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Bilberry: The Underrated Wonder Berry

Everyone talks about strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries. However, most people haven’t heard about the bilberry, the plant relative to traditional berries, including blueberries and huckleberries. Bilberry, which means dark berry, is a plant native to northern Europe. These tiny, round fruits are high in anthocyanin, a chemical that gives them their distinctive dark purple colour. Its dark berries resemble blueberries. Unfortunately, not many people know what bilberry is, while blueberries are very popular.

People love blueberries because they are snackable and packed with nutrients and antioxidants. A less known fact is that bilberries have nearly four times the antioxidant content of blueberries! Historically, bilberry suits well for multiple medicinal purposes, including diarrhoea, inflammation of the mouth, urinary problems, and diabetes. For example, British pilots ate bilberry jam during World War II before a night mission, thinking it would improve their vision. This tangy, fruity and mildly sweet berry is eaten fresh, frozen, or dried. You can also make them into jams, juices, liquors, pies, and yoghurts.

Nutritional Profile of Bilberries

A 100 grams portion of fresh bilberries contains the following nutrients:

Calories: 44 kcalProtein: 0.7 gCarbohydrates: 11.5 gFibre: 2.8 gVitamin C: 44 mgVitamin A: 1.08 RE (Retinol Equivalents)Quercetin: 3 mgCatechin: 20 mgCalcium: 15 mg

The total anthocyanin falls between 300 and 700 mg per 100 grams. Therefore, bilberries carry more antioxidant power as they are higher in total anthocyanins. It also comprises approximately 90% water and has higher levels of cyanidin, delphinidin, and peonidin. 

The HealthifyMe Note

Like most berries, bilberries are extremely rich in nutrients. Since bilberries are nutritionally similar to huckleberries, they show almost the same nutritional profile. Bilberries impart various health benefits owing to their nutritional profile. The most critical nutrients that make bilberries healthy are Catechin and vitamins C and A.  However, it is abundant in essential minerals and vitamins and is beneficial for moderate consumption.

Potential Health Benefits of Bilberry

Slows Down Myopia Progression

A study shows that the administration of oral Difrarel, a type of bilberry extract drug, stopped the progression of high myopia in children. Furthermore, the drug effect of bilberry extract was consistent after its discontinuation for one year. 

Bilberry has a long history of treating eye disorders and promoting vision. The benefits of bilberry on different elements of eye and ocular illnesses, such as cataracts, retinopathy, macular degeneration, and night vision, have been studied extensively. 

Bilberry Helps Control Gingivitis (Gum Inflammation)

Specific molecules in bilberries can help minimise the risks of oral diseases. A study established the relationship between eating bilberries and oral health. Bilberries can lower gingivitis indicators to a level comparable to standard dental treatment. In addition, it appears that intake of 500 g of bilberries controls gingival inflammation by reducing the pro-inflammatory levels of cytokines. 

Lower Blood Sugar Levels

As per research, bilberries work as a herbal remedy to control blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. It was one of the ten most frequently suggested herbal remedies that regulate blood sugar levels naturally. 

Studies say that consuming bilberries increases insulin secretion, which can help manage diabetes. The beneficial effect of anthocyanin-rich bilberries helps promote better glycemic control and insulin secretion. 

Bilberry Prevents and Treats Chronic Diseases

As stated earlier, bilberries have a unique, deep purple colour because they are rich in anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are pigments found in the plant kingdom. Research shows that anthocyanins have anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, antimicrobial and mutagenic properties. These properties of anthocyanins play a critical role in preventing or treating many chronic diseases such as health issues, eye diseases, cancer and metabolic disorder.

Reduce Diarrhoea and Throat Irritation

Bilberry contains chemicals called tannins. Tannins are bitter-tasting compounds that bind proteins. A study concludes that tannins can help improve acute diarrhoea. As a result, bilberries offer you with antidiarrheal effects of tannin. In addition, research shows that tannins in fruits are natural defence systems against microbial diseases and hence can aid with tongue and throat irritation by decreasing the swelling.

