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Bilberry



Background

The bilberry bush is a relative of the blueberry and is native to many areas, including the Rocky Mountains and regions of Europe and Asia.

Its berries and leaves have been used for medicinal purposes since the Middle Ages for a variety of conditions, including diarrhea, scurvy, infections, burns, and diabetes. During World War II, British pilots ate bilberry jam, thinking it would improve their night vision.

Today, bilberry is used as a dietary supplement for cardiovascular conditions, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, eye problems, diabetes, and other conditions.

Bilberry extract is sold in tablets, capsules, and drops, and the berries are sold dried and as a powder. The leaves are made into teas.

How Much Do We Know?

We have very few high-quality clinical trials (studies in people) of bilberry supplements.

What Have We Learned?

There’s not enough scientific evidence to support the use of bilberry for any health conditions.

Researchers are interested in bilberry in large part because its berries have a high concentration of antioxidants 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 in recommended doses for brief periods of time.

Bilberry leaves may be unsafe when taken orally (by mouth) in high doses or for long periods of time.

Keep in Mind

Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

Key References

  • Barrett M. Bilberry. In: Coates PM, Betz JM, Blackman MR, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Informa Healthcare; 2010:37-42.
  • Bilberry. Natural Medicines Web site. Accessed at naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com on March 24, 2015.

-NIH



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