Written by Divinity Nutra, Updated on July 6, 2022
If you have ever browsed through a list of supplements for constipation, you’ve likely seen elderberry make an appearance. Elderberries are one of the most popular all-natural choices in folk medicine and science.
Lately, this one plant-derivative has managed to inspire the entire medicinal community for its use in a wide variety of bodily ailments. But, does elderberry help with constipation?
Elderberry for Constipation
Few antioxidants come with such a rich and interesting history as elderberry does. While other herbs and fruits come and go in fads as research debunks their claims, black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is here to stay.
Hippocrates would refer to it as his chest of medicine. Even before that, European pagans would worship the elderberry nymph and her healing properties. From the Russians to the Greeks, its cure-all properties have earned it the title of an elixir.
Today, these dark purple antioxidant-packed berries are finding their way into kitchen cabinets and medicine chests around the world. This is especially true recently as elderberry has been relied on heavily for its effectiveness in treating cold and flu symptoms, COVID, and supporting immune system function.
Before we dive into the studies on elderberry for constipation, let’s take a look at bowel movements and IBS in a bit more detail.
What is Constipation?
Constipation is one of the most frequently occurring digestive problems in the United States. It entails situations when the stool is dry and hard, and you have infrequent bowel movements.
The period between each bowel movement is different from person to person. If you have gone longer than normal, you are probably experiencing constipation.
The most common cause of such a situation is a change in diet or dehydration. Low fiber or iron intake can especially trigger constipation. While it is uncomfortable for the body, constipation is not fatal, but it can be problematic in extreme cases.
However, if you experience any of the following symptoms, taking a home remedy or supplement may not be enough to fix the problem.
- Rectal bleeding
- Swollen blood vessels
- Severe abdominal pain
- Vomiting stool
If any of these symptoms arise, you should seek prompt medical attention.
What is IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is an issue in the large intestine. It can disrupt regular bowel movements, causing too little or too many of them accompanied by stomach discomfort. It may also change the consistency and shape of the stool.
IBS is commonly a result of stress or unhealthy diet routines. Eating food you are allergic to or with high-acidic content can be a culprit. Below, we’ll also discuss the potential use case of elderberry for IBS.
Elderberry is rich in anthocyanins and flavonoids, two compounds that provide significant health benefits. Elderberry enjoys the highest quotient among edible berries, making it one of the most widely used plant derivatives in immune support and digestive products.
Its composition is an excellent source of dietary fiber which is great for constipation, phenolic acid which reduces oxidative stress, and vitamins helpful for viral infections. Elderberry is even used in a number of medicinal applications such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Given such vast bioactive properties, elderberry research is rapidly underway. Now, let’s see what the studies say about elderberry and constipation.
Does Elderberry Help With Constipation?
A randomized trial from 2010 takes center stage as we dissect evidence proving elderberry for constipation. Participants with chronic constipation ingested a product containing elderberry extract. The results showed significant relief in the condition and improved daily bowel evacuations. (1)
Constipation is a possible implication of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD—not to be confused with IBS). A 2020 study analyzed several nutrients to avoid IBD. Flavonoids and anthocyanins portrayed the most effective bioactive properties, with elderberry being the best source of these compounds. (2, 3)
Another 2015 study linked dietary anthocyanins as possible supplements for managing inflammatory bowel disease. (4)
The International Journal of Molecular Sciences also supports the ingestion of anthocyanins for ulcerative colitis, a form of IBD often accompanied by constipation. (5)
Several systematic reviews have reported a proportional relationship between constipation and oxidative stress. Ingesting elderberry extract is known to reduce the detrimental effects of oxidative stress, which can include constipation and infrequent bowel movements. (6)
Overall, using elderberry for inflammation can encourage healthy bowel movements caused by an underlying condition like IBD. When paired with other potent anti-inflammatories like turmeric, results may be improved further.
Can Elderberry Cause Diarrhea?
