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This Month’s News: Flu Season Facts – Answering Questions About Elderberry

New research suggests that elderberry might not benefit patients with the flu. There’s huge demand for these products, so it’s important to help patients understand the evidence.

Most clinical studies evaluating elderberry for flu have been small and limited, but have shown that the supplement can help improve symptoms. New research evaluated children and adults (both high-risk and not) with flu symptoms, who were given the product Sambucol. It didn’t shorten flu symptom duration compared to placebo.

Some were surprised by these findings, because elderberry extract is thought to have immune stimulating effects and to stop replication of some influenza strains. It’s possible that high-risk patients are less likely to benefit. It’s also possible that evaluating flu symptoms duration vs. symptom improvement could contribute to the conflicting findings.

If patients ask about elderberry for flu, tell them that it might offer some benefits in otherwise healthy adults when taken early on. Most research has studied Sambucol, which appears to be safe for most people. Patients shouldn’t expect it to be a cure-all, and they shouldn’t spend a lot of money or effort getting products. The double threat of flu and COVID-19 is likely to drive up demand. As a result, some experts warn that the supply chain concerns could lead to increased adulteration. Remind patients that the flu shot is their best defense. 

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