NATURAL MEDICINE CHEST: Eyeing the Bilberry

NATURAL MEDICINE CHEST: Eyeing the Bilberry

Let's discuss the bilberry, Vaccinium myrtillus, and its medicinal effects on the visual and cardiovascular systems.

The bilberry, a close relative of the blueberry, cranberry, and huckleberry is a member of the Vaccinium plant family. When British pilots in the Royal Air Force during World War II began consuming bilberry jam for several weeks prior to night missions in order to improve their night vision, doctors and scientists began to wonder if there was any basis of fact in this peculiar dietary ritual.

Researchers began to study and attempt to isolate the medicinal effects of the bilberry. Eventually, they discovered that the berry's coloring agents were responsible for the special visual enhancing powers of bilberry, and named the compound anthocyanadin, a member of the bioflavonoid family of compounds.

Anthocyanidins are actual plant pigments responsible for the deep hues of red, blue, or purple color of the Vaccinium family members, as well as the fruits of all plants of this color. As the fruit ripens, the concentration of the flavonoids increases. Most modern research has been done with an extract containing 25 percent anthocyanidins.

The eyes function by allowing light through the lens, which is refracted and projected onto the posterior portion of the eye, called the retina. The retina contains many light receptors called rods and cones, which utilize a vitamin A containing photosensitive pigment system called rhodopsin. Rhodopsin receives light and translates its energy through biochemical changes into a nerve impulse, which is then conducted to the brain through the optic nerve, where the brain does the actual seeing.

The anthocyanidins from bilberry accelerated the regeneration rate of this visual system in animal models, and human clinical trials in Europe revealed that the subjects experienced reduced visual fatigue and improved light to dark adjustments. Other studies illustrated that the flavonoids of the bilberry are among the most potent antioxidants and protect the eye from photooxidative free radical damage from light. Studies from Germany revealed that anthocyanidins can prevent and even reverse early cataract formation.

So, as we can see, there's more to eating berries than meets the eye. Don't forget to include these non-toxic, delicious, medicinal fruits and standardized extracts as you reach into...the Natural Medicine Chest.

Measurements & Data Corporation.

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By Eugene R. Zamperion and Ellen J. Kamhi

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