Vision & Vitamins: What is bilberry?

Bilberry is a shrub that produces berries that resemble blueberries.  It is found in Northern and Central Europe.  In Scandanavia wild bilberries are the most common.  Various medicinal effects have been attributed to this natural source of antioxidants.  The compounds that are responsible for the dark color are anthocyanins.  This berry has been reported to lower blood sugar and lipids, and to fight inflammation.  Bilberry has been classified as safe when consumed appropriately by the American Herbal Products Association.

Does Bilberry improve night vision?  According modern folklore the Royal Air Force used Bilberry during the second world war to improve night vision – although the same claim is made for carrots.  There have been some peer reviewed studies (peer reviewed means the studies are analyzed by other scientists prior to being accepted for publication) over the years to suggest that there may be some benefits to Bilberry, but the dose has not been determined and the most of the studies are somewhat small.  So the benefit of bilberry to eye health is not strongly supported by science and future studies will be needed to find out the true benefits.

Is Bilberry better for the eyes than other antioxidants?  There does not seem to be any evidence that Bilberry is better, but since deeply colored fruits and vegetables all contain a variety of beneficial nutrients including antioxidants it makes some sense to include Bilberry along with a variety of other eye healthy foods.  A professor of mine once told me, “Eat a little bit of everything and not too much of any one thing.”  It is uncommon but it is possible to harm your health with supplements.  Consumer reports published an article about twelve supplements you should avoid. It is less likely to harm yourself with real food, but it is wise to be cautious about the amounts of vitamins that are in your diet.  For example, vitamin A is necessary for vision but too much can lead to blindness.  It would be unlikely to ingest too much vitamin A unless you eat polar bear livers, but in general more vitamins are not necessarily better.  The stuctures and biochemistry in the eye (just like the rest of your body) is like a delicate fine tuned watch which require specific amounts of various nutrients for the best function.  Mega doses of vitamins are like trying to fix the delicate watch with a hammer.  Bilberry shows promise as part of well rounded eye healthy diet.

If you have questions about laser vision correction or wish to book a complimentary evaluation with Dr. Anderson Penno, contact Western Laser Eye Associates.

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