Written by Divinity Nutra, Updated on July 20, 2022
While it’s hard to imagine that a cure-all supplement can exist, proponents of elderberries can convince you otherwise. If you have ever gone through the ingredients of most cold and flu medicines, you would know what we mean.
For years now, elderberries have been utilized as one of nature’s most productive cures to many ailments. Folk medicine regards this superfruit as the most beneficial for the immune system, and science is vigorously researching the truth behind these claims.
Let’s break down what we have got so far on elderberry for immune system support.
Elderberry Immune Support
Originating from the black elder tree of European descent, the elderberries hail as a centuries-old supplement. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is rich in immune-boosting components, granting it a range of health benefits.
From cardiovascular activity to microbe resistance, there is little that they are incapable of. Turns out, this popularity owes much to the history and folklore tied to the medicinal benefits of elderberry.
European pagans associated it with a nymph with healing properties, while the ancient Greeks thought of it as a cure-all elixir. The subject of elderberry immune support is also often found in these references and present-day scientific research.
How Does Immunity Work?
Immunity can be a challenging aspect for the human body to maintain. Too much or too little can trigger aggressive responses and become counterproductive to its need.
The immune system rallies the immune cells to work against foreign attacks by viruses and infections. Once they remove the threat, they clean up the tissue and settle down again, guarding the body and awaiting the arrival of the next intruder.
In cases where the damage is significant, immune cells release proteins called cytokines and chemokines. Both of these signaling proteins further regulate the responses of the immune system.
The problem begins when the proteins are produced in excess, activating an abnormal repair mechanism. As a result, the system falters and begins to attack itself, causing inflammation, organ damage, and gastrointestinal diseases. This is known as an autoimmune response.
This highlights the need for an immune system balance, whereby immune cells are only adequately provided with proteins. This is where elderberry and its historic effect on immune response and defense kicks in. (1)
What are Antioxidants?
As claimed by the Harvard School of Public Health, antioxidants are not merely a substance or nutrient. It is a chemical state induced by many different substances, such as vitamins, flavonoids, and polyphenols.
This is part of the reason why you see many supplements labeled as “antioxidant-rich”. Our body releases free radicals during digestion. Antioxidants help fight against free radical cell damage by acting as electron donors and stabilizing them. (2)
The antioxidant capacity of elderberries is the highest among edible berries. The most prominent names are flavonoids and anthocyanins, which grant it many valuable anti-inflammatory tendencies.
Furthermore, the berries also contain a significant amount of phenolic acids that can help alleviate oxidative stress in the body. The berries are also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C and minerals. (3)
These compounds come together to grant it the health benefits it is hailed for. While scientific research is limited, the following benefits are verified and reported in several cases:
- Alleviates cardiovascular diseases
- May help prevent cancer
- Combats allergies and asthma
- Reduces cold and flu symptoms
- Reduces inflammation
- Lowers cholesterol and blood pressure
- Helps manage diabetes and blood sugar
- May help with allergies
- Improves bowel movements and constipation
Is Elderberry Good for Your Immune System?
Well-known for its antiviral properties and usage in COVID, science is starting to better understand the validity of an elderberry immune booster for daily use.
A 2011 animal study from the University of Bucharest is our first compelling piece of evidence. It directly addressed the influence of elderberry polyphenols on immune defense in rats. With a significant increase in white blood cells, the study showed much room for their therapeutic implications on the immune system. (4)
The elderberry component list supports a host of immune-boosting vitamins and antioxidants. Substances like vitamin C and anthocyanins can readily stimulate the immune response and help treat viral infections. Fortunately, we have several human studies to testify to these inferences as well.
From the National Public Health Emergency Collection, we find a 2020 report analyzing four randomized trials concerning the use of elderberry for cold and flu. Each reported an immune-modulatory effect from the elderberries and conveyed its efficacy for the treatment of viral infections. (5)
Many of them linked this potential to its usage alongside vitamin C and zinc. Therefore, it’s worth noting that elderberry gummies and syrups containing these substances are more capable than the rest.
In 2004, sixty influenza patients were tested in a randomized trial to verify the potential of oral elderberry syrup. Symptoms alleviated in an average of four days, and very few participants required rescue medications. (6)
Elderberries and their prepared extracts, juices, and syrups are anthocyanin-rich supplements. This pigment is a natural inhibitor of the influenza virus and has several research studies to its honor in this regard. (7, 8)
Cytokine Storms and Elderberry
A small-scale in vitro study displayed potential for a pro-inflammatory cytokine storm through the use of elderberry. However, after much research on the matter, most emerging information disagrees.
A systematic review from 2021 took up all existing evidence on the matter and compared their results. It regarded evidence for elderberry as a pro-cytokine agent as limited and vague. Therefore, the assertion that elderberry extracts may over-stimulate the immune system is lacking evidence. (9)
How to Take Elderberry for Immune Support
You may try any one of the following three methods to consume elderberry.
Elderberry gummies benefit from the mild sweetness of the fruit and present a chewable and palatable option to intake the supplement. They are great for adults and children who are afraid of swallowing pills or already consuming a lot of medication.
Trust a verified manufacturer that sells high-quality elderberry gummies. Make sure you check the ingredient list. Substances like vitamin C and zinc are great additions to the supplement and provide additional immune support critical during cold and flu season.
Elderberry syrups are easily found in health stores or online. But many of them are a bit on the pricey side and lack the important addition of zinc and vitamin C. Having elderberry syrup is better than not having elderberry at all, but it’s not the most effective method of consumption.
You can convert your syrup to a warm cup of elderberry tea if you enjoy sipping on a hot beverage. While tea is not the best form of elderberry intake, its temperature can help reduce mild influenza symptoms.
How much elderberry do I take for immune support? At the end of the day, elderberry is only a supplement that can assist or boost immune system health. In case of severe infections, it should not substitute for proper medical attention.
For this reason, you should only consume about 150-300 mg of elderberry per day in extract form. This is a safe and effective dosage for the treatment and prevention of cold and flu-like symptoms. If you’re buying gummies or syrup, make sure you check their elderberry content.
Potential Side Effects
What are the negative effects of elderberry? Surely, elderberries present a tempting range of health and immune-boosting benefits. However, there are a few side effects you should be aware of.
- Raw elderberries can trigger gastrointestinal diseases. Make sure you only consume them in supplement form.
- It can affect blood sugar levels if taken in excessive quantities. Diabetics should use extra caution while taking elderberries.
Who should not take elderberry? Elderberries can be harmful to pregnant women and the fetus. There is not enough information to verify its safety during pregnancy. However, they are safe for kids following the recommended dosage.
Final Thoughts on Elderberry for Immune System
Does elderberry help your immune system? The answer is a profound, yes. There is a healthy mix of human studies, animal studies, in-vitro experiments, and systematic reviews validating the use of elderberry for immune support.
Alleviating oxidative stress, improving cytokine response, boosting immune health, and treating viral infections are just some of the ways we can utilize elderberry supplements.
- Our Picks: Best Elderberry Gummies