Bilberry, also known as European blueberry, Vaccinium myrtillus, and Vaccinium corymbosum, is a perennial shrub. It is native to northern Europe, Canada and the US. Bilberry has sharp edged, green branches and black wrinkled berries and is a relative of blueberry, cranberry, and huckleberry. Bilberry has been used medicinally for centuries for scurvy, urinary infections, diarrhea and night blindness.
The active chemicals of bilberry are known as anthocyanosides, a plant pigment with strong antioxidant properties. Bilberry also contains vitamin C, another rich antioxidant. Antioxidants scavenge free radicals and help to prevent and even reverse damage to cells. Anthocyanosides support normal formation of connective tissue, strengthen capillaries and improve blood circulation. Bilberry protects cholesterol from oxidizing in test tubes, which might help prevent atheroscleorosis. Bilberry has also been suggested as a treatment for retinopathy, prevention of cataracts and improved night blindness. Bilberry might also play a role in controlling blood sugar and in the prevention of blood vessel thickening seen in diabetes. Bilberry also contains tannins, an anti-inflammatory, believed to help in diarrhea by possibly reducing intestinal inflammation. More research is necessary before bilberry is proved to support these above uses.
Bilberry supplements can be found as dried berries it can be made into tea and is found in capsules and tablets. It should be standardized to provide 25% anthocyanosides. For eye conditions and circulation 80-480 mg a day in 2-3 divided doses has been traditionally used in the past. In general, in the treatment of diarrhea, dried bilberry should be used as a tea (5 to 10 g of crushed dried bilberries boiled in 2/3 cup of boiled water. Bilberry is considered generally safe although if taken in large quantities or over an extended length of time can cause muscle spasms and severe weight loss. It should not in theory be combined with anticoagulants, since bilberry can decrease clotting, or with diabetic medications since it can lower blood sugar, possibly making diabetic medications more potent. Herbal supplements should always be discussed with your physician and should not be given to pregnant, breast-feeding moms or children.
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