BLUF: Bilberry is probably not effective in improving night vision visual acuity or contrast recognition.
It recently was brought to my attention that some pilots have added bilberry to their diets and others have been willing to shell out cold hard cash on bilberry extracts or leaves in pill form. Why? For improved night vision. The practice of ingesting bilberry to improve night vision dates back to its use by Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots in WWII.Is Bilberry effective in delivering on these claims the product often advertises?Well, like most things the research is not straightforward. First, a look at the characteristics of Bilberry from the 'Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database':
Bilberry is a plant. The dried, ripe fruit and leaves are used to make medicine.Bilberry is used for improving eyesight, including night vision. In fact, during World War II, British pilots in the Royal Air Force ate bilberry jam to improve their night vision, but later research showed it probably didn’t help. Bilberry is also used for treating eye conditions such as cataracts and disorders of the retina. There is some evidence that bilberry may help retinal disorders.Some people use bilberry for conditions of the heart and blood vessels including hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), varicose veins, decreased blood flow in the veins, and chest pain.
A double-blinded, randomized placebo-controlled study from 2000 published in the Alternative Medicine Review found that there was no improvement in night vision in XX young males taking bilberry extract when compared to those taking placebo.
The dried, ripe fruit of bilberry is LIKELY SAFE for most people when eaten in typical food amounts.Bilberry fruit extracts are POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth for medicinal uses for up to one year. Also, a specific combination product (Mirtogenol) containing bilberry and French maritime pine bark (Pycnogenol) has been used safely for up to 6 months.Bilberry leaf is POSSIBLY UNSAFE for most people when taken in high doses or for a long time.
Although Bilberry has a fairly good safety track record, the best studies performed have not been able to find any true effect on improved night vision. Therefore, it is unlikely to provide the desired result if used by aviators. If you still want to use this supplement, I would recommend adding bilberry to your diet as a food source as the extract and leaves have a higher likelihood of causing interactions with medications, lowering your blood sugar or being combined with other unwanted ingredients by the manufacturer!