It’s that time of year again. The shorter colder days of winter bring with them an increased incidence of cold & flu through the entire population. As any teacher or parent can tell you, school children and other individuals who spend their days in close contact with a significant number of other people have an increased risk of contracting these conditions. And because colds and flu are caused by viruses, antibiotics are not helpful in treating either one. Your local MD usually has very little to offer other than recommending some over-the-counter symptom relief.
Luckily, this is a situation where natural medicine really shines! Not only can we focus on supporting and strengthening the body’s own immune function, but we also have many therapies with proven anti-viral activity.
One of our favorite cold & flu remedies is extract of Sambucus, also known as elderberry. Elderberry has a long history of use as an anti-viral and immune supporting agent, among other uses. And now there have been quite a few recent studies validated its effectiveness against influenza virus, even noting action comparable to conventional anti-flu medications.
From the Journal Phytochemistry:
The H1N1 [viral] inhibition activities of the elderberry flavonoids compare favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Amantadine 1
So what’s so special about elderberry? As a dark berry, it is certainly rich in antioxidants such as anthocyanins and flavonoids, similar to blueberries.
But it was an Israeli virologist who first discovered elderberry’s potent antiviral action. He showed that elderberry constituents neutralize the activity of a particular component on the surface of the virus, rendering it unable to replicate.2 And this effect is not limited to the influenza virus. Other studies have shown elderberry’s capacity to reduce infectivity against Herpes Simplex and HIV as well.
And elderberry doesn’t just help after you’ve contracted a virus. There is a preventative aspect as well! Elderberry extracts have been shown to increase cytokine production in healthy individuals, stimulating immune function and decreasing your capacity to get sick in the first place. There are no notable side effects (as long as you don’t ingest the raw berries, which can make you vomit), and it can be taken by people of all ages. No wonder we recommend it to folks all winter long!
We generally recommend small regular doses as a preventative that decreases frequency and severity of the wintertime sniffles. Larger doses can be used once an illness is contracted. It is always best to contact your physician before beginning any treatment, or if you become ill.
1. Phytochemistry. 2009 Jul;70(10):1255-61. Epub 2009 Aug 12. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro.
2. Altern Med Rev. 2005 Mar;10(1):51-4. Elderberry Monograph