Does Bilberry Help Cataracts?

Kathleen Roberts
Pair of glasses atop an eye-exam chart

People seeking herbal remedies for their cataracts often turn to bilberry, but does it work? Several studies indicate it may help prevent cataracts, but it does not change existing cataracts. If you've been diagnosed with cataracts, talk to your doctor about treatmen options.

About Cataracts

A cataract is a clouding or opacity that develops in the lens of the eye. It is a progressive, albeit painless, condition that causes vision loss and eventually, total blindness if left untreated. Some of the symptoms of cataracts include fuzzy or blurry vision, increased glare and changes in color vision.

Cataracts are one of the world's leading causes of vision loss and blindness, particularly among aging populations. They are closely associated with the aging of the eye and are most common among people who are 50 to 60 years of age and older. In fact, more than half of the people over the age of 80 in the US have had a cataract. Bilberry has been proven to help cataracts by protecting the eye against the formation of cataracts.

What Is Bilberry?

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is also known as European blueberry, whortleberry, huckleberry and burren myrtle. It grows in Europe and North America. Not only is bilberry fruit used in pies and jams, but berries of the plant are also used medicinally in the form of supplements as well as in tea.

How Does Bilberry Help Cataracts?

At the height of the Second World War, pilots in the British Royal Air Force took bilberry jelly just before take-off for missions, reporting that it significantly improved their night vision. The results of a subsequent clinical study by French scientists were found to support their claims.

Today, a large body of scientific evidence has since associated the bilberry with a lower incidence of cataracts and other eye conditions. The mechanism by which bilberry helps cataracts is attributed to one of its biologically active constituents called anthocyanoside flavonoids (anthocyanins). Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that help prevent cataract formation or slow down their progression by fighting the most common underlying cause of cataract formation.

Several factors are believed to cause cataracts, but the most prevalent factor is damage caused by chemicals called free radicals. Free radicals are the by-products of the body's normal metabolism, as well as toxins in food and in the environment. As the body ages, free radicals are increasingly harmful to the cells of the eye, causing cataracts and other eye conditions associated with aging.

In a healthy eye, antioxidants are produced and recycled to neutralize free radicals as they circulate in the eye's tiny blood vessels (capillaries). Bilberry's anthocyanins supplement the body's natural antioxidants, and help neutralize the free radicals, preventing them from doing damage to the eyes.

As the eye ages, its capillaries become increasingly fragile and less efficient in supplying nutrients and oxygen to the eye cells. This causes metabolic changes that leave the eye vulnerable to free-radical damage. Bilberry's anthocyanins strengthen the walls of the eye's blood vessels, significantly improving blood circulation within the eye. This in turn increases the delivery of oxygen-rich blood to the eye, further inhibiting damage caused by free radicals.

Another ocular health benefit provided by bilberry is an increase in the rate of regeneration of rhodopsin. This is a photosensitive pigment that is essential for helping the eye respond appropriately to light and dark. It also boosts collagen in the eye capillaries, which has been found to improve vision, particularly in older persons.

Cautions

Bilberry is generally considered safe with no side effects. That said, taking bilberry in very high doses can cause problems. Bilberry is high in tannins which can cause muscle spasms, weight loss or death if too much is consumed.

If you are taking any type of anticoagulant, including aspirin, bilberry could increase the effect of the drug. Also, if you are diabetic bilberry could make your the effect of your medications stronger because it naturally lowers blood sugar. Because of these possibilities, it is important to discuss bilberry with your doctor before you take it to avoid potential interactions. As with all herbs, do not take bilberry without the approval of your doctor or heath care provider.

If you are experiencing vision problems, be sure to discuss this with your eye care professional. Do not ignore symptoms or try to treat them yourself without a proper diagnosis.

Promote Eye Health

While cataracts can be removed by a relatively safe and painless surgical procedure, surgery does not restore eyesight back to normal. As such, prevention is better than cure when it comes to cataracts. As an herbal remedy, bilberry may offer a natural way to prevent or treat cataracts.

Does Bilberry Help Cataracts?