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Elderberry, scientifically known as Sambucus nigra, is a flowering plant from which supplemental extracts are often made.
It is an anthocyanin-rich purple berry that grows in many of the warmer regions of the world.
Supplemental elderberry extracts are often marketed as an immune boosting supplement, and the goal of today’s article is to further explore the scientific validity of that sentiment.
The United States National Center For Complimentary And Integrative Health makes the following claim:
“Some preliminary research suggests that elderberry may relieve symptoms of flu or other upper respiratory infections.”
Let’s take a closer look.
Elderberry For Immune Support
On a cellular level, using blood samples from healthy volunteers, a 2021 study out of Food And Agricultural Immunity demonstrated that an elderberry preparation exhibited anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties ( including against influenza, again at a cellular level).
Elderberry extract has also been demonstrated to suppress unhealthy bacteria while having a potentially prebiotic effect on healthy bacteria.
But does this potential value translate to human immune health in experimental trials?
In 2016, a randomized controlled trial out of the Nutrients journal assessed the effects of 300mg of elderberry extract on the duration and severity of post-travel cold symptoms in air travelers.
While elderberry did not reduce the likelihood of getting a cold, it did reduce both the duration and severity of the cold in those who got it and took elderberry 10 days before and 4-5 days after arriving overseas as compared to those who did not.
In 2021, BMC Complimentary Medicine and Therapies conducted a systematic review of five randomized trials looking at elderberry supplementation – including the study referenced above.
This paper arrived at three conclusions:
1. Elderberry supplementation may help reduce the severity and duration of both the common cold and the flu.
2. Elderberry supplementation appears safe and without adverse effects.
3. The available evidence is limited in quality and quantity, thus strong conclusions are hard to draw.
On to Vitamin C!
Vitamin C For Immune Support
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and has long been associated with potentially immune boosting benefits including as it relates to the common cold.
An orange, two kiwis, a cup of strawberries and a single bell pepper all contain a full day supply of Vitamin C.
But is there a role for Vitamin C supplementation as it relates to immune health?
In fact, the scientific consensus around this is very similar to that of Elderberry – meaning that supplementation probably won’t reduce your risk of getting a cold, but it slightly shortens the duration of the cold by close to 10% and may reduce severity too.
As per a comprehensive Cochrane Review, the most compelling evidence around Vitamin C supplementation for immune health is for those who will be exposed to cold environments or engaging in physical activity (such as marathons, skiers) often in cold environments.
It is possible that supplementing Vitamin C in the two to three weeks prior to events of this nature halved the risk of ending up with a common cold, based on data from five trials.
Although the science in this area is limited, it does appear that the strongest evidence for benefit of the use of either elderberry and/or Vitamin C may be in the period of time leading up to specific events like air travel or robust physical endeavours.
I know these are both popular compounds and that immune health is generally a topic of great interest, so hopefully you enjoyed today’s discussion.
Until next time,
Andy De Santis RD MPH
Pique Daily Radiance – A Vitamin C & Elderberry Supplement
The theme of today’s article is rooted in immune health, but my regular readers will know that I’ve previously discussed the role of Vitamin C for its anti-aging skin effects too.
But here’s a very fun fact for you – Elderberry is rich in a specific type of flavonoid antioxidant family known as anthocyanins.
I’ve also written extensively on the role of these types of compounds in slowing both skin and biological aging, so be sure to take a look.
Which brings me to Daily Radiance by Pique, a oral skincare product containing both Vitamin C and Elderberry.
Today’s blog post was not sponsored or funded by Pique, but I am collaborating with them on Instagram to promote this product – which inspired me to research and write today’s piece in the first place.
That being said, I’ve been provided a partner link (click image below) that offers you guys 15% off their products – which are admittedly quite cool.
Andy De Santis RD MPH