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Friday, February 8, 2013

Flu Bug Got You?

Elderberry for the Flu

The Black Elderberry grows in British Columbia

 What if there was proven remedy that was safe, tastes good and will reduce your flu symptoms by 90% within three days? What if this natural medicine is safe for children? What if  it works for other viruses? Let’s find out the interesting facts about Black Elderberry: Sambucus nigra.

The ripe berries of Sambucus nigra (Black Elderberry) have been shown to effectively control the growth of the H5N1 Avian flu strain.  A study in Israel, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, showed 20% of patients taking elderberry extracts had dramatic improvements in symptoms including fever, muscle pains and cough. This increased to an improvement in 73% of patients by the second day and 90% by the third day. Compared to the placebo group, in which only 16% improved after two days, there was a clinically significant improvement in the elderberry cohort. 

There were two positive results: there was a greater percentage of the patients improving and the improvements manifested four days sooner.  Children in the study took two tablespoonfuls daily and adults took four. 

Another randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study in Norway showed a reduction of flu symptoms  by four days. This study concluded that elderberry extracts stimulate the healthy immune system  by increasing the production of immune system mediator cytokines. 
The ripe berries are used, devoid of twigs or branches

The medicinal part of the plant is the ripe berries. It contains several flavonoids, the most important ones  being the anthocyanidins cyanidin-3-glucoside and cyanidin-3-sambubioside. Elderberries are also rich in the bioflavonoids rutin, isoquertin and hyperoside.  The anthocyanidins are quickly absorbed, showing significant plasma levels in thirty minutes. Excretion is through the kidneys as glucoronide conjugates. 

Mechanism of Action

The mechanism of action seems to be two fold. The first mechanism is  immunomodulation through increased production of inflammatory response cytokines such as interleukin and tumor necrosis factor.  This implies that Elderberry is beneficial for immunosupressed patients, for example, someone undergoing chemotherapy.   Patients with autoimmune conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis can also benefit from the properties of elderberry without worsening their condition.  This is an important consideration when they get viral infections.

Immunomodulators are substances that regulate or modify the function of the immune system. Immunosuppressants  inhibit the immune response and  immunostimulants stimulate the immune response.It is unclear how immunomodulators work, but it is hypothesized that they act on certain points of the immune activation pathways. Cytokines present in the elderberry are natural immunomodulators. They have multiple interacting roles in the immune pathways.

In a study in Israel in 1995, Elderberry Extracts have also been shown to have antiviral effectiveness  against several flu strains including human, swine and avian strains. The extract is thought to inhibit both hemagglutinin activity and viral cell replication. 
A well designed berry pickers that separates the berries and branches

Side Effects

Orally, elderberry extract is well tolerated.  It is sweet and fruity tasting and is suitable for children.  The ripe berries are used and the proper preparation involves removal of all twigs and branches.  The raw and unripe fruit has been reported to cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Therefore, it is recommended that home preparations of elderberry juice, extracts, wines or tinctures not be consumed in large quantities and cannot be used for medicinal purposes. 

Elderflower Tea: Used Differently

The flowers of the elderberry tree are used effectively for sinusitis. There is insufficient reliable information about the effectiveness of the elder flower for its other uses. The mechanism of action is from the flavonoids lectin, rutin, choline tannin and lipophilic triterpinoids. It also exerts antioxidant activity from sterol compound such as lupeol and beta-sitosterol. 

There have been no studies on the use of the elder flower in influenza cases.

The elder flowers are often prepared in an extract or a tea. 

Elderberry syrup can be served hot as a delicious tea


J Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40

Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.


Department of Virology, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel.

J Altern Complement Med. 1995 Winter;1(4):361-9

Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama.


Department of Virology, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel.

J Nutr. 2002 Jul;132(7):1865-71.

Absorption and metabolism of anthocyanins in elderly women after consumption of elderberry or blueberry.


U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service, Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center, Little Rock 72202, USA.

Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects

 By Iris F. F. Benzie, Sissi Wachtel-Galor


Eur Cytokine Netw. 2001 Apr-Jun;12(2):290-6.

The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines.


Immunology Laboratory for Tumor Diagnosis, Department of Oncology, Hadassah University Hospital, Jerusalem, Israel.