Objective: Dry eye, a chronic disease of lachrymal fluid and corneo-conjunctival epithelium, could significantly impact visual function, affects quality of life and work productivity. Beside several conventional treatments, nutritional supplements based on bilberry extract have been identified as effective contributors to eye health. Here, we aim at investigating the bioavailability of a standardized bilberry extract, its ability to alleviate dry eye symptoms and its antioxidant potential.
Materials and methods: Either bilberry dried standardized extract derived from Vaccinium myrtillus L. fresh frozen fruits (Mirtoselect®) or a highly purified anthocyanin-rich extract, devoid of the non anthocyanin component and supported on maltodextrins, were each orally administrated to 5 male rats. Blood samples were collected at 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120 minutes after treatment, processed and analyzed by UV spectrophotometric method. In a parallel analysis, 22 otherwise healthy subjects suffering from dry eye symptoms were enrolled randomly assigned to receive the more bioavailable bilberry extract or placebo. Ophthalmological and clinical examinations including Schirmer's test, pupil constriction, diacron-reactive oxygen metabolites (d-ROMs) test and biological antioxidant potential (BAP) test were performed at inclusion and after the 4-week study period.
Results: The area under the curve of plasmatic levels of anthocyanosides in rats resulted 202.34±24.23 µg·min/ml for Mirtoselect® and 130.93±4.93 µg·min/ml for the highly purified anthocyanin-rich bilberry extract, notwithstanding the fact that the highly purified anthocyanin-rich extract group received an anthocyanins dosage much higher than the Mirtoselect® group (354 mg/Kg in anthocyanosides vs. 136 mg/Kg in anthocyanosides). 21 subjects, 11 subjects in the bilberry extract (Mirtoselect®) group and 10 subjects in the placebo group completed the clinical study. Schirmer's test values indicating the volume of tear secretion were significantly improved in the bilberry extract group (p=0.019), whereas no significant changes were observed in the placebo group. A subset analysis revealed that Mirtoselect® could be more effective in subjects with higher tendency of dry eye. In terms of antioxidant potential, the bilberry extract produced significant improvement of BAP (p=0.003) and an increase of modified BAP/d-ROMs ratio, an indicator of overall balance between antioxidant potential and oxidative stress.
Conclusions: Our results suggested that natural, standardized bilberry extract (Mirtoselect®) is a natural more bioavailable delivery form anthocyanins, suggesting a strong matrix effect exerted by the non-anthocyanin component. Furthermore, it can improve tear secretion and plasmatic antioxidant potential in subjects suffering from DED symptoms.