Bilberry, a berry similar to blueberry, contains acanthocyanins, which are antioxidants that can help prevent damage to cell DNA. The berry become popular as a folk remedy for increasing night vision when Royal Air Force pilots in World War II ate it in jams before bombing runs at night. While bilberry has a place in folklore, scientific proof of its effects on vision is lacking.
Bilberry, like most fruits and vegetables, contains a number of compounds that can improve health by reducing inflammation or halting cell damage caused by aging, environmental contaminants or chronic disease. Anthocyanins can increase production of rhodopsin, a pigment that improves night vision and helps your eye adjust to light changes, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Tannins in bilberry might help prevent inflammation, which can damage blood vessel walls and lead to cardiac problems. Anthocyanins might also act as an anticoagulant, preventing blood clots.
A British review of studies published in the January-February 2004 issue of "Survey of Ophthalmology" found no conclusive evidence that bilberry produced better night vision. Researchers concluded that more and better-designed human studies are needed.
The retina is the area most responsible for clear, sharp vision in the eye. Common retinal disorders include age-related macular degeneration, which result in central vision loss, bleeding related to vascular damage from diabetes or other chronic diseases and inflammatory conditions. Bilberry might have some benefit in treating retinal conditions, although this has not been conclusively proved. A Japanese study reported in the January 2012 issue of "Laboratory Investigation: A Journal of Technical Methods and Pathology" found that bilberry extract reduced retinal inflammation in mice. Bilberry's blood-thinning properties could improve circulation to the retina, which might prevent diabetic retinopathy, according to MedlinePlus.
Bilberry has been used in alternative medicine to treat cataracts -- the clouding of the lens in the eye that normally occurs with aging -- and glaucoma, a disease that involves increased pressure within the eyeball. Bilberry has no proven benefit in preventing or treating glaucoma, according to MayoClinic.com. There also isn't enough evidence to evaluate the effectiveness of bilberry in treating or preventing cataracts, MedlinePlus reports.
- MedlinePlus: Bilberry
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Bilberry
- MayoClinic.com: Glaucoma
- Laboratory Investigation: A Journal of Technical Methods and Pathology: Vision Preservation During Retinal Inflammation by Anthocyanin-rich Bilberry Extract: Cellular and Molecular Mechanism
- Survey of Ophthalmology: Anthocyanosides of Vacciniu Myrtillus (Bilberry) for Night Vision -- A Systematic Review of Placebo-Controlled Trials
A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.