Latin: Vaccinium myrtillus, Vaccinium myrtilloides
WHAT THEY DO: Bilberries and blueberries are sour in taste and cooling in action. They remove inflammation and congestion from tiny blood vessels, strengthening vessel integrity and microcirculation; they prevent oxidative stress damage to the eye and to neuronal cells.
SAFETY ISSUES: None known
• Blueberries: eat fresh berries freely in season, use frozen berries during the off-season
• Bilberry extract: 60-180 mg anthocyanosides per day.
The colorful anthocyanoside pigment compounds in bilberries and [to a slightly lesser extent] blueberries find their way to the capillary vessel basement membranes and the surrounding collagen structures, where they neutralize free radicals which can weaken these tiny structures. Healthy and resilient capillary vessels are able to maintain their shape and function for normal, efficient microcirculation to prevent swelling in the surrounding tissues. This is very useful in the prevention of vascular complications of diabetes, and the improvement of night vision and overall visual acuity. For the same reasons, bilberries or blueberries can be used to treat intestinal inflammation, hemorrhoids, macular degeneration, rheumatoid arthiritis and varicose veins.
High doses of bilberry extract (and other flavonoids) act to strengthen the blood-brain barrier by acting on collagen fibers to protect sensitive peptide bonds from attack and actually restoring degraded basement membranes (Robert et al., 1977, 1997). Since weakness of the blood-brain barrier is a suspected component in many serious diseases such as multiple sclerosis and chronic fatigue syndrome, I often tell patients with nervous system weakness to use blueberries in fairly large quantities over a long period of time. Typically, I suggest that they eat one bag of frozen blueberries (this form seems to be the most convenient to obtain year-round) once or twice per week, pretty much forever. Most patients love this prescription. The stronger concentrated bilberry extracts are needed with more serious diseases such as MS and macular degeneration, unless your love to eat blueberries. The best thing about them is that, like raspberries and blackberries, they contain less sugar than most other fruit.
• The antioxidant action of bilberry extracts can help prevent the problems caused by elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol levels (Laplaud et al., 1997).
• Other reported benefits based upon pharmacological studies include wound healing, anti-ulcer action (Martin A et al., 1998), protection against damage to tendons, ligaments and cartilage (Monboisse et al., 1984)
• Of great interest to me was a 1997 study showing that bilberry extract in high dosage (equivalent to 180 mg. anthocyanosides per day) helped animals maintain normal permeability of the blood-brain barrier during induced hypertension. The same research group was able to demonstrate this over a series of experiments done over the next two decades (Robert et al., 1977; Robert et al., 1997).