In search of a natural flu treatment? Studies examining elderberry for flu have reported promising results.
The flu (influenza), is an upper respiratory infection that has three types: influenza A, influenza B and influenza C. Influenza A and B are the usual suspects for the seasonal flu, while influenza C is rare.
The flu and common cold are both caused by upper respiratory viruses, but they do differ in symptoms. Flu symptoms are more severe and include sudden onset of fever, headache, tiredness, muscle weakness, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, and cough. Cold symptoms do not usually include fever, but the three major symptoms are stuffy nose, sore throat, and sneezing. The flu can last a week to ten days, while the common cold usually diminishes in a few days.
The flu virus can be transferred from person-to-person through direct contact and air-borne saliva droplets produced from sneezes or coughs. Flu transmission can also occur by touching contaminated surfaces, such as door handles, handrails, or payment kiosks.
Best practices to reduce the spread of the flu include the following:
- Frequent handwashing with soap and water, after contact with saliva droplets or mucus secretions from your mouth, nose or eyes. If soap and water are not available, then use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Use personal protective equipment, such as masks or face protection, in public to protect yourself and others around you.
- Disinfect commonly touched equipment and handles at home.
- If flu-like symptoms are present, then stay at home.
Flu symptoms can be relieved and treated with:
- Increased frequency of fluid intake.
- Over-the-counter medication to reduce fever or aches, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
First-line prevention and treatment for influenza:
- The flu shot, or vaccine, is the first-line prevention against the flu. It is usually recommended in October to mid-November. The flu shot contains killed virus strains that were common from the previous year and possible strains for the current year. The killed virus will not cause the flu, but the body will produce a response that will prepare itself against a flu infection. The flu shot is highly advocated for everyone, especially for high risk people, such as those with chronic diseases, immune system dysfunction, over 65 years, and healthcare workers.
- Antiviral medications are used to prevent and treat the spread of the flu virus throughout the body, if the flu vaccine did not cover a specific influenza strain. Oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) and Zanamivir (Relenza®) are available as options to fight the flu.
There has been concern with antiviral drug resistance due to the evolving nature of the flu virus. These resistant changes are slow, but they can lead to the rise of a new flu virus. A 2011 study reported antiviral resistance incidences that included Tamiflu® and Relenza®. The study concluded a significant number of patients may become Tamiflu® resistant, which was possibly associated with pneumonia. However, Relenza® resistance has been seldom reported.
Natural treatment for flu
Research for natural flu treatments has been pursued to fill the gap between failed flu vaccine coverage and concern with antiviral drug resistance. A medicinal berry, known as Elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.), is believed to boost the immune system and may help treat the flu, common cold, sinus infections, and other ailments. Its action against the flu virus remains unknown. However, pharmacological studies have shown that elderberries are abundant in certain chemicals called, phenolic compounds. These phenolic compounds may activate and boost your immune system and may have a direct action on the flu virus. Elderberry extract is available to the public as syrups and capsules. None of the patients reported any significant side effects.
Studies examining elderberry for flu
A study, published in 2004, investigated the effectiveness and tolerability of elderberry syrup to treat influenza A and B infections in humans. A total of 60 patients, aged 18 to 54, suffering from flu-like symptoms were treated with either 15 milliliters of elderberry syrup, or placebo, four times a day for five days. Patients were also allowed to take other medications to help relieve fever and aches. Patients were to score their symptoms four times a day during treatment, then twice a day for five days after finishing the treatment. The patients who received elderberry experienced improvement in symptoms three to four days earlier than those on placebo.
A 2011 research article analyzed how elderberry extract works against various bacteria strains and influenza A and B. Antibacterial properties were determined by how much bacterial growth was suppressed in liquid broths. Antiviral properties were assessed by the size of infected cells. Elderberry extract significantly suppressed bacterial growth of certain bacterial organisms and reduced the size of infected cells with influenza A or B.
The first study concluded that “elderberry extract offers an efficient, safe and cost-effective supplement” for the prevention and treatment of the flu. The second study was the first to demonstrate that elderberry has antibacterial properties in addition to its antiviral property and sets precedence for other natural flu treatment and remedies.
Larger clinical trials will be helpful to confirm these initial positive results using elderberry as a natural flu treatment.
Written by, Manuel Bangsil, PharmD, MBA, BCMAS
- Infection Prevention and Control Canada. Seasonal Influenza, Avian Influenza and Pandemic Influenza. June 13, 2020. https://ipac-canada.org/influenza-resources.php#VACCINE. Accessed on July 12, 2020.
- Hoffmann-La Roche Limited. PrTAMIFLU®. Product Monograph. February 7, 2020. https://www.rochecanada.com/PMs/Tamiflu/Tamiflu_PM_E.pdf. Accessed on July 12, 2020.
- GlaxoSmithKline Inc. PrRELENZA®. Product Monograph. July 20, 2018. https://ca.gsk.com/media/535135/relenza.pdf#page=28. Accessed on July 12, 2020.
- Thorlund K, Awad T, Boivin G, Thabane L. Systematic review of influenza resistance to the neuraminidase inhibitors. BMC Infect Dis. 2011;11:134.
- Zakay-rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res. 2004;32(2):132-40.
- Krawitz C, Mraheil MA, Stein M, et al. Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC Complement Alternative Med. 2011;11:16.
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