US consumers reportedly spent over $270 million on elderberry supplements in 2020 alone.
With the pandemic, millions of people understood the importance of maintaining a healthy immune system. They began complimenting their diets with beneficial supplements and modifying their lifestyles to boost the immune system response.
Many rumored health benefits of elderberry have now been backed by scientific evidence. But, is elderberry good for cancer treatment and prevention?
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Elderberry and Cancer
Elderberries are the dark purple berries harvested from the European elder tree. The tree grows in warm parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has been a source of medicinal healing for centuries.
Traditionally, no herbalist practiced their craft without using this superfruit as a core ingredient in their strategy. Back in 400 BC, at the start of medicine, Hippocrates referred to elderberry as his medicine chest. The unlimited variety of applications supported by the berries echoed throughout the history of early Europeans and indigenous Americans.
Generation after generation upheld these beliefs. So much so that today’s home remedies are incomplete without mentioning elderberry. This is especially true in the case of lessening cold and flu symptoms, treating COVID, and providing general immune support. Thankfully, the increasing interest in biomedical knowledge has stimulated much research on elderberry.
With scientific evidence greatly siding with elderberry, supplements are soaring to mainstream market popularity. This opens the door for using traditional herbal supplements as an anchor for conventional medicines available in the market, such as the use of elderberry for cancer treatment.
Before we cover the studies, it’s important to understand cancer in a bit more detail.
What is Cancer?
Cancer is an umbrella term referring to a group of more than 100 diseases. Each of them is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body.
When cells grow and divide, this is considered a normal function of the human body. Sometimes this cell division becomes uncontrollable and can lead to the development of tumors, which can be broadly categorized as the following:
- Benign: Slow growing with distinct borders, doesn’t invade surrounding tissue.
- Malignant (cancerous): Fast-growing with irregular borders, easily spreads to other parts of the body and neighboring tissues.
It’s difficult to understand the exact causes of various types of cancer. However, certain common diseases can put you at high risk. These include prolonged occurrences of low cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and hypertension. Other causes include uncontrollable factors, such as genetics and age.
Cancer treatments vary depending upon their severity, type of cancer, and the patient’s health. Targeted therapy methods such as chemoradiation or surgery help treat later stages of cancer. Doctors may also prescribe medications to stimulate immunotherapy, as well as provide dietary and lifestyle recommendations to prepare the immune system for fighting cancerous cells.
Today, there is much scientific evidence surrounding the claimed bioactive properties of elderberry. Studies have used phrases such as “prospective natural remedy” to legitimize the use of elderberry as a supplement.
With its rich nutrient base, an elderberry supplement can protect you against a host of diseases. They are low in calories but boast an adequate supply of dietary fiber, as well as flavonoids and anthocyanins, two primary drivers of elderberry’s benefits.
Given this impressive nutritional breakdown and superior antioxidant capacity, it makes sense that elderberry provides many health benefits, including but not limited to:
- Reduces allergies and asthma symptoms
- Alleviates high cholesterol and blood pressure
- Helps treat constipation and IBS
- Fights viral infections such as cold and flu
- Boosts skin health and hair growth
Now, let’s see what the research says about elderberry and cancer.
Is Elderberry Good for Cancer Prevention?
A 2017 paper examined several berry species, including elderberry, for chemoprevention against pancreatic cancer. While the summary did not specifically address elderberry properties, it mentioned the available in vitro and in vivo studies suggest that there are potential benefits in using elderberry for cancer prevention.
In 2006, a study took up a comparative evaluation of the anti-cancer properties in elderberries of American and European origin. Both species exhibited significant cancer-inhibiting effects, showing much potential for elderberry supplements globally.
A very significant piece of evidence comes from a 2016 study that evaluated elderflower extract against trophoblast tumor and breast cancer cells. It portrayed reduced tumor cell proliferation and proved beneficial as a protective treatment for breast cancer.
Time and time again, studies address the many bioactive properties of elderberries. Each of these evaluations mentions its antitumor effects to validate its use as a natural cancer-prevention supplement.
In 2016, an in vitro study came forward that addressed the chemopreventive use of elderberry concerning colon cancer. Elderberry extract, with its high anthocyanin quotient, proved useful in inhibiting cancer cell growth.
These results were related to a previous 2008 study that evaluated anthocyanins, such as elderberry, for colon cancer prevention. It proved to be a cancer inhibitor and reduced tumor cell proliferation.
A 2018 study presented a comprehensive analysis of the effect of elderberry extract on tumor membranes. It provided highly prospective results and validated the berry’s anti-cancer, natural anti-inflammatory, and antiviral tendencies.
Certain studies and systematic reviews have established that elderberry extract possesses anti-cancer potential. However, we need more human studies to validate these claims.
Elderberry, while promising, isn’t the only supplement on the market with research supporting its use in cancer. There is also significant potential in taking advantage of the turmeric benefits as a means to prevent cancer, as well.
Lastly, it’s important to note, that there is no cure for cancer. Supplements should not be viewed as replacements for traditionally prescribed cancer treatments. Always consult with a doctor or certified medical professional before adding supplements into a cancer treatment regimen.
- Related: Do Antioxidants Prevent Cancer? Free Radicals and Cancer Explained
How to Take Elderberry for Cancer
There are three ways you can take elderberries for cancer prevention.
Dietary and lifestyle changes are the key to unlocking immune support for cancer. This highlights the need for choosing a supplement rich in immune-boosting ingredients, such as elderberry gummies.
Elderberry gummies combine the elder extract with valuable nutrients, like zinc and vitamin C. This composition allows the elderberry gummies to exhibit a thoroughly beneficial immune response.
Gummies are easy to chew as a regular part of your diet. They are highly palatable, making them ideal for both adults and children who dislike elderberry pills.
Elderberry syrups are your second-best option. There are several good-quality off-the-shelf syrups, but most of them lack the additional vitamin C and zinc. Thus, they can provide mild immunity while being slightly pricier than elderberry in gummy form.
Elderberry tea can be a good substitute for those looking for an easy-to-make, healthy cup of tea. Similarly, the lack of vitamin C and zinc puts tea at a solid number three as far as effective intake options go. But, elderberry tea can be good for mild cold and flu symptoms as it can help warm the body.
How much elderberry should I take for cancer? A dosage of 150-300 mg per day is a safe and effective dosage to provide additional immune support. You can go as high as 1,200 mg per day for short durations (two weeks or less), but this dosing range is not recommended for long-term use.
- Learn More: Can you take elderberry daily?
Potential Side Effects
What are the side effects of elderberry? Supplementation of elderberry is generally safe, with a rare possibility of side effects. However, consuming raw elder fruit or other parts of the elder tree can trigger gastrointestinal problems.
If you exceed the optimum dosage, you can expect changes in blood sugar levels. Therefore, diabetic patients should be careful of the quantity and frequency of elderberry supplementation.
Who should not take elderberry? As long as you have cross-checked any possible allergies and invested in a trusted brand, elderberry is safe for kids and adults. However, we advise women to avoid elderberry while pregnant until direct research is available on the matter.
Elderberry for Cancer: Final Thoughts
Does elderberry help with cancer? It seems the answer is a potential yes. We still need more human studies to confirm this. However, we can not neglect the abundance of studies supporting elderberry for cancer treatment and prevention.
Elderberry portrays a range of health benefits for viral, inflammatory, and cardiovascular conditions. But again, elderberry is not a cure for cancer and should not be viewed as such.
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