Bilberry: Crohn's Disease and Colitis

A small study with interesting indicators on the value of bilberry's anthocyanins...

Bilberry in the Prevention of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Source: American Chemical Society Symposium Series

Bilberry is one of the most popular herbs on the market today. During World War II when British air pilots ate bilberries, they reported an improved ability to adjust to glare and an increase in their visual acuity and nighttime vision. Bilberry extracts show promise in the areas of diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, cardiovascular disease and varicose veins.

Crohn's disease is one of two inflammatory bowel conditions that affect the intestinal lining. The other is ulcerative colitis. The exact cause of these conditions is not known for certain. Both illnesses are thought to have a genetic component. Other contributing factors have been implicated, including food allergies, stress, poor nutrition, and infection. It is also believed that an "autoimmune response," where the immune system attacks the body's own tissue as though it were a foreign invader, may play a role in Crohn's disease. Although Crohn's disease is sometimes mistaken for ulcerative colitis, it has several unique features. Crohn's disease most commonly affects the small or large intestine, while ulcerative colitis shows up in the lower intestine and the rectum. Ulcerative colitis is more common than Crohn's disease, but the incidence of Crohn's appears to be on the rise. Although these conditions hit the gastrointestinal tract hardest, they can lead to many other conditions affecting different parts of the body.

Bilberries contain very high levels of anthocyanins which are presumed to play a role in the prevention of various degenerative diseases. The researchers’ aim of this study was to examine, after the intake of bilberries, the amount of anthocyanins reaching the colon. Five healthy ileostomy (surgical procedure in which the small intestine is attached to the abdominal wall to bypass the large intestine) volunteers were given 300 g of bilberries. Ileostomy fluid was collected and anthocyanins were identified and quantified. The results were most of the anthocyanins from the bilberries were recovered in the ileostomy fluid which under regular physiological situations would reach the colon. In conclusion, the authors indicated that these results suggest bilberries may prevent inflammatory bowel disease and malignant gastrointestinal diseases.1

1 Kraus M, Kahle K, Ridder F, et al. Colonic Availability of Bilberry Anthocyanins in Humans. ACS Symposium Series. ACS Symp Ser Am Chem Soc. 2010:159-176.

Article courtesy of National Health Information on Demand (

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