Treatment for Bacterial Diseases

As discussed earlier, bilberries are high in tannins. As per research, tannins have antimicrobial properties that protect you from pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms in food. Additionally, bilberries can treat ulcerative colitis, an anti-inflammatory bowel disease. 

In a study, people experiencing ulcerative colitis experienced improvement after treatment with an oral anthocyanin-rich bilberry supplement.

Bilbuerry Keeps you Hydrated

Bilberry is a water-rich food because 85% of its weight comes from water. Research shows that water-rich foods keep you hydrated and prevent dehydration. Therefore, bilberries can be great to eat, especially during summers and in tropical areas.

Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Its symptoms include abnormal cholesterol, excess body fat around the waist, high blood pressure and sugar. However, a study has proven that bilberries can reduce low-grade inflammation in individuals with metabolic syndrome because bilberries are rich in polyphenols, which have anti-inflammatory properties.

Neuroprotective effects:

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease risk can be decreased by bilberry consumption. These neurological problems are relieved by the fruit’s phenolic components.

Improves Heart Health

Cardiovascular disorders are the leading cause of death worldwide. The main reason for CVD is atherosclerosis, an inflammatory process that destroys arteries, veins, and capillaries’ inner cellular lining. The anthocyanins in bilberries contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that protect the heart. In addition, bilberry’s hypoglycemic and antiobesity properties make it a helpful fruit for heart health.

How to Include Bilberries in Your Diet?

Since bilberries have a more intense, fruity, sweet, and tangy flavour, they are the perfect berries for your smoothies, juices and yoghurt.Bilberries are sold fresh, frozen, or whole dried berries and eaten as is because they are delicious, nutrient-packed snacks.You can also add bilberries to your diet as a part of any recipe. Bilberry jam pairs very well with toast and oatmeal for breakfast.Bilberries can also be healthy ingredients in baked goods such as pancakes, muffins, cakes, tarts and pies.In fact, as per the USDA, producing bilberry-based snacks can help the food industry build more sustainable and healthier snacks.

The HealthifyMe Note

Many people eat vitamins and supplements in various forms. Bilberry supplements are available in multiple formulations, including tablets, powder, capsules and drops. Studies have established the efficiency of bilberry supplements in improving glucose and cholesterol metabolism. In addition, bilberry supplements can improve heart health, control blood sugar levels and boost vision. However, do not take high doses and stick to the prescribed amounts. 

Storage and Food Safety

You can keep bilberries in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks. Remember to always wash them before eating or cooking with them. You can also freeze the berries to extend their shelf life. Place the bilberries in an airtight container and freeze them. They should last 8 to 12 months if stored in this manner.

Precautions When Consuming Bilberry

The dried, ripe fruit of bilberry is safe for most people when eaten in moderate amounts. The fruit extracts are also possibly safe for medicinal uses. You can take it by mouth for six months to a year. However, it can be unsafe when taken orally in high doses for long periods. In addition, there is no solid evidence to back up whether bilberry and its extract are safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding. 

Some other side effects of bilberry are:

Allergies

Bilberry-related allergy responses are relatively uncommon. However, those with blueberry or huckleberry sensitivity might be allergic to bilberries. Common allergy symptoms include rash, swelling and itching of the face/tongue/throat, severe dizziness, or problems breathing. 

Drug Interactions

Bilberries or bilberry supplements can interact with certain medications. For instance, as per research, bilberry interacts with a cancer drug called Erlotinib (Tarceva). In addition, high doses of bilberry may interfere with antidiabetic medicines or medications that slow blood clotting. Therefore, before eating bilberries or bilberry supplements, check with your doctor to ensure there are no drug interactions. 

Pregnant women should avoid taking bilberry supplements because the consequences of eating them during pregnancy are relatively unknown.

No Definite Dosage of Bilberry Supplements

The recommended daily dosage of bilberry supplements is quite unpredictable. Although a study suggests taking 80–1,000 mg of bilberry supplements once or twice daily, it’s impossible to tell how much is appropriate as a daily dose without considering your personal needs and health status. In addition, although supplement manufacturers usually include a serving size recommendation, this might differ from person to person. Therefore, always consult with a doctor before taking bilberry supplements.

