Bilberry (Vaccinium Myrtillus) is a small shrub found primarily in northern and central Europe. It produces small, round berries that are deep purple in color and very similar to its close relatives, the blueberry and huckleberry. Bilberry extract is made from the dried leaves and berries of the bilberry shrub.
Bilberry has been used for centuries as a natural remedy, but the extract has enjoyed a surge of popularity as a treatment for vision problems since World War II. Legend has it that eating bilberry jam improved the night vision of British fighter pilots. While there is no hard evidence of this legend being true, there is reason to believe that bilberry may improve eye health.
Bilberry extract is rich in anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants, and they're responsible for giving the bilberry its dark purple color. Anthocyanins are believed to reduce inflammation, limit free radical damage, help prevent collagen damage, and protect blood vessels and capillaries. The bilberry's high anthocyanin content is especially important for good eye health because many eye disorders (such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration) are caused by or worsened by weakening blood vessels, collagen damage, and poor circulation to the eye.
Cataracts and macular degeneration are both usually caused by age or diabetes. They are also both primary causes of blindness worldwide. They progress slowly and eventually develop symptoms such as blurred vision, light sensitivity, difficulty seeing at night and, if left untreated, blindness. The anthocyanins in bilberry extract help promote good circulation to the eyes and may help prevent and slow the progression of cataracts and macular degeneration, especially when caused by diabetes.
Glaucoma is a painless, often unnoticed eye disease caused by damage to the optic nerve (usually leading to increased eye pressure). Glaucoma will eventually cause vision loss and blindness. It's believed that the antioxidant benefits of bilberry extract, especially when combined with conventional treatment, may help slow the progression of glaucoma.
Rhodopsin is a purple pigment found in the retina that helps the eyes adjust from light to dark. It is critical to have adequate rhodopsin levels in the eyes to maintain good night vision. Age, diabetes, vitamin A deficiency, and eye trauma can all reduce rhodopsin levels. The anthocyanins in bilberry extract are believed to help maintain and encourage the growth of rhodopsin levels in the eyes.
Bilberry extract also contains tannins, another type of antioxidant. Tannins are known for their strong astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, the tannins found in tea are why placing tea bags on the eyes helps reduce swelling and irritation. The tannins found in bilberry extract may help overall eye health by stimulating blood vessels and improving circulation to the eyes.
Although research is still ongoing to determine the precise vision benefits of bilberry extract, it's reasonably proven that this supplement contains powerful antioxidants that may not only benefit eye health, but overall health in general.