Unfortunately, at this point, there is still no cure or vaccine for the coronavirus (COVID-19). However, this does not mean that you’re helpless in your defenses. There are plenty of medicinal plants and supplements that are well-researched for their immune-boosting and antiviral activities.
Elderberry is one such plant that supports your immune system and may offer benefits as an antiviral supplement. In this article, we’ll cover the science behind the elderberry plant and talk about how it might help boost your immune system.
It’s still important to note that even if you’re not experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, you can still be a carrier. Regardless of how strong you’re feeling, please protect yourself and others by staying inside, washing your hands, and following the updated guidelines of the CDC and WHO.
Elderberry is a type of flowering plant in the Sambucus genus, of which there happens to be quite a wide variety.
The most well-studied variety of elderberry, however, is Sambucus nigra, which is regarded for its immune-boosting properties.
Also known as European elderberry or black elder, the fruit and flowers of this plant contain nutrients that are known to support your immune system in a variety of ways.
Folk medicine in Europe and North Africa has made use of elderberry for hundreds of years to treat a variety of ailments including influenza, headaches, nerve pain, constipation, fever, and rheumatism[*].
You can come across elderberry incorporated into an array of foods like jams, wine, and jellies, but for its medicinal purposes, most people take this healing plant in the form of supplements like gummies, capsules, syrup, and lozenges[*].
#1 Potent Antiviral Activity
As previously mentioned, there currently is no cure for the coronavirus. With that being said, boosting your body’s ability to fight viral infections can only serve to benefit your efforts in protecting yourself against this novel disease.
Among the immunity-boosting properties of elderberry is its potent antiviral activity. In fact, elderberry has been used for hundreds of years to fight off viral infections like the influenza and has been tested to be effective against ten different strains of the flu[*][*].
In one study, researchers examined how elderberry can help to fight off the flu virus. What they found was astounding:
Compounds from elderberry are able to directly inhibit the virus’s entry into cells as well as halting the virus’s replication. In doing so, elderberry extract is able to strengthen your immune response to the flu virus.
What’s more, the phytochemicals in elderberry juice are able to inhibit the viral propagation of influenza at later stages in the virus’s cycle. What that means is that even if your cells are already infected with the flu, elderberry can inhibit the virulence and halt further infection[*].
In another study, researches investigated the antiviral activity of elderberry syrup against influenza type A and B infections. With a sample group of sixty patients that were experiencing flu-like symptoms, the researchers administered 15 ml of elderberry syrup four times a day for five days. During the study, the researchers recorded the patient’s symptoms and found that those taking the elderberry syrup recovered four days earlier than the placebo group[*].
#2 Calms Respiratory Illness
One of the primary symptoms of the coronavirus is respiratory symptoms like dry cough and shortness of breath. While these conditions are typically treated with over the counter medications like antibiotics, elderberry may offer a more natural approach.
In one study, researchers aimed to assess the effect of elderberry on upper respiratory symptoms in a group of 180 people. While taking into account underlying pathology and vaccine status, the researchers found that elderberry had a substantial positive effect in reducing upper respiratory symptoms.
They concluded that elderberry might offer an alternative to antibiotics for respiratory symptoms due to viral infections like the flu or the common cold[[*]
#3 Increases Cytokines To Fight Infection
Cytokines are small proteins that are released by your immune cells as signaling molecules. They regulate immunity and inflammation and allow your immune cells to communicate and work together in its defense.
Research shows that as a part of its antiviral activity, elderberry increases the production of inflammatory cytokines to support your immune system.
While inflammation is often looked at as a harmful process in the body, the truth is that your immune system relies on a certain amount of inflammation as a call to arms for your army of health-promoting cells[*].
As a modulator of inflammatory cytokines, elderberry acts on your behalf to signal your body that there is an invader present, and your immune cells have a job to do.
#4 Source of Antioxidant Compounds
Elderberry is an abundant source of antioxidant compounds. In fact, it’s rich purple color comes from a group of phenolic compounds called anthocyanins, which have a potent protective effect against reactive oxygen species (ROS).
These conditions, and oxidative stress, in general, can take a toll on your immune system. That’s why antioxidant status plays such a crucial role in immunity and the prevention of chronic disease[*].
The bioactive antioxidant compounds in elderberry play a significant role in supporting your immune system by[*]:
- Counteracting oxidative stress
- Exerting beneficial effects on blood pressure
- Balancing blood sugar
- Stimulating your immune system
- Increasing the activity of antioxidant enzymes
#5 Rich In Vitamin C
Vitamin C plays a crucial role in immunity. As a potent antioxidant it supports your body’s defenses in a number of ways, including[*]:
- Plays a role in adaptive immunity (the ability of your body to target specific foreign compounds)
- Supports innate immunity (the nonspecific defenses against antigens)
- Supports epithelial barrier function against pathogens (in other words, keeps your cells strong as to not let unwanted invaders into your body)
- Promotes the oxidant scavenging activity of the skin (thereby potentially protecting against environmental oxidative stress)
- Enhances phagocytosis (the engulfment of foreign compounds by your immune cells).
- Supports the killing off of microbes
- Clears old cells from sites of infection
Due to the myriad of roles that vitamin C plays in supporting immunity, a deficiency in vitamin C results in an impaired immune system and enhanced susceptibility to infections[*].
Research shows that in virus-induced respiratory infections, vitamin C can prevent and relieve symptoms up to 85%[*]. Once again, this could be significant in the case of the coronavirus due to the effect it seems to have on the respiratory tract.
#6 Rich in Vitamin A
Another vitamin that elderberry comes packed with is vitamin A.
Vitamin A is responsible for a myriad of functions in your immune system, including[*]:
- Enhances the expression of immune cells such as macrophages, lymphocytes, and natural killer cells.
- Supports the activation of antibodies that can protect your system from foreign invaders.
- Supports anti-inflammatory responses.
- Maintains the integrity of your mucus membranes, which are crucial for protecting the cavities in your body from bacteria and viruses.
In addition, research shows that supplementation with vitamin A can reduce mortality in infectious diseases[*].
As the new coronavirus pandemic continues to cause concern across the United States, it’s in your hands to do what you can to take care of yourself and stay healthy.
With the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) doing all they can to contain the virus and stop the spread, as a mindful citizen, you can do your part by keeping your immune system strong.
In addition to hand-washing and social distancing, try to boost immunity with natural remedies like elderberry.