Bilberry for Eye Health

Bilberry for eye health
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A fruit closely related to the blueberry, bilberry is rich in antioxidant compounds known as anthocyanins. Bilberry is purported to improve the health of the eyes and protect against eye conditions like age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma.

The Research on Bilberry's Benefits for the Eyes

Few studies have tested the effects of bilberries on eye health. Here's a look at several findings from the available research:

Night Vision

The use of bilberries to improve night vision dates back to its use by British Royal Air Force pilots during World War II. Later research, however, suggests it probably didn't help. The National Institutes of Health deems bilberry "possibly ineffective" for improving night vision.

Indeed, a 2004 review from the journal Survey of Ophthalmology found little scientific support for the theory that bilberry can sharpen night vision in people with healthy eyes. In their analysis of 30 clinical trials, the review's authors also found "a complete absence of rigorous research" on bilberry's effects on night vision in people with diseases of the eyes.

Eye Fatigue

Bilberry may help to reduce eye fatigue brought on by video display terminal use, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging. For the study, office workers aged 20 to 40 who used video display terminals took either a bilberry extract or a placebo daily for eight weeks. At the study's end, some of the symptoms of eye fatigue (such as eye pain, heaviness, discomfort, and foreign body sensation) were reduced to a greater extent in those taking the bilberry extract.

Other Eye Conditions 

Some studies suggest that bilberry supplements may be of some benefit to the eyes. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), for instance, classifies bilberry as "possibly effective" for the treatment of eye problems linked to diabetes and high blood pressure (also known as hypertension).

In particular, bilberry may help prevent diabetes- and hypertension-related blood vessel damage known to impair the retina (a nerve layer involved in sensing light). The antioxidants in bilberry are also thought to strengthen the walls of blood vessels, as well as curb inflammation.

For a 2001 report in Alternative Medicine Review, investigators sized up the available research on natural therapies for diseases of the eyes. Results revealed that bilberry shows promise in the treatment of glaucoma, although the report's authors caution that the evidence for this use is "very preliminary."

The report also indicates that bilberry may help treat cataracts, a condition linked to free-radical-induced damage. According to the report's authors, bilberry contains potent antioxidant compounds "with a particular affinity for the eye."

Side Effects

Bilberry fruit is generally considered safe for most people when the fruit is consumed in typical amounts in food. Little is known about the safety of bilberry in supplement form, particularly when taken regularly or in large doses.

There's some concern that bilberry extracts may lower blood sugar levels. You shouldn't take bilberry supplements within two weeks of a scheduled surgery.

Keep in mind that self-treating any eye condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

The Takeaway

There isn't enough scientific support for the use of bilberry for eye conditions. If you're still considering using bilberry to treat any eye condition, make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen.

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