Like blueberries, bilberries are rich in anthocyanosides—plant pigments responsible for the fruit’s deep blue/violet color. Anthocyanosides belong to a larger class of phytochemicals known as flavonoids, which have strong antioxidant activity.
As antioxidants, the flavonoids in bilberry extract may help prevent damage caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the body. These unstable oxygen molecules are created by metabolic reactions that occur daily as a result of exercise, smoking, pollution and other factors. Excessive ROS production is associated with diseases such as cancer, CVD and Alzheimer’s. This helps explain the disease-preventive effects of diets high in flavonoid-rich fruits and vegetables.
It’s often claimed that bilberry extract can improve impaired vision. The idea that it can enhance visual acuity was popularized by WWII RAF pilots, who reportedly consumed bilberry jam to improve their night vision.
While some researchers doubt bilberry’s effectiveness for this purpose, it may be useful for other visual disorders.
For example, there is limited evidence bilberry could help relieve diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration—however, more work needs to be done before it can be recommended to treat any of these conditions.
Most of the research on bilberries has been performed using cell cultures, tissue samples or animals—human clinical trials are scarce. Nonetheless, the science looks promising, so far. In addition to their ability to scavenge ROS, berry anthocyanins have been shown to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic activities. Bilberry extracts specifically have been shown to have vasoprotective, myeloprotective and possible chemopreventive effects.
Bilberry extract is available in capsules or tablets. To be effective, supplements should be standardized to contain at least 25% anthocyanidins. Consumers should be aware that some bilberry supplements may be adulterated with amaranth-based food dye, in order to fool spectrophotometric quality control tests.
It’s best to purchase standardized extracts from companies using more sophisticated HPLC testing procedures.
Supplements of bilberry extract are extremely safe, and no known side effects or drug interactions have been reported.
Bilberry formulas are available from BodyBuilding.com, one of our recommended online retailers.