Elderberry Flu Protection

October 7, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

News reports about the H1N1 and seasonal flu rarely mention alternative remedies that may shield one from influenza or possibly hasten recovery from it. The official reason for this is because such natural options rarely have sufficient proof of efficacy and safety data. The trouble with that explanation is that when new studies on alternative remedies are published, they frequently go unnoticed by conventional physicians and media outlets.

A brand new study on a “proprietary elderberry extract” was just published in the Online Journal of Pharmacology and PharmacoKinetics. It involved 64 participants during the spring 2009 flu season. The common link among all of the study volunteers was that they were diagnosed with the flu and began treatment with elderberry (or a placebo) within 24 hours of the illness. The men and women, ages ranging from 16 – 60, exhibited at least three of the following symptoms: coughing, fever, headache, muscle ache, nasal congestion and discharge. Each patient filled out a standardized questionnaire (“Visual Analogue Scale”) that measured the severity of these symptoms.

The flu sufferers were then split into two groups. Half were given 2 lozenges containing 175 mg elderberry extract daily for two days. The remainder were asked to take an identical looking placebo in the exact same manner. Here are the results reported after 48 hours of treatment:

  • 28% of the elderberry group was symptom free after two days.
  • 60% of those on the elderberry lozenges showed significant symptomatic improvement with only 1-2 mild symptoms remaining.
  • 16% demonstrated “symptom improvement to a lesser degree”. No prolongation of disease or worsening of flu characteristics were noted.

None of the patients in the placebo group achieved “complete recovery” during the treatment period. Only 16% of the placebo participants reported reductions in one or more flu symptoms. The majority of those receiving the placebo rated their symptoms as being the same or worse than at the start of the trial. No side effects were found in the elderberry or placebo groups. (1)

Another trial was recently presented in the September 30th issue of the Journal of Nutrition. It addresses the issue of safety in long term elderberry use in humans. 52 women (26 receiving elderberry and 26 given a placebo) took part in the experiment. A relatively high dose of elderberry anthocyanins (500 mg daily) was used to establish any changes in cardiovascular, kidney or liver health over the course of 12 weeks. No significant alterations in heart, kidney or liver function were detected. The authors of the trial concluded that “chronic consumption of 500mg/d of elderberry extract for 12 wk is apparently safe”. (2)

As a side note, it’s recently been established that black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) can bind to and prevent infection from the H1N1 virus in a laboratory setting. It’s important to point out that this is highly preliminary evidence. This experiment was conducted in test tubes and not in the human body. However, it’s still encouraging because the results suggest that “elderberry flavonoids compare favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Amantadine“. This leaves the door open to the possibility that elderberry components may day be useful as an alternative to conventional antiviral drugs. (3)

H1N1 and Seasonal Flu Guidelines

Common Signs of the Flu Body aches, chills, congestion, cough, diarrhea, fatigue, fever *, headache, runny nose, sore throat and vomiting.

* Fever isn’t always present.

Recommendations for Common Signs Avoid contact with others. Call your doctor. Stay home from school or work. Many people do not need any medical care to medication to recover from a mild H1N1 infection.
Emergency Warning Signs Bluish skin color, confusion, difficulty breathing or fast breathing, severe fatigue/urge to sleep excessively and avoid interaction, fever with a rash, a lack of thirst, pain or pressure in abdomen or chest region, unusual irritability in children, a persistent cough and fever that extend beyond the other flu symptoms and sudden dizziness.
Recommendations for Emergency Signs Avoid contact with everyone but medical professionals. Seek immediate medical attention. Call your doctor for advice re: emergency room or hospital options.
Source: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (link)

The current research on black elderberry was likely prompted by encouraging studies that span over the last 15 years. Some of those pilot trials indicate that S. nigra can reduce the duration of flu symptoms by up to 4 days. The mechanism by which elderberry combats influenza has also been examined. The mode of action appears to be quite complex and involves a selective anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory effect that ultimately stimulates the immune system. In addition, components within elderberry (lectins) seem to directly bind to the surface of virus cells and thereby render them inactive. (4,5,6,7)

Elderberry isn’t so much a natural medicine but, rather, a medicinal food. It’s reputation continues to grow and may one day be associated with flu protection much like cranberry is linked to the management of urinary tract infections. But in order for that to happen, we need to spread the word about these new scientific findings. In most doctors’ offices around the world, food is simply not considered medicine. That’s why at this time, your physician is unlikely to write a prescription for elderberry during the flu season. However, that may change if we take the time to share some of the more obscure studies that our medical team may not even know about. This is one significant way in which we can all contribute to the betterment of modern medicine.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!

