Q: We’re entering the season where I typically give it to my family as a flu prevention, but I’ve read that it can aggravate some COVID symptoms.”
A: No scientific studies have been done using elderberry syrup to prevent or treat COVID-19. Similarly, there has been no information on whether elderberry syrup has negative impacts on COVID-19.
Elderberry syrup has been touted as an immune system booster in recent years. There was a scientific study in 2004 that demonstrated that taking elderberry syrup four times a day for 5 days reduced self-reported influenza symptoms. More recently, other studies have reported conflicting results including a published randomized double-blind study of 87 people with influenza done by Cleveland Clinic. The Cleveland Clinic study demonstrated no substantial benefit for elderberry syrup for treatment of influenza.
Regardless of the impact for influenza treatment, elderberries have NOT been tested for COVID-19. In fact, the FDA is issuing warning letters to manufacturers that claim that they prevent or treat COVID-19. If a product is claiming that they can treat or cure COVID-19 you can report it to the FDA at the link below.
Some of the symptoms of COVID-19 are caused by a reactive immune system, and if elderberry syrup increases the immune reactivity, then potentially it can have negative effects. More specifically, previous studies have shown that an elderberry-based supplement caused increased pro-inflammatory cytokines in patients. Because COVID-19 can cause a “cytokine storm” which negatively impacts patients, the University of Arizona Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine has recommended that elderberry syrup is stopped after a positive COVID-19 test result or symptoms. Again because of the lack of studies on how elderberry syrup impacts COVID-19, no one knows for sure.
Although there is no evidence that elderberry syrup provides protection against COVID-19, there are other evidence-based ways that you can support your immune system. Get enough sleep. Eat well-balanced meals, and exercise. Reduce anxiety levels (easier said than done!), and talk to your clinician about managing chronic conditions that can increase COVID-19 risk factors. Most importantly, use SMART principals to protect yourself from exposure,.and get your flu shot to keep yourself well this winter.
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Recent double blind study for elderberry syrup by Cleveland Clinic investigators