Bilberry: Macular Degeneration & Cataracts


European Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)

Bilberry is one of the anti-oxidant rich fruits which are commonly recommended for vision conditions as well as being helpful for many other health conditions. It’s a common component in many nutritional formulations intending for vision.

There has been preliminary evidence that bilberries may help inhibit or even reverse macular disorders such as macular degeneration. Wikipedia points out that because they contain a lot of anthocyanin pigments (very dark blue) they may reduce risk for problems of the heart and cardiovascular system, eyes, and cancer.

Bilberry, a cousin to our native American blueberry or huckleberry, is, according to Wikipedia,

“… is a name given to several species of low-growing shrubs in the genus Vaccinium (family Ericaceae) that bears fruits. The species most often referred to is Vaccinium myrtillus L., otherwise known as the European blueberry. Other names are blaeberry, whortleberry, whinberry (or winberry), wimberry, myrtle blueberry, fraughan, and other names regionally.”

They don’t grow well domestically and so are harvested wild. Wikipedia points out, in fact, that it is a right, in most European countries to harvest bilberries anywhere, on anyone’s property, except in the owner’s own private garden. Public domain!

Why do bilberries help? Apparently primarily because they contain powerful anti-oxidants. More specifically, their flavonoids contain an unusually large amount of antioxidants. Flavonoids are organic compounds not directly involved in normal growth, but which assist in healthy maintenance, and whose lack causes problems.

An abstract in Advances in Gerontology, a Russian publication, discusses treatment of rats with cataracts and macular degeneration.
The abstract points out that:

“Bilberry’s flavonoids are known as potent antioxidants, scavenging free radicals and used for multiple age-related ocular disorders.”

The Russian researchers used rats with early senile cataract and macular degeneration. They were given a diet with 25% bilberry extract over a 1.5 to 3 month period (with vitamin E as a comparison). 70% of the rats given vitamin E had cataracts and macular degeneration, and those who received bilberry extract had none.

In one Italian study (I could not find the original research) 50 people with early cataract took bilberry extracts 3 times a day – the treatment stopped the progression of cataracts in 97% of the participants. Source: 100 Healing Herbs. Another study published in Alternative Medicine Review, 2001, mentions bilberry as a possible aid for cataracts.

Bilberry is a major ingredient of Dr. Grossman’s Advanced Eye & Vision Support Formula, and is been part of his recommended protocol for patients with macular degeneration and other macular conditions and cataracts.

100 Healing Herbs, Castleman, Michael