Discussing elderberry: what it is and what do studies say about its effectiveness in preventing and treating cold and flu

The newest issue (January 2021) of Today’s Dietitian magazine arrived in the mail recently and one of the articles went over elderberry. Elderberry is a natural remedy that has been suggested to help prevent and treat cold and flu. With flu season here and COVID-19, many people are looking into this solution, so it’s been a hot topic!

One thing I particularly appreciate about the article is that it reviewed published studies on elderberry, as do many articles published by Today’s Dietitian. As you know, there is a ton of information on nutrition, some that are evidence-based and others that make you wonder if it’s too good to be (if it does, then it probably is too good to be true). Knowing who and what to trust can be challenging. It’s important to find credible sources and as a clinician, I’m committed to providing information that’s based on science, not fads or quackery. If you have questions on this, send me a message.

In this post, I want to share the key highlights from the article and help you understand more about elderberry. I will be referencing Today’s Dietitian’s article in magazine Vol. 23 No. 1, “Elderberry: Is it really efficacious in the prevention and treatment of the cold, flu, and COVID-19?”

What is elderberry?

Elderberry is “the dark purple berry of the European or black elder tree. It grows in warm areas of Europe, North America, Asia, and North America.”

What highlighted nutrients does it contain?

– Phenolic compounds, particularly anthocyanins that give the berry its dark blue/purple color, similar to blueberries and blackberries
– Flavonoids such as quercetin, which has anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating effects

Takeaway

– “There have been several small, company-funded clinical studies that have suggested elderberry may reduce the symptoms and shorten the duration of the cold and flu, but a study not company funded didn’t show benefit.”
– In September 2020, a large study evaluated if elderberry extract decreases severity and duration of the flu. The results showed no difference in severity or duration of symptoms between elderberry and placebo.
– Elderberry has also been suggested to help improve cardiovascular disease (CVD) biomarkers, however there is a lack of evidence to support this claim.
– There seems to be uncertainty of the level of compound needed to determine elderberry’s efficacy due to the inconsistent amount of extract used in several of the small, company-funded studies.
– “Currently, there are no published studies that have evaluated the use of elderberry in the treatment of COVID-19.” – What this translates to is, it’s not safe to take elderberry supplements for COVID-19 without fact-checking and checking with a provider. Elderberry may actually harmful to the those with COVID-19 due to the immunological actions of elderberry, one of which causes the release of cytokines and studies have suggested a link between increased cytokines and acute respiratory distress in COVID-19 patients.
There is inconsistent researching findings on the efficacy of elderberry to prevent and treat colds and flu.
– Bottom line: There is no magic bullet and no diet or supplement can replace a healthy diet consisting of whole foods with natural antioxidants, immune-stimulating vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

Surprising signs related to nutrient deficiencies

In America, access to and intake of high caloric foods are prevalent. These are foods that meet our energy or calorie needs. However, access to and intake of nutritious foods is another story. The concept of being “well fed, but undernourished” can be defined as consuming adequate or excess calories, but not getting adequate nutrients such as essential vitamins, minerals and other health-promoting substances in the diet.

Studies using information on nutrient intake from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) have indicated that up to 9 out of 10 Americans get less than the recommended amount for one or more vitamins and minerals in their diets. That’s a huge number! Inadequate nutrient intakes could lead to deficiencies and some of the most common nutrient deficiencies in America are iron, Vitamin D, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, Vitamin B12 and calcium. One thing that many of us may not realize is that nutrient deficiencies can be tricky to identify. Aside from lab results, they can present themselves in a variety of physical and mental symptoms. If deficiencies are not addressed appropriately, they can lead to a variety of health problems.

Holiday fitness challenge

Holidays are approaching fast. What are YOUR health goals? Whether you’re just getting started or have been working towards them this year, don’t lose track of your health goals. Make health your priority, it’s the best gift you can give yourself!

One way to help you stay focused is to join a holiday fitness challenge. You can do one with family, friends, coworkers or anyone else you’d like. Make things fun! Right now, there’s an opportunity to join an online holiday fitness challenge hosted by fitness expert/coach David Wick of Fresh Focus Fitness. In collaboration with Fresh Focus Fitness, as part of the challenge’s program, you’ll receive my nutrition tips and tricks to let you enjoy the holidays and stay on track towards your health goals. You’ll be entered to win several prizes, one of them being a free consultation with me (eligibility rules apply, please read the details of the challenge here). For any questions about the challenge, visit facebook.com/freshfocusfitness or contact @freshfocusfitness on Instagram.

healthy living resource blog

Want to stay educated with healthy living resources created by Registered Dietitians?

Hello! I hope you’re staying safe and healthy. In light of COVID, many of us are going through a shift in schedule and routine. Please take time for wellness by staying in touch with loved ones, staying active and eating healthy. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me, I’m happy to help. I am still offering 1-on-1 nutrition coaching services, however they are all conducted virtually until further notice. In the meantime, if you are looking for some light reading on healthy diet and lifestyle, including tips on meal prepping, grocery shopping, plant protein and much more, check out Meta Nutrition Healthy Living Blog. In collaboration with Meta Nutrition, I, along with other registered dietitians, cover some of the most popular nutrition topics and questions that you might also have! If you have suggestions on what you’d like to learn more about, send me a message. I hope you enjoy.

Until next time,

Julie