Written by Annemarie Downs and edited by Erin Mann
This is gonna be long y’all. Hunker down. Wait, we already are, so you should have ALL the time in the world to actually read this!
I haven’t had the time to sit and write in a very long time, and I’ve been meaning to change that, but sometimes life is just too busy. When I saw numerous “articles” going around about elderberry and COVID-19, and I started getting mass emails about it, I knew the time had come to put finger to keyboard and write again.
But this time I was hesitant. I usually won’t hesitate to sit down and write about how the common collective is wrong, and how fear mongering by people who do little to no reading yet are so fast to share the article they only read the headline of are the cause of it, why they are so and give enough argument for my argument.
I own my own business now, a business tied directly to the very subject I wanted to inform people about. So how could I do that without seeming biased? Those that know me personally know that I am pretty darn good at being unbiased when I need to be. If there’s evidence and research to something, whether I like the results or not, that’s what I’m going to side with, regardless if it goes against what I wish would be the case. They also know I started my business for the sole purpose of helping and educating people, not to make money. That is still the case. I wanted my food line to be an extension of my blog/lifestyle facebook group, and not the other way around. I just wasn’t expecting the response I got when I officially got that business license and kitchen inspection!
The only way I thought I could bring a more unbiased article to fruition for those who don’t know me personally was to ask a fellow MOPs Mom, to write, and let me add/edit with her approval of the final draft. See, this woman, the author you will be reading below, she’s about as passionate about the truth, health and getting the BullSh*t out of the way. She’s bluntly honest, (to the point I had to remove some of the sarcasm from her writing, but left enough that I liked) and that’s what I like about her. So I messaged her and said “hey, will you be able to write an article for me on elderberry and coronavirus” I didn’t ask her to write “hey will you write an article on elderberry and coronavirus so people won’t stop buying my stuff”.
I had an issue with those who were sharing articles without reading them. I mean, don’t y’all know that headlines are written not on the basis of the article but on what makes you want to read the article..whether that headline is true or not…????? Like this article could have the title “Fish launched into space to avoid COVID-19”. And people would literally share it without even reading it…the only true part about the title is there will be some discussion on COVID-19. I don’t even need to mention a fish.
See, if I thought it was unsafe to consume during this time, I would shut down. Turn off the lights, ENJOY being stuck at home with my family, instead of staying up til 3amm, and killing myself to make enough orders for the next day. I didn’t start my business to make money, I started it to help people, to educate people, and when it doesn’t anymore, I will wipe my stained hands and turn off the lights! But I don’t believe I or other should stop.
I wholeheartedly believe elderberry can help, and I also think that it can hinder, and when you read below you’ll find out why. Nothing in this world, especially when it comes to health and how the body works for people as a collective, is exactly black and white. That’s why we have 4 different kids of blood pressure medicine, 40 types of birth control pills, etc. You have to find what works for YOUR body, and in these next few pages, we are going to try to make that abundantly clear with elderberry. We are all our own versions of the definition of health and healthy. I heard the comment “There is a distinction in good health and the absence of illness” last week while watching a TV show, and its right. There is a distinction, and everyone’s good health is also relative to that one person, no one else. Good health for me means no Ulcerative Colitis flares, no joint pain, no frequent bathroom trips, and good bloodwork results. I, however, am not absent of illness. I have UC, it isnt curable, and I’ll have it forever. But for me, I have my own “good health” definition, when I am maintaining, symptom and prescription maintenance drug free.
Now, of course, I am going to say right here, neither myself nor AnneMarie are doctors, we aren’t medical professionals, and this is a mom blog. The only difference in this Mom blog is that you are going to have mention of several different research studies with the links to them below the article. This isn’t a published research article, and its not even a research article to boot, because I just don’t have the time for a proper bibliography and citation. I’m also telling you I’m not going to take any responsibility for any action you take upon reading this, that this is for entertainment purposes only and this is an expression of my first amendment right. I am expressing my speech, and what you do from it is your responsibility. By continuing to read below this line, you agree to the aforementioned statement. If you don’t agree with it, you must stop reading here and close your window.
What I HOPE this does is make you wonder against all the random headlines you have seen on Facebook, and make you do your OWN reading of various articles both for and against elderberry. When you do that, you will start seeing that the interpretation of elderberry and coronavirus is usually about when you HAVE it, not BEFORE you get it. So read on, then go and READ more, as that is what the goal of my blog has always been, not to be the one stop to knowledge, but to inspire to not believe in one thing you read, and read a collective of things to make a firm hypothesis on your own!!