JP

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, General Health, Nutritional Supplements

21 Comments & Updates to “Elderberry Flu Protection”

  1. Nina K. Says:

    JP,

    great post, again :-)

    My grandma knew this for ages. I always got hot selfmade elderberry juice when i was ill and felt better immediately – maybe because of the lovely care or the elderberry worked so good :-) .

    Thank you for reminding me of this powerful flufighter. Will go to my “wholefoods” and get some of that stuff.

    Best wishes to you,
    Nina K.

  2. White Lily Says:

    I have always been curious about Elderberry and its medicinal uses.

  3. JP Says:

    Thank you for your kind comments and for relaying your experience, Nina!

    I suspect it was both (your grandma’s loving care and the elderberry). :)

    Be well!

    JP

  4. JP Says:

    I hope the information is useful for you, Water Lily.

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Tarja Anchor Says:

    Many problems would be solved by people taking responsibility of their health and choosing a healthy lifestyle to prevent illness. Vitamin D3 has been shown to be very effective shield against swine flu and other viral infections despite of variations.

  6. JP Says:

    Thanks, Tarja.

    I agree! Maintaining an optimal Vitamin D level is a very good strategy to support your immune system.

    Be well!

    JP

  7. Nicole Says:

    Hi JP. I am a first time reader of your blog and am very interested in trying elderberry. I have been extremely worried about my 14 month old during this flu season so far and was wondering if you have any knowledge of elderberry being safe for a child of that age? I have tried researching but with no luck. I noticed one brand of elderberry syrup “sambucul” (mightve spelled that wrong) stating that even the children’s version was not to be used for children under 2 years of age. Any of your insight would be extremely appreciated!

  8. JP Says:

    Good evening, Nicole.

    The Encyclopedia of Natural Supplements states that elderberry “flowers and fruits, including the Sambucol extract, are safe, and can be administered to infants and children”.

    http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a773324445~db=all~jumptype=rss

    The “Sambucol for Children” product appears to be recommended for ages ranging from 1-12.

    http://www.sambucol.com/index.cfm?id=530&pid=4

    I hope that helps. :)

    Be well!

    JP

  9. Mary Says:

    Great site, thanks for sharing all of this with the rest of us.

    I have both a 2 and 1/2 year old, and a 4 month old. I see your reply to Nicole regarding younger toddlers so I will look into that – but do you have any suggestions about those under the age of one…or even under 6 months (since vaccines aren’t an option)? I am breastfeeding – do you know if I can (and should) be taking any/all of your suggestions and does it SAFELY pass onto my infant?

    Also – going beyond just the flu…we stopped all vaccinations at 4 months after my (now) toddler boy had an odd reaction. Now we’re leary about vaccinating my infant girl as well. I am VERY interested in building their immunities and wondered if your suggestions apply to the prevention of other diseases (or helping to prevent) – especially the ones the vaccines claim to protect against. I know this is a very controversial topic – so if you’d rather not get into that I understand. We are not one sided so ANY advice/info. is much appreciated. (you can email me direct if you’d like).

    Either way – thanks for your info. Your domain name is catchy!
    Good health to you as well!