Conclusion

Bilberry offers a healthy dose of anthocyanins and minerals essential for the body. You can add bilberries into your daily diet as a snack to get the most of this healthy food. In addition, data support the use of bilberry for many health conditions. For example, bilberries are suitable for treating eye disorders, reducing gum inflammation and bleeding, and regulating blood sugar levels.

Taking bilberry supplements can also help you get that daily dose of nutrients and benefits of the anthocyanins. However, it might interact with cancer drugs called erlotinib and antidiabetic medications. Moreover, there is not enough evidence about the use of bilberry during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Therefore, stay on the safe side and talk with your doctor before taking bilberry supplements. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What is bilberry good for?

A. Bilberry is suitable for treating various conditions such as diarrhoea, inflammation of the mouth, urinary problems, eye disorders, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, mainly because it is rich in anthocyanin. You can eat them fresh, frozen, or dried.

Q. Why is bilberry good for the eyes?

A. The use of bilberry for eye disorders and vision enhancement is very well-known. It helps treat cataracts, macular degeneration, retinopathy and age-related and diabetes-related vision loss. In addition, bilberry extract-based drugs help reduce retinal inflammation and myopia progression due to the anti-inflammatory properties that slow blood clotting.

Q. What are the side effects of bilberry?

A. Bilberries can interact with certain medications. For instance, bilberry interacts with the cancer medication Erlotinib (Tarceva). In addition, some data also suggest that bilberry may interfere with antidiabetic medicines. 

Q. Who should not take bilberry?

A. Those who are allergic to bilberries or taking medications which may interact with bilberries should avoid them. Furthermore, the effects of bilberry supplements during pregnancy are uncertain, so they should be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Q. Can you take bilberry every day?

A. When eaten in average amounts, bilberries are considered safe for most people. However, taking higher doses of bilberry or supplements is unsuitable for your health. It can trigger adverse drug interactions and severe allergic reactions. 

Q. Does bilberry have vitamin C?

A. Yes, it does. Around 100 grams of uncooked, fresh bilberries contain 44 mg of Vitamin C. Bilberries are also rich in other nutrients like vitamin A and anthocyanins. 

Q. Which is better: lutein or bilberry?

A. Bilberry has the edge over lutein in its ability to dilate blood vessels. In addition, the increased vasodilator nature of bilberry is suitable for your eyesight. Therefore, bilberry is better than lutein.

Q. How much bilberry should I take daily?

A. The daily dose of bilberry supplements is quite unpredictable. Although a study suggests taking 80–1,000 mg of bilberry supplements once or twice daily, it changes according to your personal needs and health. The typical dose of dried, ripe bilberries is about 20-60 grams daily. 

Q. Is bilberry the same as berberine?

A. No, it is not. While bilberry is the wild European plant of the cowberry family, berberine is a chemical from organic chemistry. It is a class of alkaloids initially obtained as a bitter, yellow substance from the barberry root, gold thread, and other plants.

Q. Does bilberry help with night vision?

A. Yes, it does. Bilberry treats eye diseases and supports vision enhancement, including night vision enhancement. It contains Vitamin A, essential for your eyes. Moreover, British pilots ate bilberry jam before a night mission during World War II to improve their night vision. 

Q. Is bilberry good for eye floaters?

A. Bilberry is highly beneficial in treating eye diseases. For example, if you have floaters in your eyesight, several bilberry extracts and supplements claim to help. Bilberry has the potential to lessen or eliminate this illness significantly.

Q. Does bilberry contain zinc?

A. The USDA does not provide precise nutrition information for bilberries, but it does discuss raw huckleberries, which have no mention of zinc. However, some studies link bilberries to zinc content, while others even recommend using bilberries to combat the common cold due to their ‘high’ zinc concentration.

Q. Does bilberry help with weight loss?

A. Since bilberries are high in flavonoids and polyphenols, they may help with weight loss. When combined with calorie-restricted diets, polyphenols help people lose weight. Additionally, bilberries reduce the risk of obesity in type 2 diabetes.

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