How the elderberry extract Sambucus can help you fight the flu and other viruses by strengthening your immune system.
Studies have now shown that the elderberry extract Sambucus does have antiviral properties and can lessen the severity of the flu and the duration you have the flu, colds and other viruses. Sambucus is the name of the genus that the black elderberry bush belongs to and Sambucol is an extract made from the black elder bush. This natural remedy has been used to treat flu, colds, sinus problems and other viruses for many years.
Sambucus Stops the Flu Virus and Boosts The Immune System
When a virus like the flu first enters the body it begins to replicate, creating millions more flu cells. It is believed that one of the ways Sambucus works is that it inactivates the flu virus by coating the cells keeping the flu from replicating. Studies have also shown that Sambucus works in fighting the flu and other viruses by strengthening the immune system, because it contains high levels of antioxidants known as flavonoids. When your body sees a virus, your immune system kicks in and starts to replicate viral fighting agents of its own. One of these agents is called cytokines, cytokines are compounds that are produced by the body’s immune system that attack and remove foreign bodies like a virus. When you take Sambucus, Sambucol or elderberry extract it has a similar effect on your body’s immune system, it boosts the production of cytokines. So when and if you are infected with a virus like the flu, your immune system has these cytokines ready. It is recommended to drink the Sambucus or Sambucol syrup before you get sick to keep your immune system healthy. Elderberry extracts like Sambucus and Sambucol work in similar ways as the prescription drug Tamiflu works when stopping the spread of the flu in your body.
A 1993 study in Israel during an influenza B outbreak compared two groups and their recovery time. One group used Sambucol and the other group took a placebo. Almost 90% of the Sambucol group showed a complete cure within 2-3 days, while in the placebo group 91% showed improvement in six days. 
Another study in Israel with chimpanzees showed that the group taking the Sambucol exhibited flu symptoms three times less than the group taking the placebo and the duration of these symptoms were three times less in the group taking the Sambucol. 
Another study that involved 60 patients who had influenza A and B symptoms for less than 48 hours reported a complete cure within 2-3 days. The placebo group didn’t recover until at least day 6 and the placebo group also used more painkillers and nasal sprays. 
The Possible Dangers of Elderberry Extract
During the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, many of the deaths occurred in young healthy people. This is possibly due to what is called a cytokine storm. That is when the body’s immune system produces too many cytokines and can cause death. Some of these cytokines cause a lot of mucus to form and the patient literally drowns in their own fluids, causing the cytokine storm deaths. It is believed that the deaths during the avian flu (H5N1) outbreak in 2005 were caused by cytokine storms. Most studies concerning this have been about the avian flu (H5N1). Recent studies indicate that the H5N1 avian flu is different than the other more common types of flu, including the H1N1 swine flu. Some studies have shown that the avian flu might be immune to certain cytokines.
There is an ongoing debate whether you should take elderberry extract or Sambucus once you have the flu. If you take it, the Sambucus stimulates the production of cytokines, which boosts the immune system killing off the flu virus before you get really sick and reducing the duration and severity of the flu. The other side of the argument asks the question, should a person with a very good immune system take elderberry, will that cause too many cytokines to be produced causing a cytokine storm in a persons body. The debate has not been resolved, though it sounds like most people will take the Sambucus syrup to strengthen their immune system and continue to take it after they have the flu to keep it from getting really bad. Other research is suggesting that there are cytokines that actually reduce mucus in the body, which would act like a check and balance of our immune systems.To reduce the formation of mucus in your body, reduce the foods you eat that cause excess mucus to form such as all dairy products, alcohol and bananas.
The other bad news is elderberry wine doesn’t work the same as the elderberry extracts. You need to take the elderberry extracts in order to benefit from its effects. You can get the elderberry extracts as either Sambucus or Sambucol.
If nothing else, when and if this flu gets bad this season, you will now know what they are talking about on the news about elderberry, Sambucol, Sambucus, cytokines and cytokine storms.
Sambucus, Elderberry Extracts and Possible Drug Interactions
Avoid any kind of elderberry preparation if you have a known allergy to plants in the honeysuckle (Caprifoliaceae) family
Do not take elderberry or Sambucus if you are undergoing chemotherapy. Elderberry may increase the effects of some cancer chemotherapies, which may also increase adverse effects as well.
Patients using theophylline should consult with your doctor before using elderberry preparations. The quercetin in elderberries may inhibit xanthine oxidase, and may also affect theophylline levels.
Elderberry may lower blood sugar levels. If you are a diabetic, monitoring and medication adjustments by a qualified health professional may be in order.
Check with your doctor if you have any concerns about any elderberry extracts and your current prescriptions or if you are pregnant or going to have surgery within next two weeks of taking the extract.
© 2009 Sam Montana
Other articles of interest
The Health Benefits of Umcka: Stops Viral and Bacterial Infections
Historical facts about past flu pandemics
Guide to Healing Foods and Nutrition
Guide to Supplements and Vitamins
 The Effect of Sambucol in Flu-like Symptoms in Chimpanzees (Pan Troglodytes): Prophylactic and Symptom-Dependent Treatment Beverly Burge, Madeleine Mumcuoglu, Ph.D., Tal Simmons, Ph.D.
 The Effect of Sambucol® on HIV Infection In Vitro O. Shapira-Nahor, Z. Zakay-Rones and M. Mumcuoglu, Virology Department, Institute of Microbiology, Hebrew University Hadassah, Medical School, POB 12272, Jerusalem 91120, Congress of Microbiology, February 6-7, 1995
 Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections Z ZAKAY-RONES1, E THOM2, T WOLLAN3 AND J WADSTEIN4 The Journal of International Medical Research 2004; 32: 132 – 140
Cytokine storms and avian flu
CDC United States Flu Map