Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness over almost the entire world. Caused by the growth and breakage of blood vessels in the retina of the eyes after years of poorly controlled blood pressure and poorly controlled blood sugar levels, diabetic retinopathy is a relatively common complication in the second decade of Type 2 diabetes. Bilberries can help prevent and treat it, but first let’s understand what they are and what diabetic retinopathy is.
Bilberries are: There are berries that are blue that grow in low-land areas and can be cultivated. These are usually known as blueberries. There are berries that are blue that grown in high-land areas and usually can’t be cultivated. They have to be harvested in the wild. These are usually known as bilberries.
Blueberries and cranberries are closely related plants that are in a group separate from bilberries. A wide variety of high-land, sub-arctic plants, however, are known collectively as bilberries. These include blaeberries, whortleberries, whinberries, winberries, wimberries, myrtle blueberries, and fraughans. Adding to the confusion, in many languages other than English, all these berries get lumped together into a class called “blueberries”. But if it helps diabetes, it’s a high-country, cold-climate, wild-harvested plant.
What is Diabetic Retinopathy? Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that occurs in about 80 per cent of all Type 2 diabetics after 10 years. High blood sugars damage the Rouget cells that anchor the blood vessels in the retina to the back of the eye. The blood vessels separate from the “basement membrane” in the back of the eye and begin to float upward.
There isn’t any real damage to vision until the blood vessels break. Then tiny areas of the retina die. Laser photocoagulation surgery, by the way, fixes the leak but also leaves the patient with permanent, tiny blind spots… and doctors often “forget” to warn their patients of this effect.
The blue and purple pigments in bilberries (not to be confused with the blue and purple pigments in blueberries) can’t resuscitate the Rouget cells, but they can stop the blood vessels from lengthening and meandering and weakening in the back of the eye. And if tiny blood vessels do break, these compounds protect the retina itself from death due to oxygen deprivation (or oxygen deprivation followed by too-sudden restoration of blood flow).
Just about every Type 2 diabetic who has been diagnosed for more than 10 years benefits from taking bilberry extracts. Taking bilberry extract by itself is not enough. You still have to keep blood sugar levels and blood pressure levels in check. The extract, however, gives you a fighting chance to make the changes in your lifestyle that will help preserve your sight.