Elderberry and H1N1

Now that I have decided not to have the H1N1 vaccination, I am looking around for natural ways to protect myself and my family. One very very promising substance appears to be elderberry (Sambucus nigra). It’s the same old tune: this plant has been used for ages in folk medicine to treat flu, colds and sinusitis. If you look it up on Wikipedia, you will find that it was shown to be effective for treating Influenza B. People using the elderberry extract recovered much faster than those only on a placebo. This is partially due to the fact that Elderberry inhibits neuraminidase, the enzyme used by the virus to spread infection to host cells.

Well, lo and behold, a July 2009 study showed that it was also effective against the horrid H1N1 virus in vitro: http://tinyurl.com/yh7gzef The elderberry extract blocked host cell entry and/or recognition. And read this: The H1N1 inhibition activities of the elderberry flavonoids compare favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu; 0.32 microM) and Amantadine (27 microM). Aha!

Here is a Medical News report about the above-mentioned study: http://tinyurl.com/nuumwe An excerpt: The research results are notable not only because they identified and characterized two specific flavonoids (plant nutrients that are beneficial to health) that are the major contributors to the anti-influenza activity of the elderberry extract, but also verified how the flavonoids provide that benefit, via direct binding to H1N1 virus particles and blocking the virus from infecting host cells.

This is nothing new, incidentally. I found a 1995 (!) study in PubMed, showing that a standardized elderberry extract, Sambucol (SAM), blocked the replication of human influenza viruses of various types, both A and B (the complete list can be found in the abstract: http://tinyurl.com/yhalylh). This extract was tested on a group of influenza B sufferers in 1993: A significant improvement of the symptoms, including fever, was seen in 93.3% of the cases in the SAM-treated group within 2 days, whereas in the control group 91.7% of the patients showed an improvement within 6 days. The abstract concludes: Considering the efficacy of the extract in vitro on all strains of influenza virus tested, the clinical results, its low cost, and absence of side-effects, this preparation could offer a possibility for safe treatment for influenza A and B.

And there is more: during the 1999-2000 flu season in Norway a study was carried out on 60 patients between the age of 18 and 54 with respiratory influenza symptoms. The full study is available online: http://tinyurl.com/d2sjl4 and is a good one to read, since it shows the efficacy of elderberry against influenza A and provides doses: Patients received 15 ml of elderberry or placebo syrup four times a day for 5 days […] during meals. The study concludes: In view of its in vitro and in vivo efficacy on influenza A and B viruses, elderberry extract offers an efficient, safe and cost-effective supplement to the present armamentarium of medications for the prophylaxis and treatment of influenza. It should be stressed that our study involved only adult influenza patients who were otherwise healthy, and did not include any high-risk patients.

I also found a study on the H1N1 virus and a resveratrol tetramer called “(+)-vitisin A,” isolated from the roots of Vitis vinifera: http://tinyurl.com/ykhlmv8 The abstract concludes that: (+)-vitisin A might be a potent anti-inflammatory agent that inhibits influenza A virus-induced RANTES production by interfering with Akt- and STAT (1)-related signal pathways. Might be. Well, I suppose a glass of red wine now and again wouldn’t hurt!

And here is a study on quercetin, mice, stressful exercise and influenza: http://tinyurl.com/yl6yejq Boy, this one really made me wonder…how can anyone come up with such a weird research idea? It was almost as weird as the one on testosterone levels during the 2008 U.S. presidential elections (just for a chuckle, see: http://tinyurl.com/yfw4pfs)

If you are not taking Velcade, it might be wise to increase your intake of green tea, see this 2005 study on EGCG and the influenza virus: http://tinyurl.com/yz26wuv

And how about tea tree oil? See this September 2009 study: http://tinyurl.com/yfmtmo7 A group of Italian researchers found tea tree oil to be effective against influenza A, subtype H1N1, at doses below the cytotoxic dose. They conclude that this essential oil should be a promising drug in the treatment of influenza virus infection. Interesting.

