European Bilberries

September 5, 2012 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Last week I had the good fortune of visiting Venice, Italy for the very first time. Along the way, I snapped countless photographs to share with family and friends. And, as I consider you all a part of my circle of family and friends, I’d like to take this opportunity to share several highlights from time away from home: The Doge’s Palace; The Pigeons of Piazza San Marco; Fresh Melon and Prosciutto; The Venice Film Festival; Stormy Venice Flag. While in Venice, one of the details I noticed each morning at breakfast was an assortment of jams and pastries featuring bilberries. For those who don’t already know, European bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) are closely related to huckleberries and wild blueberries indigenous to North America.

There is a growing body of evidence to support the popularity of bilberries in Italy and other European countries, which also points to their medicinal potential. In particular, an upcoming paper appearing in the October 2012 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that eating 1 to 2 portions of berries daily may improve the function and health of arteries and lower the incidence of heart disease. In addition, a trial involving the use of a standardized bilberry and black currant extract was recently shown to positively influence cardiovascular risk markers by decreasing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and systemic inflammation, and elevating HDL (“good”) cholesterol. The supplement in question provided a total of 320 mg/day of a form of berry antioxidants known as anthocyanins. Other breaking research reveals that bilberry extracts may also counteract the symptoms of various diseases including glaucoma (a leading cause of vision loss) and ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease).

Baked goods and sweetened fruit preserves are not a very constructive way of deriving the benefits of any kind of berry. The refined flour and/or sugar added to such delicacies negate much of the inherent healthful properties found in the fruit itself. However, not all forms of processing are detrimental to the attributes associated with raw berries. In fact, a group of Italian scientists recently discovered that blanching bilberries actually improves their antioxidant effects in vivo. So, if you find a way to make low glycemic jams and/or pastries at home, do so with the knowledge that they will likely support the health of your eyes, cardiovascular and digestive systems, and much more.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 – Higher Anthocyanin Intake is Associated with Lower Arterial Stiffness (link)

Study 2 – Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Purified Dietary Anthocyanin in Adults(link)

Study 3 – Ginkgo biloba Extract and Bilberry Anthocyanins Improve Visual (link)

Study 4 – Bilberry Ingestion Improves Disease Activity in Mild to Moderate (link)

Study 5 – Blanching Improves Anthocyanin Absorption from Highbush Blueberry(link)

Blanching Increases Bilberry Antioxidant Bioavailability

Source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry Article ASAP (link)

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Posted in Food and Drink, Nutrition, Nutritional Supplements

11 Comments & Updates to “European Bilberries”

  1. G. Paul F. Says:

    Hi JP,

    Thank you for sharing with us your learning experience during your visit to Venice! It is great to participate in your valuable updates!


  2. JP Says:

    Thank you, Paul! 🙂

    Be well!


  3. Mary@BrightonYourHealth Says:

    Hi JP! Interesting facts about this unique Italian berry. Just wondering, do you think the antioxidant properties of New Jersey blueberries, or other berries would be enhanced by blanching? Since Italian berries have this phenomenom, perhaps it would be the same with other types of blueberries?
    Great work,
    Mary Brighton

  4. JP Says:

    Hi Mary! There’s some research to support that hypothesis:;jsessionid=48BBE4A19245CE8F180E21CF7AF05FBB.d03t01

    Thank you for your great question and support!

    Be well!


  5. Mary@BrightonYourHealth Says:

    Thanks JP,
    Going to share this page and blueberry links with my readers….
    Bon Appetit!

  6. JP Says:

    Update 04/30/15:

    J Nutr Health Aging. 2015;19(5):548-554.

    Bilberry Extract Supplementation for Preventing Eye Fatigue in Video Display Terminal Workers.

    OBJECTIVES: To examine the effect of a dietary supplement containing bilberry extract (BE) on eye fatigue induced by acute video display terminal (VDT) loads.

    DESIGN AND SETTING: A prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was performed from August 2012 to February 2013 in the Medical Corporation Jico-kai Yagi Hospital, and the Shinyokohama Shinoharaguchi Orthopedic Surgery and Dermatology Clinic, in Japan.

    PARTICIPANTS: Two hundred eighty-one office workers aged 20-40 years that used VDTs were screened by critical flicker fusion (CFF) and near point accommodation (NPA).

    INTERVENTION: The participants were randomized to either a BE (480 mg/day) or placebo (vehicle) group, and took allocated capsule, daily, for 8 weeks.

    MEASUREMENTS: The CFF, NPA, contrast visual acuity, functional visual acuity, keratoconjunctival epithelial damage, and fluorescein tear film break-up time were examined, and 18 subjective symptoms of eye fatigue were evaluated by questionnaire. Adverse events were reported via medical interviews. Data were collected both before and after VDT load at baseline, and 4, and 8 weeks after daily supplementation with either BE or placebo.

    RESULTS: Of 281 participants screened, 88 having relatively lower levels of CFF and NPA were enrolled in the study. Of these, 37 control and 43 BE group subjects completed the study. The VDT load-induced reduction in CFF was alleviated after 8 weeks of BE supplementation (95% confidence interval, 0.10-1.60; p=0.023), in contrast to placebo supplementation, while NPA variation was not. Of the subjective symptoms of eye fatigue, VDT load-induced ocular fatigue sensation, ocular pain, eye heaviness, uncomfortable sensation, and foreign body sensation were mitigated more in the BE group than in the control group, at week 8 (p<0.05). There were no severe adverse events in either group.

    CONCLUSIONS: BE supplementation improved some of the objective and subjective parameters of eye fatigue induced by VDT loads.

    Be well!


  7. JP Says:

    Updated 05/19/16:

    PLoS One. 2016 May 6;11(5):e0154817.

    Bilberry-Derived Anthocyanins Modulate Cytokine Expression in the Intestine of Patients with Ulcerative Colitis.

    BACKGROUND/AIMS: We previously demonstrated that anthocyanin-rich bilberry extract (ARBE) inhibits IFN-γ-induced signalling and downstream effects in human monocytic cells and ameliorates disease activity in ulcerative colitis (UC) patients. Here, we studied the molecular mechanisms of ARBE-mediated effects in vitro and by analysing colonic tissue and serum samples of UC patients treated with an oral anthocyanin-rich bilberry preparation during an open label clinical trial.

    METHODS: Colon specimens obtained during an open pilot study using ARBE for the treatment of mild-to-moderate UC were analyzed by immunohistochemistry. Cytokine levels in patients’ serum were quantified by ELISA. Cell culture experiments were performed using THP-1 monocytic cells.

    RESULTS: ARBE treatment inhibited the expression of IFN-γ-receptor 2 in human THP-1 monocytic cells. Colon biopsies of UC patients who responded to the 6-week long ARBE treatment revealed reduced amounts of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IFN-γ and TNF-α. Levels of phosphorylated (activated) p65-NF-κB were reduced in these patients. Further, patients with successful ARBE treatment featured enhanced levels of Th17-cell specific cytokine IL-22 and immunoregulatory cytokine IL-10 as well as reduced serum levels of TNF-α and MCP-1, but enhanced levels of IL-17A, in contrast to patients that did not reach remission after ARBE treatment.

    CONCLUSIONS: Our data suggest a molecular mechanism underlying the anti-inflammatory effects of ARBE treatment in UC patients by modulating T-cell cytokine signalling and inhibiting IFN-γ signal transduction. These data are of particular interest, since ARBE is a promising therapeutic approach for the treatment of IBD.

    Be well!


  8. JP Says:

    Updated 06/26/16:

    Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2016 Jun;20(11):2418-24.

    Bilberry extracts are not created equal: the role of non anthocyanin fraction. Discovering the “dark side of the force” in a preliminary study.

    OBJECTIVE: Several experimental studies and clinical trials support the potential of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L) extracts in promoting eye health and circulation. Many active ingredients have been isolated from the berries and leaves of the bilberry plant. However, anthocyanins represent the most widely studied bioactive compounds in this plant.

    PATIENTS AND METHODS: The aim of this registry, supplement study was to evaluate the effects of Mirtoselect® (standardized in 36% anthocyanins and obtained by an industrial extraction process that preserves the full range of the non-anthocyanin components, mainly natural sugars and polyphenols) in different types of retinal vasculopathies. In total, 140 patients with different types of retinopathy spontaneously decided to join one of the following groups: standard management (SM) only (n=38); SM associated with Mirtoselect® supplementation (n=47); SM associated with a generic bilberry extract supplementation (n=55). Retinal circulatory parameters and flow measurements of the retinal vessels were evaluated at the inclusion and after 6-months supplementation.

    RESULTS: Overall, significant improvements in several retinal circulatory parameters such as retinal blood flow velocity, with respect to the values at inclusion, were observed in both supplementation groups, especially in Mirtoselect® supplementation group. However, at 6 months, inter-group comparison revealed a statistical advantage in all tested parameters for Mirtoselect® supplementation groups. No side effects or tolerability concerns were reported.

    CONCLUSIONS: Our registry study suggests that Mirtoselect® supplementation could represent an effective and safe integrated approach for the treatment of different retinopathies.

    Be well!


  9. JP Says:

    Updated 12/10/16:

    Nutr Metab (Lond). 2016 Nov 25;13:86.

    Effects of purified anthocyanin supplementation on platelet chemokines in hypocholesterolemic individuals: a randomized controlled trial.

    BACKGROUND: It is becoming increasingly evident that platelet chemokines are involved in distinct aspects of atherosclerosis. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of long-term supplementation with purified anthocyanins on platelet chemokines in hypercholesterolemic individuals and to identify correlations of decreased platelet chemokine levels with serum lipid and inflammatory marker levels.

