What is elderberry and why does it always seem to trend around cold and flu season? When you take elderberry supplements, are you consuming the actual berries? And does elderberry REALLY support your immune system? If you’re here, then you’ve probably asked these questions yourself a time or two.
That’s why we’ve decided it was time to clear the air around this beneficial plant. While making your own elderberry preparations comes with risks, a high-quality and expertly crafted elderberry supplement can help provide essential immune support. Keep reading for all the details.
What is Elderberry?
The term “elderberry” actually refers to several Sambucus trees belonging to the Adoxaceae family. The most widely used form is the European elderberry that can grow up to thirty feet tall. It has small white flowers (known as elderflowers) and the berries are small and black or dark blue.
If you see elderberries in the wild though, you may want to reconsider simply popping some in your mouth. Not only can uncooked berries cause gastrointestinal discomfort, but they’re also extremely tart. Just remember that they must be cooked before being eaten. The flowers, however, are edible and can be consumed raw or cooked.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a cup of elderberries has:
- 10g of fiber
- 55mg of calcium
- 406mg of Potassium
- 52mg of Vitamin C
- A good source of phenolic acids and flavonols (antioxidants)
All those goodies are part of the reason elderberry has been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years. The flowers and berries have been prepared by drying and/or juicing to help relieve pain, inflammation, and as a diuretic. There have even been occasions where dried berries were used to ease flu symptoms, upper respiratory infections, headaches, and even nerve pain.
Today, elderberry supplements are widely available. During cold and flu season, they’re particularly popular for their immune-supportive properties. But can elderberry REALLY provide immune support?
Is Elderberry Good For Your Immune System?
Yes, elderberry really does help keep your immune system healthy!
One study looked at how effective elderberry syrup was at treating influenza A and B when taken orally. Sixty participants who had influenza symptoms for forty-eight hours or less were given 15ml of elderberry or a placebo four times a day for five days.
According to the Journal of International Medical Research, “Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared with placebo. Elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe, and cost-effective treatment for influenza.” However, other studies have contradicted these findings.
The Phytotherapy Research Journal says, “While the extent of black elder’s antiviral effects are not well known, antiviral and antimicrobial properties have been demonstrated in these extracts, and the safety of black elder is reflected by the United States Food and Drug Administration approval as generally recognized as safe.”
So, does elderberry REALLY help reduce cold and flu symptoms?
The best way to determine its effectiveness is to examine studies with larger sample sizes. Both of the previously mentioned studies had less than 100 participants, making the test groups quite small. Conversely, a different study, with 312 air travelers, found that those who took 300mg of elderberry extract three times each day experienced fewer severe symptoms and weren’t sick as long.
Admittedly, there is a lack of large-scale studies, so we encourage you to do your own research. The question WE are concerned with is HOW does elderberry provide immune support.
How Does Elderberry Provide Immune Support?
One way that elderberry provides immune support is by increasing inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are a group of proteins that act as chemical messengers to help regulate immune responses. Essentially, healthier cytokine production means that your immune system will be able to respond to threats more quickly and efficiently.
In a study published by the European Cytokine Network, they found that various elderberry preparations, “…activate the immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production. [Elderberry] might therefore be beneficial to the immune system activation and in the inflammatory process in healthy individuals…”
It’s also believed that elderberry enhances immune health because it’s full of beneficial compounds. Vitamin C and A are both associated with immune support, and the variety of antioxidants provides additional wellness benefits.
On top of that, Dr. Thomas Holland (a physician scientist at Rush University Medical Center) told U.S. News & World Report, “Elderberry is thought to have neuraminidase inhibiting activity. What this means is that it will block the viral neuraminidase – (an enzyme) which allows the virus to be released from an infected cell after replicating – of influenza viruses specifically. Essentially, if elderberry does contain this property, it may prevent viral reproduction by blocking the release from an already infected cell.”
How Should You Take Elderberry?
Elderberry supplements come in syrups, capsules, and even in gummies. But no matter what option you choose, it’s best to find high-quality elderberry supplements instead of trying to produce your own from raw berries.
First, the plant contains small amounts of lectin, which can lead to gastrointestinal distress if too much is consumed. Second, it contains another substance that, under certain circumstances, releases cyanide. While that sounds quite dangerous, there’s only about 3 mg of cyanide for each 100g of berries. That only makes up 3% of the estimated fatal dose for a 120lb adult.
High-quality commercial elderberry supplements, however, don’t have this problem (see now why we recommend the supplement route?). That being said, most adults can safely take elderberry every day (even three to four times a day in some cases). Just make sure you follow the recommended dosage on the product label. Depending on the potency and purity of your product, dosages can vary.
When Should You Avoid Elderberry?
Those with certain conditions or who are on certain medications should speak to their doctor before trying an elderberry supplement. Consult with your doctor before using elderberry if:
- You’re on blood pressure medications
Elderberries can reduce blood pressure already, so they have the potential to enhance the effects of those drugs.
- You’re undergoing chemotherapy
Elderberry has the potential to increase chemo side effects.
- If you’re pregnant
There aren’t enough studies to determine the safety of elderberry for pregnant individuals or their infants.
- You’re on immunosuppressants
Bottom line? If you have any questions or concerns about adding a supplement to your routine, consult with your doctor.
What Are Good Ways to Boost Immunity Other Than Elderberry?
If you’re interested in giving your immune health a serious boost, you could consider any of the following alternative options:
This essential vitamin provides antioxidants to combat free radicals. It also promotes a healthier immune system by encouraging the production of more white blood cells.
The sunshine vitamin is needed to absorb certain nutrients, but it also plays an important immune role. Taking Vitamin D3 regularly can reduce certain infections.
When extracted from specific strains of baker’s yeast, Beta-Glucan 1,3/1,6-D stimulates neutrophils, T-cells, monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells. Additionally, it also reduces the risk of respiratory infections, promotes a healthier gut microbiome, and more.
Your immune system needs zinc to function properly, but this nutrient also promotes faster wound healing, healthy bones, and has antioxidant properties.
This plant has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Plus, echinacea can help your immune system combat infections.
If you’re imagining a massive pile of vitamins and supplements, don’t worry. We created our beta-glucan supplement, Glucan85Plus, with ALL of these items in one easy-to-swallow capsule. Oh, and don’t worry, we didn’t forget the elderberry.
Every body may be different, but everybody deserves health and wellness.