Perhaps you’ve heard that elderberry may trigger diarrhea, but it is also widely used to make supplements. What gives?
Elderberry extract is not toxic but consuming its unripe fruit, leaves, bark stem, or other parts of the elder tree can cause digestive problems, gastrointestinal disorders, and yes, even diarrhea. (7)
As long as elderberry extract is processed into a supplement, such as gummies or syrup, it is safe for ingestion. And equally as important, if you’re consuming the recommended dosage, such as 2 to 4 elderberry gummies per day, you’re highly unlikely to have any issues.
So, does elderberry cause diarrhea? Technically yes, it can, if you’re consuming way too much of it. And is elderberry a laxative? No, it is not. But it will support healthy digestion and regular bowel movements.
Is Elderberry Good for IBS?
Only limited work has explored the influence of elderberry on irritable bowel syndrome.
In 2021, a study targeted IBS against polyphenol-rich diets and provided beneficial results. It also encouraged further research on the matter. Elderberry is host to a range of polyphenols, giving us reason to believe it may be helpful in this regard. (8)
A 2018 study aimed to understand the bioactive properties of elderberry and quantified its nutritional value. It reported a high fiber quotient, particularly pectin. Pectin, in turn, is a natural antibacterial proven to alleviate symptoms of IBS. (9, 10)
Therefore, indirect evidence also supports the use of elderberry for IBS, as well as digestive health.
How to Take Elderberry for Constipation and IBS
With the best method listed first, the following are our suggested ways to consume elderberry.
Most randomized trials using elderberry extract combined it with other natural products or nutrients to enjoy the best results. Thus, you should adopt the same approach looking for an elderberry supplement.
The best supplements are those that provide extra immunity with substances like vitamin C and zinc. Elderberry gummies do this best, combining natural ingredients with additional nutrients for enhanced immunity.
The gummies are a chewable, mildly sweet form of elderberry extract. They make it very feasible to ingest elderberry without the need of swallowing pills.
The off-the-shelf elderberry syrup available in health stores is certainly good quality and provides a nice boost in immunity. Yet, most of them lack the extra punch of vitamin C and zinc, making them a slightly less effective alternative.
With elderberry tea, you can feel good about consuming the extract and warm yourself up a bit if you’re feeling sick. Homemade elderberry teas, much like syrups, lack the extra vitamin C and zinc. However, they can serve as a warm, healthy drink to ease bowel movements.
How much elderberry should I take for constipation? The optimum elderberry dosage is 150-300 mg per day, which is safe and effective for daily use. We don’t recommend that you exceed this dosage if you’re taking it daily. However, in short-term use cases, such as severe cold or flu, 1200 mg per day for a week or two should be fine.
Remember that constipation is a digestive problem that can also be influenced by lifestyle choices. These include lack of water intake, lack of dietary fiber, and infrequent exercise routine. It’s important not to rely on supplements alone, especially when the other factors have not been addressed.
Potential Side Effects
Does elderberry have side effects? With elderberries in supplement form, side effects are very rare and usually mild. You may trigger its adverse reactions if taken in extreme quantities or with preexisting medications.
- Eating unripe fruit or other parts of the elder tree is known to cause gastrointestinal issues.
- Diabetic patients should be cautious since elderberry is known to influence blood sugar levels.
Who should not take elderberry? As long as you are buying from a verified brand, elderberry is safe for use by adults and children. However, pregnant women should avoid it until we have supporting research to verify its safety. If you have an autoimmune disease, you may want to speak to a doctor before using elderberry.
Final Thoughts on Elderberry and IBS Symptoms
Is elderberry good for constipation? The answer is, yes. It may not fully eliminate constipation or IBS. However, sufficient evidence exists to support its positive influence on bowel movements and digestion.
Elderberry’s usage extends to the start of Ayurveda, an ancient branch of natural medicine. Research has begun to uncover what many of our ancestors have suspected for thousands of years. Using elderberry for constipation and IBS is one such use case that is now backed by evidence.