    METHODS: A total of 146 hypercholesterolemic individuals were recruited and treated with 320 mg of purified anthocyanins (n = 73) or a placebo (n = 73) daily for 24 weeks in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

    RESULTS: Anthocyanin supplementation for 24 weeks significantly decreased the plasma CXCL7 (-12.32% vs. 4.22%, P = 0.001), CXCL5 (-9.95% vs. 1.93%, P = 0.011), CXCL8 (-6.07% vs. 0.66%, P = 0.004), CXCL12 (-8.11% vs. 5.43%, P = 0.023) and CCL2 levels (-11.63% vs. 12.84%, P = 0.001) compared with the placebo. Interestingly, the decreases in the CXCL7 and CCL2 levels were both positively correlated with the decreases in the serum low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C), high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) and interleukin-1β (IL-1β) levels after anthocyanin supplementation for 24 weeks. The decrease in the CXCL8 level was negatively correlated with the increase in the how-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C) level and was positively correlated with the decrease in the soluble P-selectin (sP-selectin) level in the anthocyanin group. In addition, a positive correlation was observed between the decreases in the CXCL12 and tumornecrosis factor-α (TNF-α) levels after anthocyanin supplementation. However, the plasma CXCL4L1, CXCL1, macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) and human plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PAI-1) levels did not significantly change following anthocyanin supplementation.

    CONCLUSIONS: The present study supports the notion that platelet chemokines are promising targets of anthocyanins in the prevention of atherosclerosis.

    Be well!


  10. JP Says:

    Updated 12/27/16:

    Nutr Res. 2016 Dec;36(12):1415-1422.

    Intake of bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease by inducing favorable changes in lipoprotein profiles.

    Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading causes of death, and lifestyle modification, including dietary changes, is recommended to improve this condition. In this study, regular consumption of bilberries was hypothesized to have beneficial effects on CVD risk reduction, by changes in human health indicators such as decreasing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and triglycerides (TGs) and increasing high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C). The research involved women (n=25) and men (n=11) who consumed 150 g of frozen stored bilberries 3 times a week for 6 weeks. Anthropometric parameters, blood pressure, lipid profile, glucose, liver enzymes, creatinine, albumin, magnesium, and antiradical activity were measured. Except for the body mass index of women (P=.019), no significant changes were found for anthropometric indicators. The consumption of bilberries led to a decrease in the following parameters: total cholesterol (P=.017), LDL-C (P=.0347), TG (P=.001), glucose (P=.005), albumin (P=.001), γ-glutamyltransferase (P=.046), and a positive increase in HDL-C (P=.044). In men, additionally, favorable changes were observed in total cholesterol (P=.004), glucose (P=.015), albumin (P=.028), aspartate aminotransferase (P=.012), γ-glutamyltransferase (P=.013), and HDL-C (P=.009; in this group, LDL-C increased [P=.007]). Changes in other parameters were not significant, for both women and men. Thus, the regular intake of bilberries can be important to reduce CVDs risk, by decreasing LDL-C/TG and increasing HDL-C.

    Be well!


  11. JP Says:

    Updated 02/26/19:

    Nutr Res. 2019 Feb;62:13-22.

    Freeze-dried bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) dietary supplement improves walking distance and lipids after myocardial infarction: an open-label randomized clinical trial.

    Bilberries, Vaccinium myrtillus, have a high content of phenolic compounds including anthocyanins, which could provide cardiometabolic health benefits following acute myocardial infarction (AMI). We hypothesized that standard medical therapy supplemented with freeze-dried bilberry after AMI would have a more beneficial effect on cardiovascular risk markers and exercise capacity than medical therapy alone. Patients were allocated in a 1:1 ratio within 24 hours of percutaneous coronary intervention in an 8-week trial either to V myrtillus powder (40 g/d, equivalent to 480 g fresh bilberries) and standard medical therapy or to a control group receiving standard medical therapy alone. High-sensitivity C-reactive protein and exercise capacity measured with the 6-minute walk test were the primary biochemical and clinical end points, respectively. Fifty subjects completed the study. No statistically significant difference in high-sensitivity C-reactive protein was detected between groups. The mean 6-minute walk test distance increased significantly more in the bilberry group compared to the control group: mean difference 38 m at follow-up (95% confidence interval 14-62, P = .003). Ex vivo oxidized low-density lipoprotein was significantly lowered in the bilberry group compared to control, geometric mean ratio 0.80 (95% confidence interval 0.66-0.96, P = .017), whereas total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol did not differ significantly between groups. Anthocyanin-derived metabolites in blood increased significantly in the bilberry group during the intervention and were different after 8 weeks between the bilberry group and control. Findings in the present study suggest that bilberries may have clinically relevant beneficial effects following AMI; a larger, double-blind clinical trial is warranted to confirm this.

    Be well!


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