I have been getting slammed with questions about taking immune-enhancing elderberry syrup and other natural products during the Coronavirus epidemic. So many people want to know if it’s safe to take elderberry when there is a risk of contracting COVID-19. Here I will present the available facts in an effort to address aaaaalllll the questions.
First Things First
Don’t expect a direct answer or recommendation from me. My stance is—and always has been—to provide science-based information to empower you to make your own decisions. I’ll present the known facts and allow you to form your own opinion.
Another thing to note is that this virus is novel. What that basically means is that it’s new. Because of this, COVID-19 is still in the early stages of research, so oftentimes there simply isn’t much information on every factor surrounding this virus. The answer, “We don’t know” truly applies to so many facets and leaves questions unanswered.
What’s the Concern?
The reason some people are concerned is because elderberry syrup activates the immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production. Cytokine Release Syndrome (CRS), aka cytokine storm, is a dangerous hyper-release of inflammatory mediators by the body. Some sources claim that there is an increased risk of cytokine storm with COVID-19. Theoretically, if this is true, elderberry could increase the risk of potentially fatal cytokine storm during Coronavirus.
The question is whether or not COVID-19 actually poses an unusually increased risk of CRS in healthy individuals.
Cytokines are small secreted proteins released by cells that have a specific effect on the interactions and communications between cells. They are our bodies’ immune system regulators and may be both anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory. The body releases these proteins in response to infection. This results in the recruitment of immune system cells to the site of infection. It’s one of the ways the body fights off pathogens that cause illness. Learn more about Cytokines and CRS in this post, where I cover the topic more thoroughly.
Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a cytokine that is secreted by T cells and macrophages to activate immune response during an infection. Sometimes, the body over-produces these pro-inflammatory cytokines, which can lead to other problems, such as autoimmune disorders or CRS.
Most of the time, healthy people have nothing to worry about. The hyper-production of cytokines is most common in people with increased risk, such as those undergoing targeted immune therapy or those with a chronic autoimmune disorder.
COVID-19 and Cytokine Storm
Because COVID-19 is novel, our immune systems do not recognize the virus nor do we have any antibodies for it. The virus targets lung tissue, so the immune system sends immune cells to the lungs to kill the virus. This influx of cytokines, including IL-6, in the lung tissue causes a natural inflammatory response, which explains why breathing difficulty is common with the Coronavirus.
Because the immune cells do not recognize the virus, in some people, they attack indiscriminately and recruit more immune cells to the effort. This can be the beginning of a cytokine storm, in which the body will continue to dump more and more cytokines into the lungs, thereby increasing inflammation. During CRS, the immune system may not be able to kill the virus, but it may seriously damage the function of the lungs. In these patients, we see severe respiratory problems, such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
How Big is the Risk?
We have to keep in mind that the above refers to a worst case scenario. The vast majority of people who contract the virus will experience mild to moderate symptoms and recover completely. Those at increased risk for a severe reaction include those who are immunocompromised, have a concomitant illness, the elderly, and people with other respiratory problems.
What We Know About Elderberry
Studies show that Sambucol Elderberry Extract activates the immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production. This is not always bad. Remember, cytokines are our body’s natural defense mechanisms. Some people refer to elderberry as nature’s flu shot because it exhibits multiple modes of therapeutic action against influenza infection, both as a preventive and a treatment method.
Not only does elderberry stimulate the immune system, but other studies show it actually inhibits the early stages of a viral infection by blocking key viral proteins responsible for both the viral attachment and entry into the host cells.
Some people claim elderberry increases the risk of cytokine storm. In theory, the possibility exists because elderberry does stimulate cytokine production. However, no documented cases of CRS caused or influenced by elderberry exist.
The Bottom Line
If you are concerned about COVID-19 and elderberry during this uncertain time, then don’t take it. Fortunately, other options for boosting natural immunity exist.
Learn more about how elderberry fights the flu and get a recipe to make your own Elderberry Syrup here.
Check out all this post for all the content we have to answer questions about Coronavirus.