With flu season encroaching, many are looking for ways to boost their immune function without drugs. Elderberry (sambucus nigra), a natural alternative, is making headlines for its ability to fight influenza and other viruses.

Elderberries are sustainable, super nutritious, and economically viable. According to a 2019 Herb Market report, sales of elderberry grew by 138.4% between 2017 and 2018 alone which could have been a correlation to the spike in flu activity during that time.

Elderberry is a Powerful Antiviral

Elderberry contains zinc and antioxidants, including vitamin C5 and anthocyanin (a flavonoid found in blue and purple fruits and berries), known for their ability to boost immune function and inhibit cold and flu.

One 2004 study found taking 15 milliliters (just under 1 tablespoon) of elderberry syrup four times a day for five days eased symptoms of influenza four days quicker than a placebo. According to the authors, “Elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza.”

Most recently, research published in the March 2019 issue of the Journal of Functional Foods details the actual mechanism by which elderberry protects against influenza and other viral attacks. As reported by Science Daily: “Conducted by Professor Fariba Deghani, Dr. Golnoosh Torabian and Dr. Peter Valtchev … the study showed that compounds from elderberries can directly inhibit the virus’s entry and replication in human cells, and can help strengthen a person’s immune response to the virus.

Although elderberry’s flu-fighting properties have long been observed, the group performed a comprehensive examination of the mechanism by which phytochemicals from elderberries combat influenza infections.

‘What our study has shown is that the common elderberry has a potent direct antiviral effect against the flu virus,’ said … Torabian. ‘It inhibits the early stages of an infection by blocking key viral proteins responsible for both the viral attachment and entry into the host cells.'”

The elderberry juice prevented the virus from entering and infecting the cells and inhibited late-stage propagation of the virus in cells that had already been infected. What’s more, this late stage inhibition was even stronger than its action during the initial infection stage.

According to Valtchev, “This observation was quite surprising and rather significant because blocking the viral cycle at several stages has a higher chance of inhibiting the viral infection.”

More Evidence for Elderberry as Cold and Flu Support

Similarly, a 2019 meta-analysis of four randomized, controlled clinical trials concluded that:

“Supplementation with elderberry was found to substantially reduce upper respiratory symptoms. the quantitative synthesis of the effects yielded a large mean effect size.

These findings present an alternative to antibiotic misuse for upper respiratory symptoms due to viral infections, and a potentially safer alternative to prescription drugs for routine cases of the common cold and influenza.”

The risk of contracting a cold or flu tends to be heightened when flying. Elderberry supplementation can offer air travelers much-needed support, as found in research published in 2016. The study, published in the journal Nutrients, included 312 economy class passengers on intercontinental flights.

While the difference in the occurrence of cold symptoms was found to be negligible (in the placebo group compared to 12 in the treatment group), those taking elderberry were sick for a considerably shorter duration. The severity of their symptoms was also significantly milder.

Other Elderberry Benefits

Elderberry has also been shown to provide a number of other health benefits. For example, studies have found elderberry – taken either internally or applied topically in the form of an ointment – can:

  1. Promote detoxification (oral)
  2. Reduce your risk of diseases rooted in inflammation, such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, thanks to its anti-inflammatory activity (oral)
  3. Soften skin and treat acne (oral and/or topical)
  4. Soothe sunburn (topical)
  5. Promote healing of sprains and bruises (topical)


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