I know not everyone is going to read the entirety of this lengthy article, although it’s my hope you’ll make the smart decision to do so. For those who don’t have time to read it all but will come back, here’s the Cliff Notes version for you: It’s our opinion that using elderberry BEFORE you are sick is good to help keep you from getting sick. If you are having mild cold/flu symptoms is good to use at the onset, and If you are at the hospital and have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and/or are on a ventilator, it’s not a good idea to be consuming it.
Elderberry Plant and it’s Common Use:
I mean before we go all crazy on elderberry, do you even know what it is??? Do you know WHY it is so popular? The funny thing to me is, I heard a pediatrician say he is recommending against the use of elderberry syrup right now, pretty soon after there was talk about how he didn’t know much about it and wasn’t sure what it was good for. So why is he recommending against it? To cover his butt, because he hasn’t educated himself in any regard for it.
For those that don’t know, elderberry is the fruit of the Sambucus tree. There are several types, some grow to be very small and others can grow the height of a 3 story building. The are common in the wild here in Virginia, and grow wild all over the US and in Europe. Elderberry got is start way back when, for its anti-inflammatory properties. If you do your own reading on elderberry, you will see that due to its nutrient profile it has MANY uses other than just cold/flu treatment most people know it for.
In the last decade, most peer reviewed published research on the berry has been in the cold/flu section, and it has always found consistent results: elderberry can help with the treatment of flu, lessening the severity of symptoms and decreasing sick time by up to half. 1 Elderberry has been used for a really long time, and there is also documentation of use by Native Americans. If you want a full more in depth reading on the history of elderberry, this is a great paper written on the plant.
So how does this happen, all this human body health with elderberry? Elderberry has been found in studies to inhibit the ability of viruses to attach to cell walls and also inhibit the ability of it to inhibit viral propagation at later stages of infection, when cells had already been infected with the virus 2. Viruses don’t have cell walls, so they have to find them in their hosts and latch on. It isn’t like a bacteria that infects and we have to kill it off with antibiotics. What does this mean? It means that it was good at keeping the flu virus from infecting a person and getting them sick, it was EVEN better at attacking the flu virus once it had entered the cells. Elderberry had a great effect due to its ability to block the viral cycle at several stages, but was strongest when used together at pre-infection and during infection 2.
So What’s the Fuss about Then?
Ok, so let’s start to break it down. The FUSS is about the possibility or theoretical evidence that elderberry can cause a cytokines storm response in the body, thereby making COVID-19 worse. This statement right here is what all the fuss is about and also is the way people are reading it wrong. So let’s break it down the easiest way we can.
- First of all..if you read the original articles on fear of elderberry it is a. theoretical since there are no studies on it at all b. ONLY speaking to WHEN you are already sick with COVID-19 and your body is already producing its own cytokines storm. This doesn’t have any thing to do with before, or right at the onset of sicknes.. Make sense? It should. So stop saying that its bad in general.
- What in the ever love is a Cytokines storm? It sounds scary..it isn’t. It’s a body’s natural way of working on making you better. Can it do a bad job sometimes? Yeah it can..just like sometimes our organs dont work the way they should or our eyesight goes bad. Crap just happens that shouldn’t sometimes. Cytokines are both good and bad, They are a way our cells talk to each other. It’s only when they go insane and can’t be modulated or regulated that they kill us.
- Has elderberry been show to induce a cytokine storm? NO. There is no evidence base that it creates a storm. What studies do show (in the references from before…have you read them yet? Cause if you have you’ll already know this and I won’t have to explain it) is that elderberry can cause a cytokine reaction..a good one. The good kind you need for your body to do what it Is supposed to do and do it quickly 3. Elderberry is known as a modulator plant, meaning it does no more or no less in your body than it needs to, so the cytokines it does help your body produce is because your body hasn’t started producing them yet, and it wants to get to work on modulating the inflammation response to take care of the virus that is trying to attach. This goes back to why it is so good in research studies on keeping you from getting sick OR keeping those symptoms down and recuperation time down when taken at the onset of a viral infection.
Ok, so now that we know we shouldn’t be afraid of these natrually occuring processes in our body, lets understand exactly what they are and also how things can go belly up and fast if you are in one of the compromised groups. Let’s first say there is a difference between Cytokines being released and a Cytokines storm. Whenever you are sick cytokines are going to be released, its a good thing, it is when so many are released that your body can’t handle it, is when its bad. Just like insulin and your body, in healthy adults our pancreas releases insulin as it should to handle blood sugar, but sometimes, if things don’t work right, it can just dump it into our blood stream with no regulation and that is a bad thing!
A cytokine storm is an overproduction of immune cells and their activating compounds (cytokines), which, in a flu infection, is often associated with a surge of activated immune cells into the lungs. The resulting lung inflammation and fluid buildup can lead to respiratory distress and can be contaminated by a secondary bacterial pneumonia — often enhancing the mortality in patients 4.
This is why the population with the highest mortality rates with COVID-19 have been the elderly, those with a weakened immune system, any type of comorbidity or underlying health issue, smokers (yes, this includes those who vape), and also the obese (excessive weight on the body frame taxes the lungs a great deal).
A cytokine storm is the bodies complete and utter “overreaction” to a contagion. That overreaction causes such distress and releases such vast quantities of antibodies into your blood stream and organs that your body literally attacks itself if it can’t regulate.
Your body has recognized there is extreme danger but cannot single out or sniper shot the single organism responsible for it. So your body’s survival method then switches to the cytokine storm which essentially fire bombs every.single.organ. Now if this fire-bombing storm is happening in your body and you decide that your best bet is to take elderberry supplements of any kind, you truly are making it worse for your body. How? Well your body is already taking a Dresden approach to your entire system and you’re ingesting a compound that is proven to stimulate immune response as a defense against viral attack. You don’t need to do this!! Your body has already recognized it’s under attack! Feeding yourself elderberry will basically only signal your body that you’re sending in extra troops to help fire bomb!! Even though elderberry is known as a modulator, and shouldn’t help more than it needs to, that is in a healthy individual. In an individual like this, is when things can get really bad. Possibly. Not saying it will. Again, its all theoretical.
THIS is why there is a “mental link” out there that elderberry itself is the cause for worsening when in reality it’s ANY type of additional supplement you take at this critical time for your body. Elderberry is proven to boost positive cytokine response at a cellular level, which is a great thing 99.8% of the time, but when your cytokine response is already off the Richter scale, why would you boost it up even more?! Your body is a survival machine and, in a cytokine storm, it is in the most extreme state of survival possible, to the point of actually killing itself. This hyper-response MUST be slowed and stopped if you are to actually pull through this. Actively giving yourself MORE things that will stimulate immune response is the LAST thing you want to do. If you are in a cytokine storm or MODS, the doctors are trying to save you by actually mitigating or STOPPING your immune response before it kills you. Let the doctors do what they are trained to do: save your life!
Corticosteroids have a ton of studies done on them with MODS as a means of slowing or stopping the storm (there are really cool studies out there that show the slowing and healing of inflammation is incredibly helpful in slowing the immune response). There are new drugs being tested now that are looking to work better but still very new in the testing/trial phase. There is not just one drug out there yet that will stop this. Please do not think that this delicious syrup that lessened your regular flu symptoms will have the same effect on an extreme case of coronavirus.
Elderberry syrup is one of the many FANTASTIC weapons to have in your arsenal prior to getting sick, but is worth drastically more as a prevention to getting sick than it is as a means of fighting an illness with a severe mortality rate. This holds true for any and all of the other holistic, homeopathic, herbal, etc remedies I know of. Two years ago when one of my uncles was battling cancer, his doctors told him to stop taking his spirulina and turmeric supplements. Those things are intrinsically good and cause no harm in a regular body, but a cancerous body is not the same. His doctors explained that, much in the same way a pregnant mothers body will steal nutrients from the mother to feed the child in utero in a time of need, the cancer was stealing the nutrients from the spirulina and turmeric to help itself grow and his healthy body was not getting any of the benefits from them. This is a similar concept to the cytokine storm-elderberry link. Do not feed the flames; cut the source of oxygen off. Keep in mind that both cancer and cytokine storm are extreme responses in the body, not the average case, and AGAIN, you will know when you are that drastically ill. Know your alternative therapies. Do your research. Use them with guidance and intelligence. Love them. Do not ignore professional medical care in a time of evident crisis. Love them, too. Also, wash your hands.
Why Should I Take Elderberry? Are you taking it?
