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Sometimes known as the huckleberry, the bilberry is a fruit that has been used for centuries for a variety of healing purposes. One of the ways in which this plant has been used therapeutically is to promote healthy eyes and better vision. Vitamins contained in the berries are among those required for proper eye function. Scientific studies have suggested that taking bilberry for the eyes may contain other benefits in the form of compounds like anthocyanins, which have been shown to have roles in improving night vision and preventing cataract damage.
Historically, bilberries have usually been taken for treating gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea. One of the first references to taking bilberry for the eyes comes from World War II, when British pilots flying at night claimed they could see better when they ate jam made from the fruit before missions. Other anecdotal evidence for the benefits of bilberry claims that it can repair damage from eye disorders like macular degeneration.
Scientific studies have not universally supported these claims, but do seem to show that taking bilberry for the eyes can provide some benefits. The roles of vitamins A and C in assisting with good eyesight are well-documented, and this fruit contains high levels of both. Flavonoids are another abundant class of compounds found in the bilberry. These compounds are antioxidants, which help protect the body from damage by molecules called free radicals.
Anthocyanins are another class of compounds found in this fruit. Taking bilberry for the eyes may confer some of its benefits due to multiple functions of these molecules. Certain studies involving anthocyanins have not shown any significant improvement in eyesight. Others, such as a study performed at a Japanese university, found that test subjects taking anthocyanins typically adapted to dark conditions more quickly, and were better able to absorb low levels of light. This increased absorption allowed some study participants to make use of minimal light to see.
The main benefit of taking bilberry for the eyes may come from helping to repair stress-related damage. Researchers from Tufts University in Boston found that anthocyanins from an extract of this fruit activated certain defensive pathways in the eyes. These pathways allowed cells to produce certain enzymes that helped to protect and repair cells from stress-related damage. More research is needed to determine how effective bilberry is at encouraging damage repair, but this study could provide backing for claims that this plant can help to heal damage from eye disorders.
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