Wild blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus), also known as bilberries, commonly grow in the northern hemisphere where the soil and the air are clean and the summers are flooding with light giving them a unique set of nutrients such as powerful antioxidants and anthocyanidins.
Anthocyanins, a group of flavonoids, are the primary antioxidant compounds responsible for bilberries health benefits. Other antioxidants in bilberries are beta-carotene, vitamins C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, ubiquinone, and carnosine. Antioxidant compounds protect our bodies from oxidative damage by unstable free radical molecules responsible for cellular damage. (1)
Bilberries are also an excellent source of copper, magnesium, potassium, manganese and fibre.
Foods rich in flavonoids and polyphenols are linked with better brain function as they can help to improve cognitive functions and delay age-related illnesses.
Consuming bilberries on a daily basis can help prevent heart diseases, diabetes, urinary infections, inflammation, meningitis, rheumatoid arthritis, various respiratory infections and improve brain functions just to name a few.
Fight against cellular damage
Wild bilberries are the king of antioxidant foods. They are rich in antioxidant compounds that protect our bodies from oxidative damage by unstable free radical molecules responsible for cellular structures damage and eventually lead to ageing and cancer diseases. One study showed that pterostilbene compounds in bilberries help in the prevention of colon cancer. They are believed to contain highest antioxidant capacity among all frequently consumed fruits and vegetables. Anthocyanins, a group of flavonoids, are the primary antioxidant compounds responsible for wild bilberries health benefits. (2, 3, 4)
Fight against DNA damage
Several studies have found wild blueberries can help reduce Oxidative DNA damage aiding in the prevention of ageing and development of cancer. Because wild bilberries are rich in antioxidants, they neutralise some of the unstable free radicals that lead to damage to the DNA. (5)
Prevent heart diseases
Antioxidant effect of berries is also linked with reduced levels of LDL lipoproteins (so-called ‘bad cholesterol’). A recent study showed that 50 grammes of blueberries result in 27% reduced LDL oxidation in obese participants. Protection of LDL lipoproteins against oxidative damage is associated with reduced occurrence of the heart diseases. (6)
Anthocyanins, the antioxidant compound responsible for wild bilberries deep colour and tart taste, is known to have strong anti-inflammatory properties that help, for example, to cure and control symptoms linked with rheumatoid arthritis. Note that wild bilberry contains 4–5 times more anthocyanins than cultivated blueberry. (7)
Better eye health
Several studies have also shown intake of wild bilberries is associated with improved night vision and reduced eye strain. Improved night vision appears to be related to the high concentration of Vitamin A and anthocyanins present in wild bilberries. Due to its amazing benefits to the eye health, Japanese often refer it as “the vision fruit”. (8)
Better brain function
Interestingly intake of foods rich in flavonoids and polyphenols is linked with better brain function. Consumption of wild bilberries cause improved cognitive functions and delay age-related illnesses. (9)
Balanced blood sugar
Even though wild bilberries contain a moderate amount of sugars; about 10 grammes per cup, they don’t seem to have adverse effects on blood sugar level. This may be due to the high number of bioactive compounds and high fibre content in wild bilberries. Research shows that wild bilberries may actually help with managing blood sugar levels. (10, 11)
Younger looking skin
Bilberries are also good for the skin. Their antioxidant effect contributes to the health of skin collagen matrix by shielding against enzymes and free radicals that destroy the connective tissues. As a result, wild bilberries are great in the prevention of wrinkle formation and premature ageing of the skin. They can part of the anti-cellulite diet in women and anti-bruise diet to persons (especially athletes) who want to prevent bruises and heal them faster. These super berries also contain a high concentration of pectin, a dietary fibre that helps in prevention of acne breakouts. (12)
Support liver function
Wild bilberries are loaded with detoxifying antioxidants (Anthocyanins) and other polyphenol compounds that are essential in keeping the liver healthy. Studies have found that frequent consumption of the berries delays progression of liver diseases without side effects commonly associated with conventional treatments. Supporting liver function, it’s vital to keeping the body healthy.
Prevent urinary tract infections
Like cranberries, wild bilberries contain compounds called anti-adhesives that prevent E.coli bacteria from binding into bladder walls, thus preventing urinary tract infections especially in women, who commonly experience this problem. (13)
Prevent bacterial infections
Phenolic compounds in the bilberries can prevent the adhesion of several different bacteria to the organs. For example, these compounds can help with the most common respiratory infections caused by pneumococcus bacterium and fight against meningitis caused by a meningococcus bacterium. The polyphenols of wild bilberries, on the other hand, block bacteria of the mouth preventing the formation of plaques and caries in teeth. (14)