Anthocyanin-rich extracts from bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) may reduce inflammation in colitis patients and offer a natural alternative to steroids, suggests new research.
A study with lab animals found that an extract from bilberry was associated with reductions in the secretion of inflammatory markers in the colon, with the extract outperforming pure bilberries, according to findings by the Universities of Wurzburg, Regensburg and Zurich.
Colitis is inflammation of the colon. 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, diarrhoea, and vomiting.
Lead researcher of the study, Professor Gerhard Rogler from the Department of Internal Medicine at the University Hospital of Zurich told NutraIngredients that, while there are a number of guidelines for the treatment of ulcerative colitis, some patients with mild to moderate colitis do not respond sufficiently to treatments like 5-aminosalicyclic acid or steroids.
“Bilberries could be an additional nutritional approach for mild to moderate colitis that helps to avoid immunosuppression with the respective side effects, such as infections, in those patients,” he said.
Using bilberry extracts from Kaden Biochemicals, a member of the Symrise group of companies, the researchers tested the effects on animal models of acute and chronic colitis.
The histological scores – a measure of the microscopic structure of the animals’ tissue – showed a reduction of almost 50 per cent when animals were fed the bilberry extract containing 1 per cent anthocyanins. Higher histological scores are said to represent sever changes caused by the inflammatory process such as thickening of the wall of the intestine and infiltration of gut tissue by immune cells.
“In this animal model we assed the histological score, which is also the most valid parameter in humans. Therefore the animal model is a good predictor, but nevertheless we need to determine the effect in colitis patients,” said Prof Rogler.
Prof Rogler confirmed that work was continuing in the area with an open label clinical trial with 20 patients with mild to moderate colitis.
“Furthermore, we are investigating the molecular effects, such as signal transduction, in mucosal cells,” said Prof Rogler. “For further development it will be necessary to understand the action of bilberries on a molecular level.”
The study has been accepted for peer-review publication in the Journal of Nutrition. NutraIngredients has not seen the full data.