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Bilberries: A Fruit of the Past Finds Hope in the Future

Filed Under: Herbs at 9:19 am | By: Susan Coyle, Senior Editor
BilberryUntil recently, mentioning bilberries  to me would have elicited nothing more than a confused look. Did you mean blueberries? Those, I’ve heard of, but bilberries . . . My ignorance could be attributed to the fact that, as far as bilberries are concerned, I’m geographically-challenged. I didn’t grow up in the hills of Northern Europe or the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, where small shrubs blossom with them each year. As such, I’ve missed out on a fruit that routinely fills pies and jam jars, and has been relied on, for its medicinal benefits, for centuries.

In the Middle Ages, bilberries were primarily used to induce menstruation. However, by the 18th century, the dark, juicy orbs were being dispensed to treat bladder and liver problems, typhoid fever, skin infections and scurvy. They gained real fame, though, during World War II. British Royal Air Force pilots devoured bilberry jam before missions in an attempt to improve night vision.  Seeing as they continued to do so after the first experiment, I would assume it worked well. Since then, bilberries have been used to prevent macular degeneration, poor night vision, myopia, diarrhea and minor inflammations. Today, they are not the most common of fruits, found more often than not in supplement form, and they’re health benefits are inconclusively supported. But, they’re future still looks bright.

Researchers have recently begun testing the effects of bilberry extract on colorectal and liver cancer.  Laboratory tests have already proven that they can slow colorectal cancer’s development, but clinical trials are necessary to determine their actual strength in humans. It looks promising however, and I wouldn’t say you have to wait around for the final results. Bilberry is safe, so try some supplements. Worst case, you’ll find that you haven’t been fighting cancer. Best case, you will have, and I’m willing to bet it’s going to be a best-case scenario.

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