I’m worried more people are going to die because some health writers are posting their thoughts and offering what I think is very poor “advice” over the Internet.
Maybe “die” is a strong word, perhaps “compromise themselves” is better…. all because one health expert was irresponsible and has misinterpreted a scientific article from 19 years ago, and then other health experts started re-posting it, and disseminating their own articles about the misinformation. I’m not naming names. There are some folks posting very poor advice over the Internet.
Sadly, the misinformation is going as viral as the virus itself!
You cannot and should not believe everything you read right online, even if it’s from a practitioner (even some famous ones) because not everyone has the gift of accurately interpreting medical data. That’s actually very hard to do. Visit the website PubMed and you’ll see what I mean. (I’ve linked that to an elderberry page.) As you will see, interpreting all of this data requires an advanced understanding of vitamins, enzymes, medications, genes, and metabolic pathways in your body. As you know, I can read these things like a second language because I quote information based upon research found on PubMed every single week, for the past 20 years.
So when I heard about a story going around about elderberries being bad for you, it piqued my curiosity. Who would say that, and why?
I’m here to save the elderberry! It has been documented to inhibit viral attachment of certain types of coronaviruses to ACE 2 proteins/receptors. They use elderberries to stain “2,6-linked sialic acids” if you want to confirm that, read the ARTICLE in PLOS ONE entitled, “Influenza and SARS-Coronavirus Activating Proteases TMPRSS2 and HAT Are Expressed at Multiple Sites in Human Respiratory and Gastrointestinal Tracts.”
ACE as in Angiotensin Converting Enzyme.
These receptors are throughout your body, and ever-present in your lung tissue, and the coronavirus has an affinity to these receptors. That’s why it seems to attack the lungs sometimes, and cause viral pneumonia, a complication that sometimes requires a ventilator.
SARS Coronaviruses gain cellular entry to your cells via different receptor sites, including the ACE 2 receptors. You can read about that HERE. It’s an article entitled, Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2: a functional receptor for SARS coronavirus.
Elder extracts have some documentation that shows they can increase T helper cell counts. You need those cells to fight back. And if elderberry can help block attachment to the lung’s ACE 2 receptors, that’s huge.
We’ve been seeing posts about how incredible elderberries are for many other viruses, including influenza for many years. Now, virtually overnight, the elderberry and all its extracts have been vilified, thus terrifying hundreds of thousands of people worried it will hurt them. That’s so sad. All because of nonsensical posts found on the Internet… well it just makes me mad! The only way to disinfect the lies is with the truth.
Let’s stick together.
Even though we’ll get through this dark time, we need to stick together. After you read today’s article, please forward it to anyone you love who is looking for holistic options.
So what I’m really saying is that several bloggers and doctors posted stories about how elderberries can increase a cytokine storm. Again, this is not a fair statement. The misinformation you’re getting was based upon a research article that evaluated blood cells in test tubes. It was not a well-designed, placebo-controlled clinical trial. It was not even done on real live people (in vivo).
Elderberries are helpful, they have been with us for centuries! But someone started a false claim that the precious herb would increase a cytokine storm and worsen your outcome. Now that’s gotten posted to every social media site available! Sad. Irresponsible.
The reasoning is that the elderberries (botanically known as Sambucus nigra) can raise TNF alpha 45 times!
Ok wait a sec… right there we could stop! If that were true then almost everyone who took supplements or teas would become seriously ill and maybe even die! And we’ve known for eons and centuries that the opposite is true. Elderberry extracts, syrups, teas, jams and supplements are powerful immune regulators and useful for the flu and other conditions. Elderberries are very rich in quercetin, which is a strong anti-inflammatory compound. You see, there are good cytokines and bad ones. Elderberry raises the good ones, to help you fight. It doesn’t worsen or promote any virus; quite the contrary.
Let me back up to explain TNF for a minute. This is a protein in your body that stands for “Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha” and you need it. It’s secreted by a type of white blood cell called a macrophage. Those are the cells that swallow up viruses. As the name implies, TNF activates your immune system and sends out help to kill cancer cells.
