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Is Elderberry Really That Good for You?

By Paul Rothbart

Elderberries are a dark purple fruit that grows on a bush. They are used to make wine and flavored liqueurs. The elderberry has also long been used for medicinal purposes. There's a long list of ailments many have claimed can be relieved by consuming elderberry syrup. The most commonly used variety is the European elderberry. In addition to syrups, they are used in tea and made into lozenges and gummies. Elderberries contain a group of antioxidants called anthocyanins that do have health benefits. But are they actually magical fruit that can cure so many ills? Here are some facts about elderberries.

Colds and Flu

For centuries, elderberry syrup has been used to treat cold and flu, both of which are caused by a virus. The standard belief has been that taking a dose within 48 hours of the first appearance of symptoms will lessen their severity and shorten their duration. Research has found support for this claim. A study conducted in 2019 discovered that the use of elderberry reduced upper airway symptoms significantly. A 2016 Australian study of 312 airline passengers on long flights found that those who used elderberry syrup before and after their flights had 50 percent fewer sick days due to cold than those who didn't use the syrup. The passengers who did use elderberry and caught a cold showed less severe symptoms. In this study, the elderberry did not appear to reduce the risk of a cold, although a 2012 study did suggest that elderberry could stimulate the immune system and reduce the chance of influenza infections.

Pain Relief and Disease Prevention

The anthocyanins in elderberries have been shown to reduce inflammation. The antioxidants slow cellular production of nitric oxide, which cause inflammation as a response to injury or disease. Relief of swelling often reduces pain. Antioxidants are also known to combat free radicals in the body that can damage cells and lead to cancer. This can also help prevent heart disease. Although elderberries are certainly as effective in this capacity as any other food rich in antioxidants, there is currently no research that supports their being exceptional.

Side Effects

Elderberries, when ripe, cooked, and taken in moderation, are considered completely safe. Excessive consumption can lead to abdominal pain and intestinal distress. Medical elderberries should be ripe or dried. Unripened berries can have the same effects as eating too many. Some parts of the elderberry shrub, mainly the leaves, stems, roots, and bark, contain a poisonous substance called cyanogenic glycoside. Unripened berries have small amounts of this poison and chewing them can release cyanide into the body. It is rare that elderberry poisoning is fatal but it can cause severe illness. Difficulty breathing, numbness, and abdominal pain are common symptoms. Elderberries should therefore always be consumed ripe and cooked.

Elderberries have been used as home remedies for many generations. Science has shown that they do indeed have benefits to health, reducing the severity of cold and flu, and helping fight disease. Care must be taken to only consume ripe, cooked, berries, and only in moderation. 

To learn more about your health, wellness and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Mansfield, Tex.

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