Written by Divinity Nutra, Updated on October 29, 2022

Elderberry and Autoimmune Disease

Nearly 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, with a whopping 60% of them unaware of their condition. The symptoms are similar to the more frequently occurring diseases, so diagnosing and treating the problem isn’t always straightforward.

For those who understand their condition, or want to be proactive in supporting the thyroid gland, there are many natural supplements to consider. One such supplement is elderberry, which has a long history of efficacy for inflammation and immune support.

But, is elderberry good for thyroid disorders and autoimmune diseases? Let’s take a look at the research to find an answer.

Elderberry and Thyroid

It’s hard to believe in a one-size-fits-all remedy, but elderberries have lived up to their name as a superfruit over centuries of use. The dark, purplish berries are frequent supporters of bodily healing in Ayurveda, the world’s oldest branch of natural medicine.

The history starts from the Hippocrates era in 400 BC to early Europe and America. Today, black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is one of nature’s most effective solutions for ailments. Its most common use cases are for treating cold and flu symptoms and providing COVID relief.

Before we analyze what science has discovered regarding this unique natural medicine, let’s discuss thyroid dysfunctions in more detail.

What Is the Thyroid Gland?

Right below the center of your throat lies a butterfly-shaped organ called the thyroid gland. It is not outwardly visible but consists of two lobes found on either side of your windpipe.

The thyroid is a hormone-producing gland responsible for controlling the metabolic rate. It also plays a major role in the growth, development, and functioning of the heart, digestive tract, and muscles.

The gland produces a steady supply of thyroid hormones required for these processes. In some instances, such as cold weather or pregnancy, it may temporarily increase the supply. The three primary hormones it produces are:

  • T3 (Triiodothyronine)
  • T4 (Tetraiodothyronine)
  • Calcitonin

However, an imbalance of these hormones can be more dangerous than you think and could lead to the development of an autoimmune disease.

What Is an Autoimmune Disease?

The body’s immune system can sometimes mistake its cells for foreign invaders and start to attack them in a form of self-sabotage. Such a situation is called an autoimmune disease, and this is precisely what happens in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Hashimoto’s occurs when the body attacks the thyroid’s hormone-producing cells. This may lead to an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism, meaning insufficient thyroid production. The disease progressively shows many symptoms, such as fatigue, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, and difficulty breathing.

Treating Hashimoto’s can be a long process with medications and possible surgery. However, research seems to support the use of dietary changes and supplements that reduce oxidative stress and inflammation as a natural treatment option for Hashimoto’s.

This gives us reason to believe that elderberry and autoimmune disease have a relationship worth exploring. (1, 2)

Why Elderberry?

Elderberry’s high antioxidant capacity is the secret to its healing tendencies. It contains very high amounts of anthocyanins, flavonoids, dietary fiber, and vitamins. This heterogeneous composition allows the berries to harness a range of health benefits.

The berries are credited for many feats including, but not limited to:

Now, let’s see what the research says about using elderberry for thyroid support.

Is Elderberry Good for Thyroid Function?

A 2019 study evaluated the role of natural antioxidants in preventing thyroid dysfunction and treating various disorders. From all the categories of compounds tested, phenolic compounds (such as flavonoids) had a positive effect on the thyroid gland and may be useful against thyroid disorders. (3)

Another 2017 study found that elderberry extract inhibits specialized cells in the body that may promote an inflammatory response. While the study did not target thyroid function specifically, it validated elderberry’s inflammatory modulatory activity, which may help reduce thyroid inflammation. (4)

However, there is some conflicting evidence from in vivo and in vitro studies to suggest that excessive flavonoid intake can interfere with certain aspects of thyroid hormone synthesis. As far as what constitutes excessive flavonoid intake in humans, we can’t say for sure since these findings have yet to be confirmed in human studies. (5, 6)

If you have a preexisting thyroid condition, it’s best to speak with a doctor before adding elderberry into your treatment regimen. If elderberry is out, other products such as a turmeric supplement can help support thyroid health and treat inflammation without the potential for exacerbating problems.

Is Elderberry Safe for Autoimmune Disease?

The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 gave birth to much research on its influence outside the respiratory system, with the thyroid gland as a major stakeholder. Reportedly, the possibility of a “cytokine storm” due to COVID can worsen the inflammation and dysfunction of the thyroid. (7)

Some information suggests that elderberry can increase inflammatory cytokine production, which is a part of a healthy immune system response. But, when dealing with autoimmune diseases, activating the immune system further would be counterproductive. (8)

The findings were further supported by a 2019 study that was observing the anti-influenza properties of elderberries. Yet, one of its key findings was the stimulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines after elderberry consumption. However, in the early stages of the illness, there was an anti-inflammatory effect. (9)

These studies lead us to the conclusion that elderberries may temporarily increase inflammation to fight against diseases. However, if you’re healthy, it’s likely to only reduce it. Still, there is some countervailing evidence to push back on the narrative that elderberry over-activates the immune system.

A systematic review in 2021 weighed out this argument. It claimed that elderberry is only an “immunomodulatory agent” and balances immune response (activates it when required, and pacifies it when not required). There is no significant evidence to support that it may exacerbate the immune system. (10)

These contradictions indicate it would be unjustified to generalize elderberry as a pro-inflammatory agent when many studies report its anti-inflammatory and immune support characteristics.

To be clear, in light of mixed evidence, please make sure to speak with a certified medical professional before considering elderberry as a treatment for thyroid disorders. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and other autoimmune diseases are serious conditions and must be handled with care.

How to Take Elderberry for Thyroid

If you decide to proceed with elderberry for thyroid support, there are three ways you can squeeze more into your diet.

Elderberry Gummies

Thyroid health can be maximized when adding other vital nutrients, not just elderberry extract. Zinc, for instance, is essential for thyroid hormone production. Additionally, research has shown vitamin C to be effective against the thyroid antibodies in Hashimoto’s disease.

Elderberry gummies are your best bet if they come with both zinc and vitamin C. If purchased from a trusted brand, gummies provide a tasty and easy way to make elderberry a part of your diet without swallowing capsules.

Elderberry Syrup

Another popular way to consume elderberries is to purchase an elderberry syrup. The syrups usually lack the additional vitamin C and zinc. Given the need for a nutrient-rich diet for the thyroid, this is a minor disadvantage of using syrups.

Elderberry Tea

If you seek a warm, healthy cup of tea after a long day of discomfort, elderberry tea can help. However, similar to elderberry syrup, tea often lacks the additional support that you’d get from the inclusion of vitamin C and zinc. But, the warmth can be quite helpful if you’re dealing with cold and flu symptoms.

Dosage Recommendations

How much elderberry should I take for thyroid? The optimum dosage is 150-300 mg of elderberry extract per day. This is a safe and effective amount for general health and wellness, reducing inflammation, and supporting immunity.

Potential Side Effects

What are the side effects of elderberry? Side effects are rarely reported and are very mild and manageable. In supplement form, elderberry influences blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels. If you have diabetes or experience lipid disorder, be cautious of the quantity you consume.

Who should not take elderberry? We suggest women avoid taking elderberry while pregnant due to limited research on the matter. Otherwise, it is safe for adults and children.

Final Thoughts on Elderberry for Autoimmune Disease

Does elderberry affect your thyroid? The answer seems to be, yes. Whether or not the result is positive may depend on the individual, the severity of the condition, and a host of other factors that we just don’t have the research on at this time.

If we consider elderberry and autoimmune diseases outside the thyroid, elderberry has shown itself to be great for inflammation and immune support. Unfortunately, direct research examining Hashimoto’s disease is limited.

If your symptoms continue to worsen, you should seek medical attention. Supplementation can assist your healing process, but severe cases of thyroid dysfunction may require extensive medication or surgery.

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