Multiple clinical studies have shown that elderberry works by actively blocking vital proteins from viruses from entering the cells, thereby not allowing the virus or bacterium to enter the actual cell and cause damage. Studies have also shown that the phytonutrients in elderberry will trigger positive cytokine production response in the immune system to fight the virus off (this is where the grain of truth “linking” elderberry to cytokine storms has its foothold remember) Your best bet to not get sickness of any kind, and to have a strong, healthy immune system and a quick immune response to pathogens. This is where elderberry shines its true light; by taking elderberry every day you are continually stocking your system with immune boosting responses while also protectively coating your cells so that pathogens cannot take root and reproduce inside the cell and perpetuate outside the cell. Doses of 10ml/day for healthy adults and those over 4 years of age and doses of 5ml/day for those 1-4 years old have shown phenomenal results in clinical studies. Again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!!
If you skip days taking elderberry and you become exposed to a pathogen, that pathogen can take effect inside a host cell and rapidly reproduce. At that point, taking elderberry will help to mitigate, slow, and fight the infection, but the infection has already taken hold in your system, and elderberry will have a lot of work to do, as we’ve seen in studies, to mitigate that viral attachment that has occurred. If you are doing good to take elderberry during the first stages of sickness, you also have to keep your wits about you and adequately monitor your symptoms, be aware of their changes (both good and bad), and keep and heed your doctor’s advice should you need a doctor. Given the current panicked environment we live in, if you feel that you are falling ill faster than elderberry is helping you, speak to your doctor and stop taking the supplement if that is what you are advised to do or feel the need to do to calm yourself. The odds of taking elderberry syrup to the extent of it becoming a concern for either playing a part in causing or exacerbating a cytokine storm are very small, because fatal cytokine storm responses are very rare in general.
If that is your concern, please re-read the above paragraphs about a cytokine storm, its causes and effects, as well as the fact that there is no research out there that links elderberry to causing a cytokine storm in the first place. Or just re-read that last sentence. A cytokine storm is not something that will sneak up on you out of nowhere, three days after successively taking elderberry supplements. You will feel like absolute crap prior to it happening. You will be CLEARLY sick, if not already under professional medical care. If you are sick enough to be concerned about whether elderberry supplements of any kind are helpful or harmful to you, you are sick enough to be seeing a doctor and voicing your concerns to him/her.
Wash your hands, monitor your health and the health of those around you, and listen to your doctor! If you take good enough care of yourself prior to getting sick you will greatly diminish your odds of not only getting sick in the first place, but will also give yourself better fighting odds of beating whatever is attacking your system.
To sum up, Cytokines release is a good thing, and when too many are released without the body regulating it, it can be bad, fatal even. There is no scientific study link to elderberry causing a mass release of cytokines, aka a cytokines storm, only that elderberry is thought to release good modulating inflammation response cytokines. There is evidence that elderberry has the ability to block viruses from attaching to healthy cell walls and also modulate the release of cytokine response to flu viruses. One should definitely not take elderberry when a positive COVID-19 diagnosis has been made, or the person is in the hospital on a ventilator due to caution of the unknown. It sould not, however, be confused with the rumor and fear mongering phrases that elderberry use should be stopped completely by otherwise known healthy adults.
Are we taking elderberry in our home? You betcha we are. Are we also making sure we wash hands, sanitize clothing, get extra rest and eat a lot better at this point in time, yes we are.
Stay Healthy y’all!
-Annemarie is a wife and mother and active researcher and reader of all things, with a passion for making sure people understand when misinformed. Erin is a wife and mom, passionate about making sure the best information is always at people’s fingertips, and getting to the bottom of any question one may have.
Disclosure: Erin Mann, the owner of this website, is the owner of Erin’s Elderberries, LLC. She asked AnneMarie to assist her in writing an unbiased, science based article for publication. The article is not meant to drive sales or make money, the article is solely meant to inform and make people curious to further their own research of the topic. Erin strives to maintain an unbiased look at everything she does and promotes, because she is a Mom too, she only wants what is best for her family, and if she wouldn’t do or give something to her family, she definitely wouldn’t want yours to do it either!
This article is not meant to be medical advice and should not be read as such. The author and owner of this website does not take any responsibility for your health, actions or otherwise. You agree by being on this website that you are here for entertainment purposes only.
Photo credit: Rebecca Graney Photography