Elderberry is one of those supplements that has a lot of claims attached to it. For example, in Eastern medicine, it’s believed to be a potent herbal remedy for everything from poor circulation to muscle and joint pain. But there’s also some research that supports its touted immune system benefits, experts say. And hey, who couldn’t use an extra boost when it comes to their immune health (particularly during cold and flu season)?
“Elderberry comes from the medicinal plant Sambucus nigra, or black elderberry, which has demonstrated antibacterial and antiviral potential,” explains Dr Marc Goldstein, chief of allergy and immunology at Pennsylvania Hospital and member of the advisory board of the health-care company Curist. But, like any supplement, elderberry is not a miracle cure for *any* bacterial or viral infection.
Read on for the lowdown on the vitamin C-packed berry’s benefits, and when and how you should use elderberry.
What are the health benefits of elderberry?
The supplement may be able to help you out in a variety of ways, but know that much more research needs to be done to say for certain. Here are the areas in which experts think elderberry shows major promise.
1. It may help reduce the length of a cold or the flu.
First and foremost, elderberry is known for its ability to help fight colds and the flu. Now, it’s important to note that elderberry won’t get rid of a cold or flu completely if you’re already feeling under the weather. But one small, older study found that elderberry may help your body kick the flu faster.
In the Norwegian study, 60 patients started taking an elderberry extract supplement once they started showing flu symptoms, and continued for a week. The extract relieved their symptoms four days earlier on average compared to a placebo.
“Elderberry has a respiratory impact, mainly — it slows the replication of the virus, and because of that people may get less sick,” Dr. Goldstein says. There have been good results with colds, too: Another recent study discovered that, for people who frequently travel by plane, elderberry could be helpful in fighting off colds.
When study participants took two elderberry extract capsules a day for 10 days leading up to air travel, and three capsules a day during their trip and for four to five days after returning home, they reduced the duration of upper respiratory symptoms more than a placebo. “It doesn’t prevent the infection from happening, but at least with common colds, people tend to get better sooner, with less severe symptoms,” Dr. Goldstein says.
Though there are studies into how elderberry affects colds and flu, there is no research on elderberry that applies to novel coronavirus, FYI. (There are a lot of misleading reports circulating about elderberry as a miracle supp to treat COVID-19.) Besides, people who are sick with COVID-19 tend to have a fever and lower respiratory distress and limited upper respiratory symptoms, like congestion and sneezing, explains Dr. Goldstein. And given that elderberry has been shown to reduce upper respiratory cold and flu symptoms, there’s no concrete evidence that elderberry would help prevent or treat COVID-19.
2. It may have anti-inflammatory properties.
In addition to assisting with immune health, there are other potential anti-inflammatory benefits of elderberry. The high antioxidant levels of the elderberry may decrease inflammation in the body when taken daily (the amount will depend on the form you’re taking), which is especially helpful when your body is fighting off a virus or bacterial infection, says Stacy Mobley, a licensed naturopathic doctor and certified Ayurvedic wellness counsellor.
3. It may improve circulation.
Due to the high antioxidant levels, taking elderberry could potentially increase buoyancy in the blood vessels and capillaries over time, helping blood move through the body and possibly even stabilising blood pressure. “The first thing that happens with fever-related illness is the blood pressure goes up,” Dr. Mobley says, “so extra support will not hurt during that situation.”
4. It may help regulate your blood sugar levels.
Animal research has suggested that elderberry might aid in keeping blood glucose levels normal. “This can be especially helpful if someone has a bacterial infection, since bacteria feed on sugar in the body,” Dr. Mobley says.
Still, findings from animal studies don’t necessarily mean the same is true in humans. And elderberry isn’t a remedy for high blood sugar related to diabetes, so if you’re diabetic, speak with your doctor before taking it.
What kind of elderberry is best to take?
The most potent form of elderberry is raw elderberry syrup (Dr. Mobley suggests syrup made with organic, fresh-pressed elderberries). The syrup is absorbed most quickly by the body — whereas if you take elderberry gummies, capsules, lozenges, or teas, they’re less potent and/or take longer for the body to digest. Not to mention, the gummies often have added sugar.
But, Dr. Mobley says, the non-syrup options are still better than nothing. You may find syrups that have other ingredients added, such as raw honey. These options will be just as effective, as long as they contain the raw elderberry.
Can you take elderberry every day?
Since it doesn’t do anything to prevent you from catching a cold or flu, there’s no reason to be loading up on elderberry on a daily basis as a protective measure. But if you’re feeling like a cold or flu is coming on, and want to take elderberry for extra support, you can.
Just make sure to take it correctly: In one of the first studies on elderberry and its effects on flu, patients starting taking it within the first 48 hours of getting sick. They saw improvement with their symptoms when they took one teaspoon of elderberry four times a day, for about five days. Dr. Goldstein recommends this method as well. Take it frequently, at the first sign of cold or flu, for around five days, or until symptoms improve.
However, Dr. Mobley points out, taking too much elderberry may in some cases cause unpleasant GI symptoms. If it’s making you feel yuckier, skip it. On that note…
What are the side effects of elderberry?
There aren’t any known dangers of taking elderberry, besides eating it raw. Elderberries *must* be cooked, as the raw berries could be poisonous, at worst, or cause GI issues, at the very least, Dr. Mobley says. (When you take in, say, syrup or supplement form, the ingredient has been processed in a way that is safe for people to take.) And certainly, if you have an allergic response the first time you take elderberry, such as hives, tongue or lip swelling, stop taking it immediately, Dr. Goldstein adds.
Still, not everyone should take elderberry. There’s some speculation that elderberry could cause an immune system flare-up for people who have an autoimmune condition or have had an organ transplant, though this hasn’t been proven. If you have a delicate immune system, especially from undergoing cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiation, the best practice is to speak with your primary care physician, rheumatologist, or oncologist before starting to take elderberry.
Likewise, if you’re pregnant or lactating, there’s no evidence showing that it can affect you negatively, Dr. Mobley says, but you should check in with your ob-gyn first to be safe.
The bottom line: Elderberry won’t prevent you from getting sick, but it may be worth keeping elderberry syrup on hand to fight off cold and flu symptoms if you do catch something.
*These recommendations are only a guide to help boost your health and wellness; they’re not a vaccine or cure for any illness.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com