content. During World War II, British pilots ate bilberry jam, thinking it would improve their night vision.
- Today, bilberry is promoted as a dietary supplement for night vision, cataracts, varicose veins, and other conditions such as atherosclerosis (in which plaque builds up in arteries).
How Much Do We Know?
- There are few high-quality clinical trials (studies in people) of bilberry supplements.
What Have We Learned?
- There’s little scientific evidence to support the use of bilberry for many health conditions.
- A few recent studies have suggested possible beneficial effects of bilberry. However, these studies involved small numbers of people. More research would be needed to confirm these findings.
- Results from a small clinical study (24 people) suggest that consuming bilberries may reduce gum inflammation and bleeding.
- Data from a Japanese study with 88 office workers suggest that a bilberry extract helped with eye fatigue.
- Data from a small study with 21 people suggest that consuming bilberry juice for 5 days before and 2 days after a half-marathon may lead to small to moderate transient increases in muscle soreness and inflammation in recreationally trained runners.
- The berries have a high concentration of polyphenols called anthocyanins, which some studies suggest may have health benefits.
What Do We Know About Safety?
- Bilberry fruit is considered safe when consumed in amounts typically found in foods, or as an extract for 6 months to a year.
- Bilberry leaves may be unsafe when taken orally (by mouth) in high doses or for long periods of time.
- Little is known about whether it’s safe to use bilberry during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. (Consuming amounts typically found in foods is considered safe.)
- Bilberry may interact with a cancer drug called erlotinib (Tarceval), antidiabetes drugs, or medications that slow blood clotting. If you’re taking medicine, talk with your health care provider before taking bilberry supplements.
Keep in Mind
- Take charge of your health—talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Together, you can make shared, well-informed decisions.
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- Bilberry. Natural Medicines website. Accessed at naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com on October 14, 2019. [Database subscription].
- Bilberry. LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury [Internet]. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Accessed at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548250/ on October 29. 2019.
- Lynn A, Garner S, Nelson N, et al. Effect of bilberry juice on indices of muscle damage and inflammation in runners competing a half-marathon: a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2018;15:22.
- Ozawa Y, Kawashima M, Inoue S, et al. Bilberry extract supplementation for preventing eye fatigue in video display terminal workers. Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging. 2015;19(5):548-554.
- Tjelle TE, Holtung L, Bøhn SK, et al. Polyphenol-rich juices reduce blood pressure measures in a randomized controlled trial in high normal and hypertensive volunteers. British Journal of Nutrition. 2015;114(7):1054-1063.
- Widén C, Coleman M, Critén M, et al. Consumption of bilberries controls gingival inflammation. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2015;16(5):10,665-10,673.
- Yamaura K, Shimada M, Ueno K. Anthocyanins from bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) alleviate pruritus in a mouse model of chronic allergic contact dermatitis. Pharmacognosy Research. 2011;3(3):173-177.
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