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Bilberry, close relative of the blueberry and huckleberry, is a wild berry bush normally seen in Ireland, Scotland, and nearby places. Although the berries can be eaten, they are more likely to become jellies, juices, or pie fillings, and sometimes even become liquors and flavor syrups.

The bilberry is thought to have antioxidant properties. Some have claimed it improved gastrointestinal difficulties, night vision, and a host of other disorders. While most of this has not been clinically proven, some researchers have claimed it can reduce symptoms of macular degeneration.

Medicinal Claims

Because the berries contain tannins, which are astringents, it is said they have anti-diarrhea properties and can be of benefit when applied topically to wounds. However, when taken with laxatives, bilberry may increase the laxative effect, and there is little supporting evidence in favor of using bilberry in this manner.

Bilberry has also been used to help control blood glucose levels in diabetics, and there are currently studies being conducted that may indicate its effectiveness. If it does, indeed, have potential to help diabetics, it should be taken with extreme caution so as not to lower blood glucose in those taking insulin or those who suffer from hypoglycemia.

The antioxidant properties of bilberry may have merit, if antioxidants themselves turn out to have merit—there are still studies being done to determine this. As an antioxidant, bilberry will bond to free radicals that cause any number of debilitating illnesses, from cancer to heart disease to atherosclerosis. More research needs to be conducted on antioxidants in general, but it is known that the berries contain resveratrol, the much-touted antioxidant in red wine.

Other claims for bilberry include treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome, ulcers, night vision, and even nearsightnedness, none of which have any supporting empirical evidence.

Warnings and Interactions

Research has shown that, although treatment for diabetes has not been indicated, bilberry may lower blood sugar. When using bilberry with other drugs or supplements that lower blood sugar, take caution. You may need to use a glucose monitor to help you adjust your dosage.

If you are taking medicines or supplements that lower blood pressure, bilberry may increase or add to the effectiveness. It may also increase bleeding. Increased bleeding has been reported when using with garlic, ginko biloba, vitamin E, and saw palmetto—it may have the same effect with other blood thinning drugs.

If you are interested in using bilberry supplements, consider simply eating the fruit for the best benefits and fewer side effects and interactions. In any case, if you have a medical condition check with your health care practitioner before taking bilberry supplements, and educate yourself on possible ill effects.

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