So clearly, TNF plays a vital role in the natural healing process. Your body knows how to control it and the normal healthy body naturally deactivates excessive levels of it in your bloodstream to control inflammation. But in a person with auto-immune disease, the TNF alpha is higher because they cannot naturally deactivate it as well as before.
Humor me for just one more second… Normal levels are measured via a blood test.
Quest: 0.56 – 1.4 pg/ml
LabCorp: 0.0 – 2.2 pg/ml
You will see high levels of TNF alpha in people with psoriatic arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s disease, cancer and ENDOMETRIOSIS.
But levels that are “45 times higher” as stated in the study are very abnormal in a real live person unless they are severely ill with aseptic meningitis! You do NOT see this spike in TNF in people who take elderberry syrup for general health, or protection of the flu… that’s how you can now conclude for yourself, that if the analysis were true then everyone who took this supplement would be sick!
So when I get an email from someone who read a negative article on “Dr. Google” about elderberries and a “cytokine storm” I find it very disturbing. I know for a fact that it’s immunosupportive, anti-inflammatory and specifically useful for those with lung concerns. All of the articles and posts are based upon one test tube analysis that showed a spike in a specific cytokine called TNF.
It reminds me of the game “Telephone” which is called other names around the world. The game begins with children forming a line, or sitting in a circle. The first player devises a message and whispers it into the ear of the second person, and so on. The last person to say the message is ALWAYS way off from the original!
For kids, this game is fun, but for adults in fear of COVID, it’s frightening!
Here is the study link that people are quoting from: The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines.
This was not a well-designed, clinical trial. It was research based on a dozen test tubes – on blood cells! It was a test tube determination… not even on real live people. And now, on a daily basis I get emails asking about the use of elderberries, and I have to cut and paste the truth and email it to those of you who are writing to me, because that is the only way I can disinfect the lies. Elderberry temporarily up-regulates certain cytokines like IL-6, IL-8 and TNF, which confer an indirect effect on your viral immune response during infection. This isn’t a bad thing.
There is a lot of fear and naturally, people are desperately seeking out popular, well-researched herbal remedies elderberries have merit. There is nothing to fear.
So as I’ve already stated, someone started a false claim on social media that the precious Elderberry is harmful because usage will increase an existing cytokine storm caused by COVID-19 and theoretically elderberry would enhance that and kill you faster. Ridiculous.
The article was from a long time ago, actually 19 years. The professors took donated blood from 12 volunteers and extracted some white blood cells called “monocytes,” not T cells. It was the monocytes that they put into a test tube with the proprietary blend of elderberry extract called “Sambucol.” The conclusion about elderberries was originally published online on a website called the European Cytokine Network. They compared a “monocyte activator” to a proprietary brand of Sambucol® and I want you to know up front, right now, that the monocyte activator increased cytokines by up to 10 times! The elderberry was comparable most of the time, with the exception of TNF which was doubled (see below).
The article was in favor of elderberries, in other words, it was not negative. But posts on social media make it sound very negative. People (including some well-intentioned doctors) are quoting from this study but interpreting it as if it were a bad outcome! But again, it was not. You can read it for yourself by CLICKING HERE.
I will now summarize my feelings about this for you, because I want to show you how foolish it is for people to be saying and posting what they are saying:
1. The article from Jerusalem was not printed in a journal that doctors commonly refer to like the Lancet, or NEJM. It was posted online. But regardless of the publication, allow me to go on…
2. Only 12 people were used who donated their blood! A global pandemic with millions of us on Earth are relying on data from 12 test tubes?! I should stop right here but I’ll keep going…
3. The article is from 19 years ago! I would never rely on data from 2 decades ago to make a major life decision, would you?
4. The researchers themselves concluded that elderberry, “reduced the duration of flu symptoms to 3-4 days.”
5. The researchers also conclude that it “can activate the healthy immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production.” They’re saying that in a good way, because you need certain anti-inflammatory cytokines in higher numbers to offset the pro-inflammatory cytokines. They go on to say that elderberry, “…could also have an immunoprotective or immunostimulatory effect when administered to cancer or AIDS patients, in conjunction with chemotherapeutic or other treatments.”
