What Are the Benefits of Elderberry Syrup?

Elderberry is a centuries-old herbal remedy used for wound healing and respiratory infections. It is also claimed to be an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer and antiviral remedy. Although many type of elderberry exist, the European elderberry, Sambucus nigra, is the one most often used medicinally. Both the cooked berries and its leaves are used; the raw berries are toxic. The syrup, first commercially sold as Sambucol, is standardized to 38 percent of the berry extract and contains small doses of echinacea and propolis.

Antioxidant

According to “Herbal Therapy and Supplements,” the berry extract or syrup is high in flavonoids, anthocyanins as well as vitamin C. Anthocyanins are high in most dark berries and exert much of the antioxidant effects of these fruits. The elderberry anthocyanins reduce oxidation of blood lipids and are protective against the reactive oxygen species (ROS) responsible for many chronic diseases. The antioxidants also stimulate the immune system and reduce inflammation.

Seasonal Flu

The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, estimates that each year 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu, with more than 200,000 people being hospitalized from associated symptoms, and 36,000 dying of flu-related complications. The flu is caused by two main influenza (flu) viruses, types A and B. Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, body aches, headache and fatigue. Medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza are antivirals used for severe influenza. In the 2004 issue of the “Journal of International Medical Research,” author Z. Zakay-Rones notes that elderberry syrup, at a dose of 15 ml four times per day over five days, relieved influenza A and B symptoms four days earlier than not taking anything at all. Additionally, elderberry syrup reduced the severity of the condition, significantly lessening the need for medications.

Swine Flu

The CDC notes that in 2009, a very new and different type of influenza virus came onto the scene. It is a variation of the seasonal flu type A, but had worldwide implications as it quickly became the first serious flu pandemic in over 40 years. With this flu, the susceptible population was not seniors, as normal to the seasonal flu, but instead the general population as well as children with higher risk chronic conditions. The same antiviral medications prescribed for the seasonal flu are used for the swine, or H1N1 flu. In a petri-dish study published in “Phytochemistry” in July 2009, elderberry was found to bind to the H1N1 virus. When bound, the virus was unable to infect human cells. Although future clinical research was suggested, the study concluded that the H1N1 inhibitory effect of elderberry flavonoids compared favorably to the influenza drug Tamiflu.

Enhance Immunity

Elderberry has both immune-boosting properties inherent in its antioxidant profile, as well as antiviral actions. In a 2001 issue of the “European Cytokine Network” journal, researcher V. Barak notes that the elderberry-rich syrup, Sambucol, activates the immune system by strongly increasing inflammatory chemicals when added to white bloods under the microscope. In conditions of chronically compromised immunity, such as HIV/AIDS or purposeful immunosuppression in the treatment of cancer, increases in immune system activity can be beneficial. Barak preliminarily suggests Sambucol’s benefit for HIV/AIDS patients as well as women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Future clinical trials to assess Sambucol’s effects in these populations are needed.

About this Author

Dr. Shavon Jackson-Michel is an expert in the field of health and wellness and has been writing for LIVESTRONG.COM since 2009. She is a university-level professor and a licensed naturopathic physician providing individualized consultations on natural and holistic approaches to chronic disease at her Bloomfield, NJ office. Dr. Jackson-Michel is a doctoral graduate of the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine.