During World War II, British Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots reportedly ate bilberry jam to improve their eyesight and night vision, which resulted in more successful night bombing missions. Others later claimed this was only a rumor, intentionally spread to hide the fact that the British military was secretly testing new radar equipment.
Whether or not eating bilberry jam gave the RAF an edge may be debatable, but bilberry’s benefits for your eyes are indisputable.
The Power of Anthocyanins
The bilberry jam stories inspired researchers to take a close look at how bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.), which is a European cousin of blueberries, supports eye health.
They concluded that bilberry’s benefits for the eyes are due to their high concentration of anthocyanins—plant pigments that give berries, grapes, and other red, blue, and purple plants their vivid hues.
Anthocyanins, which are members of the flavonoid family of phytonutrients, have diverse health benefits. They are potent antioxidants that effectively scavenge free radicals, protect against oxidative stress, and help curb inflammation.
Research reveals that anthocyanins have therapeutic potential in the prevention and treatment of a broad range of health challenges, including cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disorders, diabetes, cancer—and vision problems.
What Does Bilberry Do for Your Eyes?
Many of the studies on anthocyanin-rich bilberry extracts involve its effects on eye health and specific vision disorders. Study findings include:
- Glaucoma: One of the best natural therapies for glaucoma is Mirtogenol, which is a proprietary combination of bilberry and Pycnogenol. This supplement increases microcirculation in the eyes and reduces eye pressures. When used alone in clinical trials involving patients with open-angle glaucoma, Mirtogenol lowered eye pressures almost as effectively as prescription eye drops. And when added to conventional treatment in a six month study, there was a 40% average reduction in eye pressure.
- Dry eyes: Bilberry extract has been shown to enhance tear secretion and improve dry eye syndrome, especially when used in concert with fish oil and other proven supplements.
- Eye floaters: Although I can find no scientific evidence supporting the use of bilberry for eye floaters, several of my patients have reported improvements after taking bilberry.
- Macular degeneration: Clinical trials testing combination formulas that include bilberry plus other natural ingredients, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, have revealed positive effects on the development and progression of macular degeneration. While bilberry is nowhere near as well studied as lutein and zeaxanthin, its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and circulatory benefits most certainly provide additional benefits for retinal and macular health.
- Night vision: To date, clinical trials have failed to demonstrate that supplemental bilberry has significant effects on night vision.
Reduce Eye Strain with Bilberry
If you have ever experienced eye strain, dryness, blurred vision, or eye fatigue after staring at a screen for hours on end, join the crowd. These symptoms are so common that they’re sometimes referred to as “computer vision syndrome.”
Of course, you should follow the usual recommendations to properly adjust your screen angle and distance, make sure your font settings are large enough, take frequent breaks, and limit your screen time. But I also encourage you to consider taking bilberry supplements.
This concentrated source of anthocyanins improves microcirculation in the eyes for enhanced delivery of oxygen and nutrients. It also boosts tear production and helps shore up antioxidant defenses, which can be depleted by blue light-induced free radicals during prolonged screen time.
One representative study involved adults with eye strain, fatigue, dryness, and other symptoms related to the overuse of digital devices. They were divided into two groups and given either standardized concentrated bilberry supplements or placebo capsules to take daily for six weeks.
When they were reevaluated, the participants who had taken bilberry supplements reported less eye fatigue and dryness compared to those in the placebo group. They also scored better on visual accommodation tests, which evaluate the ability of the eyes to shift focus at varying distances.
So far, it appears the stories about bilberry jam improving RAF pilots’ night vision were just part of a World War II propaganda campaign. Still, it’s a good story—and it led researchers to discover bilberry’s true benefits.
If you are concerned about glaucoma, elevated eye pressures, eye strain or fatigue, dry eyes, or other common vision problems, consider adding anthocyanin-rich bilberry extract to your daily supplement regimen. Along with lutein, zeaxanthin, and other botanicals, vitamins, and minerals that enhance eye health, bilberry is a boon for eye health.
The recommended bilberry dosage for eye health is 120–160 mg daily. Look for a concentrated extract of authentic bilberry, standardized for a minimum of 36% anthocyanins.