6. Does anyone know for sure if COVID-19 raises TNF to an excessively high level? The finding may not even matter.
7. I think the extraction method comes into play. Freeze-dried extracts of elderberry versus oven-dried extracts will have a different effect on white blood cells. This STUDY demonstrated that elderberry extracts and its constituents may exert different antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects on the body.
8. Finally, the test tube study was done on one proprietary blend called “Sambucol” not on various different elderberry preparations, and not on berries that you buy in bulk, and not on other proprietary brands. So it’s impossible to draw a conclusion on elderberries when only one commercial brand was analyzed!
9. How would T helper cells or actual macrophages react to the elderberry in a test tube? We don’t know, or maybe we do. There is actually research to suggest that elder extracts do increase T cells (it’s a good thing!) The research being cited above with this “cytokine storm” was based on monocytes only, not any other type of white blood cell. There are many different types of white blood cells (leukocytes) which fight for you, so how can we draw a conclusion from just the monocytes?
We cannot, and should not, run from something so profoundly healing based upon junk posts by people who don’t know what they’re talking about!
10. TNF does go up a little in the presence of elderberry, but it’s not a bad “storm.” This TNF cytokine is required for your immune system to mount a fight! This is how your body receives a signal as an indirect immune response to a virus (or a cancer cell). TNF isn’t bad when it’s up for a short period of time. It’s there to help out.
By now, I’m sure you can see why I’m frustrated that people all around the world (and countries even) are saying to “avoid elderberries.”
I’ve given you 10 solid reasons above why YOU shouldn’t! And I’m also asking you to please share my post. Just FYI, I do not sell elderberries, nor do I have them in any formula at my supplement store. I’m just trying to inform the public, and to help you protect yourself during these unpredictable times.
Here’s a meta-analysis that you can READ published in 2019, in Complimentary Therapies in Medicine. The scientists concluded with, “These findings present an alternative to antibiotic misuse for upper respiratory symptoms due to viral infections, and a potentially safer alternative to prescription drugs for routine cases of the common cold and influenza.”
The concept of “Cytokine Storm.”
Back in 1993, the first article was published using the phrase “cytokine storm.” It was again used in 2005 in some scientific literature as it pertained to H5N1, known as “Bird Flu” which is highly pathogenic. You should take 2 seconds and glance at THIS ARTICLE. Regardless of its usage in journals, the phrase “cytokine storm” refers to various different cytokine compounds in the body that are naturally produced. When one, or several cytokines are in excess, there can technically be a “storm” if that’s what you want to call it, and you do see this occur with both infectious and noninfectious diseases. You may also experience an upregulation in cytokines when you are treated with certain medications, oxidative treatments, chemotherapy and more. It happens. For the purpose of this discussion, when I say “cytokine storm” I am emphasizing a reaction in the body that occurs with a respiratory virus and using that term, even though I want it clear that cytokines that go up, do so in an effort to protect us. But yes, at a certain point, they reach levels where they need to be suppressed.
So in summary, cytokines are not necessarily bad. The general term “cytokine” should be maintained in your brain as something relatively neutral, with the exception of a few. They each have their own respective levels for what is “normal” and our body seeks to keep them in homeostasis. The storm occurs when several cytokines rise to extraordinarily high levels and this backfires on the body.
This is a bit complicated but I just want to say there are many cytokines which can function as anti-inflammatory compounds in the body such as interleukin (IL)-1 receptor antagonist (there’s actually 11 in this family alone!) plus IL-4, IL-6, IL-10, IL-11 and IL-13. Specific cytokine receptors for IL-1, TNF alpha, and IL-18 also function as pro-inflammatory cytokine inhibitors. This is a very good ABSTRACT published in the International Journal of Toxicology: “Cytokines may be “good” when stimulating the immune system to fight a foreign pathogen or attack tumors. Other “good” cytokine effects include reduction of an immune response, for example interferon β reduction of neuron inflammation in patients with multiple sclerosis. They may be “bad” when their expression causes inflammatory diseases, such as the role of TNF alpha in rheumatoid arthritis or asthma and Crohn’s disease.”
The use of Elderberry.
