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
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.
Most Recommended Elderberry Products:Nature's Way, Sambucus, Black Elderberry, Original Syrup, 8 fl oz (240 ml)
Nature's Way, Sambucus Black Elderberry, Original Lozenges, 30 Lozenges