Well, it’s time for me to stop now. But I thought the news about elderberry was worthy of some attention. By the way, Sambucol doesn’t seem to be on the market here in Italy; earlier this afternoon I called a couple of local pharmacies and health food stores. No luck. Well, that didn’t deter me. I just ordered a couple of bottles from a UK website…to have on hand just in case…! (I know, I know, I just violated my policy of not mentioning brands on my blog…oh well! Pazienza…). Before I sign off, I would like to thank Hans who was the first to tell me about elderberry…


  1. Hi Maragaret,

    It seems kind of funny that Sambucol is able to fight the flu virus so well by hyper-elevating levels of four major cytokines ( IL-1beta, IL-6, TNF-alpha and IL-8 ), the same four cytokines that we are frequently seeking to lower in many disease states.
    What is the flu virus that is said to evolve into a “cytokine perfect storm”? I wonder if sambucol would be a dangerous approach for that one?
    What if your system is already at very elevated levels of these cytokines as might be the case in psoriasis or arthritis?



  2. My oncologist has just suggested me to have both flu vaccines. As far as I understood this flu affair, the problem is NOT H1N1 flu. It is a possible combination of H1N1 and the aviarian flu (due to gene mutation), which could become very dangerous. In such a bad occurrence we would be at least partially protected due to the H1N1 shot.

  3. I’m off to buy some elderberry extract. And my continuing thanks for all of the work you do. As I have pancreatic cancer, not all the research carries over, but you’re the one that got me started on curcumin. Who knows if it helped? But I’m still here.

  4. Margaret, I agree that Sambucol is helpful for colds as well as flu. My wife and I have used it for several years and think (no proof) it shortens duration of colds. We take 2 teaspoonsful 4X daily at firsr suggestion of a cold and will also use for flu if it seems to occur. During the flu seasin we take Sambucol 1 teaspoonful twice daily as a possible preventive. Haven’t taken any flu shots for 2-3 years. William

  5. Don’t forget to make sure you have good vitamin D3 levels. Large dose D3 (eg 50,000 IU) is good to have on hand so you can follow the Vitamin D council protocol with a big burst to knock it out. And of course, keep your levels up all the time.

    see: http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/

  6. That is very interesting, Art; that elderberry increases the cytokines, one of which is IL-6. Course I don’t know how the other cytokines interact and maybe makes the whole stimulatory effect all right. I had been taking elderberry extract everyday and much more than recommended on the bottle cause it tasted so good in my yogurt. But thanks to your posted research I think I’ll back off a bit and even wait til I have the sniffles to take it and not take it everyday. But I’m glad for knowing it is there when I need it.

    Thanks very much Margaret for all the other flu research links, much of which I have on hand but didn’t know it might battle the flu. I wonder how much tea tree oil to take internally?? I have to read up on it some more. I had always used it externally and add it to my shampoo.

  7. I’ve started on the Sambucol bandwagon this year as well. Of course, it is supposed to be taken at first sign of symptoms, not as a preventive medication. Following that instruction would likely eliminate most of the concern over elevated interleukin levels since it would be for a short duration. I’ve tried it once this season and my symptoms lasted only 2 days. I have no way of knowing whether the sambucol affected that duration. But I am willing to try it if needed for a future infection.

    It would be interesting to consider the possible effects or cross-effects of curcumin, an anti-inflammatory, with sambucol. Though again, short-term dosage of sambucol shouldn’t raise a major concern, in my opinion.

    Thought I’d chime in.

  8. All of this cytokine storm stuff is nothing to worry about. Recently a team of St. Jude investigators have raised issues about that widely held theory by showing that depression of cytokines in mice infected with a particularly virulent strain of the virus still causes the mice to die. The team said the new finding suggests that pathogenicity is a complex question of host response and virus load. Scientists should concentrate on finding ways to reduce the amount of the virus in an infected person as well as analyzing the concept of the cytokine storm—a storm that is, caused by a sustained infection with the virus itself.

    Sambucol is designed to reduce the viral load. This seems to be the what is causeing the problems NOT a cytokine storm

  9. Ok so I am confused.. I am using Elderberry Extract for my daughter who just came down with a fever of 101.7f. I managed to get the fever down, but did I make it worse by giving her the Elderberry?? she is prone to chest infections, and now that I am reading this cytokine storm info I am worried I have given something that will make her worse.
    Should I stop the elderberry until she is better??

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