What You Need To Know About Elderberry

Healthy functional food or dietary supplements for strengthening the immune system have always been of great interest. Recently, supplements that help to boost immunity have seen a surge in popularity amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These supplements include vitamin c and zinc, pre-and probiotics, and herbal or plant extracts such as curcumin, elderberry and ginseng.

This article will focus on the brief introduction, potential health benefits and potential risks of taking elderberry supplement. Read on to check out if the elderberry supplement suits your health regimen.

What is Elderberry?

Elderberry is a dark purple fruit derived from the elder tree that grows in most of Europe, North Africa, East Asia, North America, New Zealand and the southern part of Australia.1 Elderberry is highly nutritious. One cup (approximately 145g) of raw elderberries contains 106 calories, 26.7g of carbohydrate, less than 1g of protein and 10g of fibre.2 It is also packed with vitamin C, minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, sodium, magnesium, iron, zinc and copper.1 The bioactive compounds found in elderberries, such as polyphenols and anthocyanins, are known for its anti-oxidative properties. Traditionally, elderberries have been used as a flavouring in food such as wine and pies. It has also been widely used for treating influenza, bacterial sinusitis, and bronchitis.3

What are the evidence-based health benefits of Elderberry?

Fight off cold and flu symptoms

In 1993, a study was conducted on a group of individuals living in an agricultural community during an outbreak of influenza B/Panama. 93.3% of the group treated with standardized elderberry extract showed significant improvement of flu symptoms, including fever within 2 days, and nearly 90% of the treatment group achieved complete cure within 2 to 3 days.4

Another study involved 60 patients suffering from influenza-like symptoms in Norway has shown that patients received elderberry extract as treatment had their symptoms relieved on average 4 days earlier, and the used of medication was significantly less compared with placebo group.5

A study conducted on air travellers who are susceptible to upper respiratory disorders such as cold and flu has found that travellers taking elderberry extract from 10 days before travel until 4 to 5 days after arriving overseas on average experienced a 2-day shorter duration of the cold, as well as reduced cold symptoms.6

A more recent analysis has also confirmed the positive outcome of supplementing elderberry extract for upper respiratory symptoms. The findings have suggested elderberry extract as a potentially safer alternative to prescription drugs for routine cases of the common cold and flu.7

May helps to regulate blood glucose levels

Diabetes is mostly linked to insulin resistance which occurs when the body cells are less sensitive to take up glucose from the blood. Animal studies have demonstrated the potential of elderberry extract in improving insulin resistance. It is most likely due to its effect in decreasing fasting blood glucose and modulating insulin secretion.8,9  

May improves heart health

A study has shown that subjects who took elderberry extract for 2 weeks had slightly reduced cholesterol concentration compared to the placebo group. The study suggested that prolonged use of elderberry extract in higher doses might significantly reduce the subjects’ serum lipids levels.10

Another animal study also demonstrated that the anthocyanin-rich black elderberry successfully reduced the fasting glucose, the amount of cholesterol in the liver and the aorta of mice with high cholesterol. The findings indicate the potential of elderberry extract in slowing down the progress of atherosclerosis.11

Strengthen the immune system and possesses an anti-cancer effect

The elderberry fruit is rich in antioxidant anthocyanin that has shown to exhibit chemoprotective effects and played a part in skin cancer cell death.12,13

A study demonstrated the potential of standardized elderberry extract in activating the healthy immune system by stimulating the body’s immune system to fight a foreign pathogen.14 The immunoprotective effects of elderberry extract may benefit healthy individuals or cancer patients with compromised immunity due to chemotherapeutic treatments.

Who should take Elderberry, and who should not?

Adults who are prone to cold and flu symptoms will benefit from the Elderberry extract supplement. It is also suitable for adults looking for antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress and reduce risks of free radicals damaging diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular and inflammatory disease. As a rich source of vitamin C and minerals, elderberry is ideal for those who aims to boost up their nutrients intake.

The evidence of taking elderberry among children is insufficient.  There is also no specific data on the safety and efficacy of elderberry in pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Hence, it is not advisable for children, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to take elderberry supplements.15

Are there potential risks of taking Elderberry?

Elderberry extract supplement is generally safe for adults.

Consuming the barks, roots, leaves and unripe berries of the elder plant, as well as uncooked elderberries, are possibly unsafe due to the risks of cyanide poisoning, which may lead to nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea. Besides, those with known allergy or hypersensitivity to elder plants should avoid taking elderberry-containing products.3