    Mary

  10. JP Says:

    Mary,

    Thank you! :)

    I have a few suggestions for you to consider. The best piece of advice I can think of is to take the best possible care of yourself. All that goes into your body and through your mind (joy, stress, etc.) has the potential to influence the health of your youngest child. I mention this knowing very well that no one is perfect! I’m not trying to set impossible standards for you or any mother! :)

    I would primarily focus on eating the “cleanest” possible diet that is centered around whole foods that are low in sugar. Eating foods that support your immune function (such as those with probiotics – kefir, yogurt, etc.) *could* possibly be of assistance as well. I would also consider taking a high-potency pre-natal multi that is appropriate for use during breast feeding.

    The trouble with most supplements is that they haven’t been tested with regard to being passed along from mother to child. Therefore, I think we need to look at each product individually. This would involve researching at the manufactures’ web sites and contacting the companies directly. Their research and development staff may be able to pass along some practical information. Many of these companies employees scientists who are quite knowledgeable.

    I would also strongly suggest getting in touch with a pediatrician that practices “integrative medicine” – a conservative approach to medical care that incorporates the best of alternative and conventional care. The main reason for this is that these doctors have used many natural remedies in their own practices – sometimes on hundreds and even thousands of young patients. This is often as close as we can get to a reliable answer regarding the efficacy and safety of these supplements.

    The down side of this is that such physicians are generally not covered by most health insurance policies. However, there may be a viable compromise to be had here. You may be able to visit such a physician for one visit only – as a consultation. Once there, you can ask all the questions you may have. The answers will hopefully last you for years. If not, an additional consultation may be necessary/useful. Here’s a web site of one such pediatrician:

    http://www.drjaygordon.com/development/index.asp

    There are quite a few safe suggestions in the many columns I’ve written about H1N1 – avoid processed sugar, get regular sunshine, laugh often, ensure adequate sleep, practice stress management, eat berries and other antioxidant-rich foods, etc. These are all things that may support your good health and, by extension, could strengthen your child’s immunity.

    http://www.healthyfellow.com/223/swine-flu-prevention/

    I’m not a father myself but these thoughts are based on what I would recommend to my own wife in this circumstance. I hope this helps.

    Be well!

    JP

  11. Mary Says:

    Wow, thank you SO much for replying, and for replying so quickly and thoroughly. I don’t get on the computer like I used to so this was such a nice surprise. I hope the info. you offer helps other moms b/c it is a constant ‘worrisome’ job. Everything we eat, do, or even think not only effects us, but it effects another human being…and THAT is a huge responsibility! (at least, I think so)

    I was glad to see I do follow most of your guidelines – especially when it comes to eating. I’ve been successfully reducing the stress part that seems to come automatically as a mom w/2 YOUNG kids, but the sleep…that’s out of my hands for the time being. ;) I live in California so sunshine comes easy.

    I do research most everything a bit before I try anything new so I will contact the companies whose products I am considering – good suggestion. I recently tried that for this so-called miracle juice “monavie” several of my friends have been getting into (don’t know if you’ve heard the latest craze) and swearing by first hand…but they, nor the representatives I contacted, could safely answer my breastfeeding question so I decided to forgoe it this round…and it seems like it’d be so safe b/c it is just a juice.

    I have also just started the search for a new pediatrician who is more of what you described. I understand about the insurance but believe there is no price when it comes to my children’s good health. So…I just don’t get to upgrade my wardrobe or get my hair done for a while…oh well. I think my husband will still stand by me (ha!).

    I will be passing on your blog to all my fellow friends – esp. my mommy friends. If I come up with any new findings myself I’ll also be sure to share them with you.

    Thanks, again, for your help and advice. You are very generous.

    Take care,
    Mary

  12. JP Says:

    Thanks, Mary!

    Please do share anything that you come across. I love that kind of thing because I know other readers often benefit from such information. :)

    Your priorities and game plan sound spot on to me! Your kids are lucky to have you as mom!

    Be well!

    JP

  13. thess Says:

    I’ve been reading a lot about this edelberry extract. My question is where can i get that and is it ok to give this to my toodler kids?

  14. JP Says:

    Good day, Thess.

    You can probably find it at most of your local health food stores – in liquid or lozenge forms. If it’s not available locally, you can almost certainly find it online. I usually buy mine from Internet sources since it tends to be less expensive that way.

