This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
During World War II, British Royal Air Force pilots swore by the bilberry, a cousin of the blueberry, to keep their eyes sharp. They would eat a good dose of bilberry jam just prior to a nighttime bombing mission. They thought it improved their vision, often dramatically, and improved their accuracy on bombing missions.
Subsequent studies have shown that bilberry contains active ingredients known as anthocyanosides. These substances protect the retina of the eye by strengthening the walls of blood vessels and reducing inflammation. Many problems in the retina start with inflamed, leaky capillaries. Fluid seeps out of capillaries and damages cells in the retina. In fact, retinal damage, including macular degeneration, is one of the most common causes of blindness in older people.
Studies have shown just how helpful bilberry can be to eyes. Bilberry extract has been shown to help stop retinal damage caused by diabetes or high blood pressure (Ann Ottalmol Clin Ocul. 1987;113:1173-7), improve night vision (Altern Med Rev. 2000;5(2):164-173) and may inhibit or reverse eye disorders such as cataracts and glaucoma. (Altern Med Rev. 2001;6(2):141-166.)
The active ingredients in bilberry are similar to proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs) found in grape seed. For that reason, bilberry has been recommended for many of the same therapeutic uses as OPCs. These include treatment of easy bruising, varicose veins, minor injuries and for surgery support. Research shows it can even help hemorrhoids.
If you decide to supplement with bilberry, be sure to use an extract standardized to contain at least 25% anthocyanosides. Bilberry works especially well with other blood vessel-protecting nutrients, such as grape seed extract, alpha lipoic acid and gingko.
Taking good care of your eyes is imperative if you want to maintain a high quality of life as you age. Age-related vision loss affects over 30 million Americans over the age of 40, but as more and more research is showing, you can avoid it by being proactive! Numerous studies show that vision loss can largely be prevented with antioxidants such as those found in bilberry.