Black Elderberry and COVID-19 – What are the facts?
In times of trial, everyone is looking for information, and it can be hard to determine what is legitimate versus what is not. We are aware of reports, especially on social media, containing inaccurate information regarding Black Elderberry and the potential effects of use with COVID-19. Here we would like to clarify the current information that is available:
- There is no evidence that Sambucol could cause adverse effects when a healthy person is exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19). People with underlying conditions potentially affecting their immune system response should seek medical advice.
- There are studies on the relationship between Sambucol Black Elderberry and the increase in cytokine production as part of a healthy immune response. These studies1,2 are based on healthy volunteers.
- There are no reported cases or associations of black elderberry and adverse effects in the context of a cytokine storm.
- The association with black elderberry and a cytokine storm is implausible; black elderberry is not likely to be able to cause a cytokine storm whether used before or during infection.
What are cytokines and what do they do?
Cytokines are small proteins with an important role in producing signals to activate immune response when needed. There are different types of cytokines (e.g. interferons, interleukins, lymphokines) which help regulate the immune response in different ways and are involved in many aspects of inflammation and immunity3,4. Essentially, they are cell signalling molecules that aid cell to cell communication in immune responses and stimulate the movement of cells towards sites of inflammation, infection and trauma.
A cytokine storm could be described as an unusual adverse effect and happens when there is a very aggressive inflammatory response combined with and abnormal or insufficient control of an anti-inflammatory response at the same time5. It may occur in late stage severe illness, sepsis, or acute respiratory distress syndrome. By the time a cytokine storm may be experienced in a respiratory distress situation, a person would most likely be in a significantly compromised state and may already be in the ICU on lifesaving respiratory equipment with care being managed by medical professionals6.
Cytokine storm has captured the attention of the public and the scientific community for decades and it is now coming into the media because it’s a reality for some patients who contract COVID-19 (and many other viruses/bacteria). It is something to be taken seriously.
Black Elderberry and immune system support
Sambucol with black elderberry has a long history of use for immune support. Both the elderberry flowers and berries have a long tradition of both culinary and popular uses going back thousands of years.
The role of black elderberry and cytokines stems from various studies(1,2) carried out using our product Sambucol®. These studies suggest that black elderberry supports low-level stimulation of a healthy immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production1. It did not suggest that black elderberry would cause a cytokine storm in situations where the immune system is affected by an underlying condition. Other studies have shown that black elderberry did not stimulate cytokine production7 (remember, there are MANY kinds of cytokines).
What does this mean?
There is currently no scientific evidence establishing a link between Sambucol Black Elderberry and causing or worsening a cytokine storm.
It is highly unlikely that black elderberry will cause a cytokine storm and if an individual’s immune system does over-react then it is extremely unlikely to be because of black elderberry. We are monitoring the situation closely and will review any new information that becomes available on this issue.
The role of Sambucol is important to support a healthy immune system. Sambucol has been on the market for over 20 years and is backed by clinical studies.
We are confident that Sambucol supports the immune system of healthy individuals. With the current information available about COVID-19, nothing seems to indicate that taking Sambucol as indicated on pack would have a worsening effect if you are exposed to the virus.
It is always relevant for people who have an auto-immune condition or are taking any immune supporting or suppressing medication (e.g chemotherapy) to seek professional advice from their practitioners.
This article is not intended for the purpose of providing medical advice. All information, content, and material found in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.
- Barak V, Halperin T, and Kalickman I. The effect of Sambucol, a black Elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. inflammatory cytokines. European Cytokine Network 12, no. 2 (June 2001): 290-96. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11399518
- Barak et al. (2002). The effect of herbal remedies on the production of human inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12455180
- Herbal Medicine and Cytokine Storm in Respiratory Infection. Herbal Medicines and Cytokine Storm in respiratory infection. Paul Bergner Director, North American Institute of Medical Herbalism, http://naimh.com
- What Are Cytokines? – Definition, Types & Function https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-are-cytokines-definition-types-function.html
- Qiang Liu, Yuan-hong Zhou, and Zhan-qiu Yang. The cytokine storm of severe influenza and development of immunomodulatory therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4711683/
- Tisoncik JR, Korth MJ, Simmons CP, Farrar J, Martin TR, & Katze MG. Into the eye of the cytokine storm. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 2012 Mar 76(1): 16-32. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3294426/
- Kirichenko TV, Sobenin IA, Nikolic D, Rizzo M, and Orekhov AN. Anti-cytokine therapy for prevention of atherosclerosis. Phytomedicine: International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology 23, no. 11 (October 15, 2016): 1198–1210. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phymed.2015.12.002.