Bilberries may reduce bowel inflammation, boost gut health

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Ulcerative colitis

Bilberries may reduce bowel inflammation, boost gut health
Consuming dried bilberries may reduce inflammation in the bowels of lab animals, according to a new European study with potential for inflammatory bowel disease patients.

Lab mice treated with a compound to induce an animal model of IBD and then fed dried bilberries had less inflammation and lower secretion of pro-inflammatory compounds, and the results were similar in animals fed anthocyanins, according to researchers used in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.

“Our data show considerably positive effects of bilberries, in particular in [this animal model of] colitis. Furthermore, a significant improvement of acute as well as chronic colitis was induced by ingestion of anthocyanins,”​ wrote researchers led by Professor Gerhard Rogler from University Hospital of Zurich.

“We therefore conclude that clinical studies with these compounds should be undertaken due to these promising results.”

Bilberry info

Bilberries are closely related to the North American blueberry but contain a very distinct anthocyanin profile. Bilberry extracts are relatively expensive.

The berries and their extracts have been reported to offer “anti-oxidative, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory properties”​, according to Prof Rogler and his co-workers. The researchers tested the dried berries, and anthocyanins extracted from bilberries in a mouse model of colitis, one of the main types of IBD.

Lab mice were exposed to a chemical called dextran sulphate sodium (DSS) to induce inflammation in the colon, and ultimately colitis. The animals were subsequently divided into three groups: One group had their diet supplemented with 20% dried bilberries, and the second and third groups had their diets supplemented with 1% or 10% anthocyanins.

Results showed that consumption of bilberries was associated with an amelioration of disease severity, in conjunction with a decrease in secretion of the pro-inflammatory compounds IFN-γ and tumor necrosis factor.

“Dried bilberries also improved chronic DSS-colitis,” ​added the researchers.

The anthocyanin groups exhibited reduced inflammation in the intestine.

“Taken together, ingestion of dried bilberries had positive effects on various parameters especially in acute DSS-colitis,” ​said the researchers.

“These promising results justify a clinical study on their therapeutic effect in inflammatory bowel disease patients,”​ they concluded.


According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), ulcerative colitis is a relatively uncommon condition, affecting about 100,000 people in England. Women are 30 per cent more likely to develop the condition than their male counterparts. Other inflammatory conditions of the colon include Crohn’s disease. Symptoms of such conditions include abdominal pain, weight loss, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Source: Molecular Nutrition & Food Research
Volume 55, Issue 11, Pages 1599-1739, doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201100380
“Bilberries and their anthocyanins ameliorate experimental colitis”
Authors: H. Piberger, A. Oehme, C. Hofmann, A. Dreiseitel, P.G. Sand, F. Obermeier, J. Schoelmerich, P. Schreier, G. Krammer, G. Rogler

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