    As to the appropriateness of using elderberry in toddlers, please read my prior exchange with Mary – which is contained earlier on in this comment thread. I think that will likely answer your question.

    Be well!

    JP

  15. Afshin Mokhtari Says:

    Hi there and thanks for the articles. This one made me want to comment because you talked about how it would be nice if M.D.s learned of and recognized the importance of foods as medicine. I couldn’t agree with you more. I tend to believe the reason it will never go mainstream is because there is not enough money in it for anyone – so unfortunately only those who go out of their way to seek sites like this ever hear of such things.

    And by the way, it would be nice if somebody also recognized the tons of research done in Asia on common foods. With their tradition of natural medicine reaching back so many years, they’ve know about things like bitter-melon for diabetes, jujube for palpitations, sweet potatoes for diabetes OR constipation, etc… AND now they’ve had some number of decades experience running scientific experiments on them. But we dont pay attention to their journals, or is it we dont trust the source?

    Be well yourself, and thank you.

  16. JP Says:

    Afshin,

    Thank you for your thoughtful post!

    I agree that the money issue is significant. However medicine, like most other industries, is partially consumer driven. The more we, as patients, demand holistic care … the more likely it is that it will slowly become integrated into the mainstream. I know it’s an uphill battle. But it’s one worth fighting. :)

    BTW, I regularly search through Asian medical journals. There’s so much to learn from the Asian culture and healing traditions the world over.

    Thanks for sharing your insightful thoughts. I appreciated reading them.

    Be well!

    JP

  17. AJ Says:

    Hello!

    What are you thoughts on taking elderberry for a child with neutropenia. It is auto-immune and a mild case. The reason I ask is a few things I’ve read about elderberry is to be cautious when taking if you have an auto-immune disorder – however – it didn’t mention neutropenia – just lupus and a few others. She is 14 months old and eats a colorful whole foods diet. I’m just looking for a little something for her to take during the cold winter months during cold and flu season. Thank you! Great article!

  18. JP Says:

    Hi, AJ.

    I wish I had enough data on the subject to give you a reliable answer. Unfortunately, I don’t.

    An alternative therapy that has been shown to modulate immune function & support higher neutrophil counts is massage. You might consider discussing this option with your daughter’s pediatrician.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1142199/?tool=pubmed

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12218940

    http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2009.0634

    Be well!

    JP

  19. gloria Says:

    i just bought some elderberry juice from the heath food store to give to my 1 yr. old grand daughter, because i have a cold and don’t want her to get it, i know it is ok to give it to her but how much at one time and how many times a day should be enough?? thank you!

  20. JP Says:

    Hi Gloria,

    One of the most widely used elderberry extracts, linked to below, advises between 1-2 teaspoons twice-daily.

    http://www.naturesway.com/Organic-Sambucus-for-Kids-4-fluid-oz

    Be well!

    JP

  21. JP Says:

    Updated 08/03/17:

    http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/4/182/htm

    Nutrients. 2016 Mar 24;8(4):182.

    Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.

    Intercontinental air travel can be stressful, especially for respiratory health. Elderberries have been used traditionally, and in some observational and clinical studies, as supportive agents against the common cold and influenza. This randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial of 312 economy class passengers travelling from Australia to an overseas destination aimed to investigate if a standardised membrane filtered elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) extract has beneficial effects on physical, especially respiratory, and mental health. Cold episodes, cold duration and symptoms were noted in a daily diary and assessed using the Jackson score. Participants also completed three surveys containing questions regarding upper respiratory symptoms (WURSS-21) and quality of life (SF-12) at baseline, just before travel and at 4-days after travel. Most cold episodes occurred in the placebo group (17 vs. 12), however the difference was not significant (p = 0.4). Placebo group participants had a significantly longer duration of cold episode days (117 vs. 57, p = 0.02) and the average symptom score over these days was also significantly higher (583 vs. 247, p = 0.05). These data suggest a significant reduction of cold duration and severity in air travelers. More research is warranted to confirm this effect and to evaluate elderberry’s physical and mental health benefits.

    Be well!

    JP

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