I do not sell anything with elderberries but you can find all kinds of supplements and teas online or at any health food store. I wholeheartedly believe in these for immune function and even used them to make my Immune Tea. Here’s a VIDEO you can watch on YouTube where I make the tea. This video is what sparked a flurry of emails and questions to my inbox because I actually put the newly demonized elderberries in it.
I’m not saying they cure anything and I’m not saying they prevent or treat coronavirus. I’m saying the fear of elderberries is needless, and it should stop now. There is nothing to fear. They support the immune system* and right now we need as much help as we can get. There is current and solid research to support its anti-viral activity, especially the flu.
The science of Elderberry.
The SARS family of viruses (ie the coronaviruses) have been shown to attach themselves to receptors called ACE and I wrote about this last week. You can click on my article HERE to learn more about this concept, and the medications and herbs that work on the ACE pathway (also called the ARB pathway). If you’re interested in the virus and its attachment to ACE, then read this: Tissue Distribution of ACE2 protein, the functional receptor for SARS coronavirus. A first step in understanding SARS pathogenesis.
The family of coronaviruses ‘hug’ onto the receptor sites of ACE protein which is on the cells of your body, especially in your lungs. When the virus migrates down into the lower respiratory tract it specifically attaches to the moving cilia, which are hair-like structures in your lungs and middle ear. These cilia move or wave and they keep the airway clear of dirt and mucus so that you can breathe with comfort.
Coronavirus kills the cilia, causing the extremely dangerous complication because in doing so, the lungs can no longer fight the infection, the mucus builds up and the person requires a ventilator to do the breathing for them while a treatment kicks in.
One herb that is known to protect the ACE protein is Elderberry! I need to be careful about what I am saying now because I am not making any claims about this herb (or any other) fighting pneumonia or coronavirus. I’m just saying that the research says it helps with the ACE pathway. And that pathway is very important to lung function. Other ACE protective herbs include Chinese Skullcap, Licorice Root and Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum). Cinnamon may have an application here as well (but mild) so sprinkle some on your yogurt or coffee today.
By the way, cilia can regenerate, however it takes many months. It’s not easy. Protection is critical.
Elderberry and Influenza.
We don’t know much about coronavirus yet. But we do know that influenza virus is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, impacting almost 10 percent of the global population. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that The Flu’s mortality is between 290,000 to 650,000 people per year.
Here’s an article you might be interested in: Black Elderberry (Sambucus Nigra) Supplementation Effectively Treats Upper Respiratory Symptoms: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trials.
You can read the whole article at your leisure, however their conclusion is most important: “Supplementation with elderberry was found to substantially reduce upper respiratory symptoms…These findings present an alternative to antibiotic misuse for upper respiratory symptoms due to viral infections, and a potentially safer alternative to prescription drugs for routine cases of the common cold and influenza.”
Does that sound like something health bloggers should be dissing?
There is another ARTICLE that you may be interested in. Might I add that no one is worried about a “cytokine storm.” They’re showing how useful the elderberry might be and conclude with, “Rubini elderberry liquid extract is active against human pathogenic bacteria as well as influenza viruses.”
An Australian STUDY found that, “Compounds from elderberries can directly inhibit the virus’s entry and replication in human cells, and can help strengthen a person’s immune response to the virus.”
The anti-viral activity of elderberry comes from various compounds, including that dark purple color in the berry. The natural dye in plants are termed collectively as “anthocyanidins.” One specific color (dye) in the gorgeous elderberry (seen above in my graphic) is called cyanidin 3-glucoside. This specific purplish color was written up in Cancer Letters in 2006 where they found it could slow down invasive lung cancer! Not bad for a natural fruit-derived color! Read more in the article by CLICKING HERE.
Same thing with blueberry and other colorful berries, they have natural anthocyanidins which are antioxidants.
Right now, I’d like to point you to the Pubmed site that offers dozens of articles on Elderberry so that you can do your own research.
I hope this article has made you think, and opened your mind to the possibility that some herbs, including elder extracts can be useful for immune system health. There are many more. I just simply wanted you to NOT base your health decisions on something that was incorrectly stated on the Internet. Please feel free to use my search box to look up other herbs and information as it pertains to your health. If you’d like to read one of my other articles on how to make a DIY hand sanitizer, CLICK HERE.
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Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.