In World War II, British and Canadian pilots were known to take bilberry supplements for their eyes. To this day, there is a common understanding that berry pigments are good for your eyes but has anyone figured out why? Well, it turns out that we now know the reason behind this.
Compounds found in berry pigments have an affinity for the nerves of the brain and also the eyes. They go into these tissues and interact with proteins that are important for proper vision in the eye. They also can go into the nerves and even cross the blood brain barrier to help fight damaging reactions in the eye called Advanced Glycation Endproducts or AGE.
This AGE reaction happens when a protein in the eye or any other part of the brain or nervous system is damaged and then capped by a sugar. The capping of the protein renders that protein useless. It is ironic that the abbreviation for this damaging process comes out to “A-G-E” because that is exactly what the aging process is about—changes to the tissues of the body that renders them useless. Whether it’s proteins in the eye, the brain, or even something like collagen in the skin clumping and causing wrinkles, this is all caused by AGE!
When enough of these reactions happen in the eye, it can make the tissue where the protein is located useless. Cataracts are a good example of the end result of AGE.
Fortunately, compounds found in berries and cherries help to minimize the damage that can occur to the tissues, thereby minimizing the damage that can occur over time. This is a better strategy than waiting for it to happen and then doing something about it!
These beneficial compounds are found in the pigments that color the outside of cherries and most berries with a dark skin. The pigments themselves are the part of the fruit that provides the most health benefit. The scientific names for these pigments are proanthocyanidins and polyphenols. Proanthocyanidins and polyphenols have been studied in scientific literature for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and they have traditionally been used for years to benefit eye health.