range of climates and soil types, and are frequently found by river banks. There are a
number of different types of elder, in both small tree and shrub form, and it is those
with the black and blue berries that are useful medicinally, not those with red berries.
It is not only the berries that are used, but also the elder flowers. Elderflower wine has
long been a favorite country wine, and the berries are used to make jam, pies and
also drunk as juice.
Elder has been used for countless years for treating viral diseases such as influenza
and colds, and it has also been found by some to be effective for the treatment of
cold sores (herpes simplex). Its effect on flu is thought to be that it prevents the virus
from entering and infecting the body cells, but more on this later. Historically, it has
been used to promote the excretion of waste products through urination and
sweating, which might be another reason why it is effective against colds and flu and
some general respiratory problems.
The juice contains anthocyanins in the form of anthocyanidin-3-glycosides that appear
to be very bioavailable to the body. The anthocyanins are more easily absorbed than
those of blackcurrant juice, and are very strong antioxidants. The antioxidant effect is
reinforced by the presence of large quantities of vitamin C. This difference in
bioavailability has been proved though the administration of both blackcurrant and
elderberry juice to volunteers, and testing the presence of the anthocyanins in the
urine. This is a measure of their bioavailability, or how easily they are absorbed by the
body, and the greater this bioavailability, then the more effective is their antioxidant
Separate studies have indicated that anthocyanins derived from berries in general, not
just elderberry, can reduce oxidative stress due to age, and also to help brain
function. An improvement in the memory of the elderly has been seen to have
improved after a course of berry juices rich in these powerful antioxidants. Elderberry
antioxidants also improve the stability of LDL cholesterol by protecting against free
radical oxidation, and thus helping to reduce the incidence of atherosclerosis that is
promoted by the deposition of the oxidized LDL cholesterol on artery walls. This in
turn helps to reduce the possibility of cardiovascular disease.
However, it is its effect on the immune system for which elderberry is generally
studied by the medical professions. Elderberry helps to boost the immune system
predominantly through the production of cytokines. To explain how these work, a
quick summary of how part of the immune system works will first be necessary.
When intrusion into the body by an antigen (foreign body) is detected, the initial
response is the inflammatory response. Chemical messengers called cytokines are
released into the blood to inform the other parts of the immune system that an
invader has been spotted.
The immediate effect is to increase the flow of blood to the affected part of the body
by dilation of the blood vessels. The spaces between the cells in the vessel walls
increase to allow the larger components of the immune system, such as the
phagocytes that consume and destroy bacteria. Proteins also congregate and the
temperature at the site rises to promote the reactions that the body uses to eject
the invaders. The tissue therefore swells due to all the extra fluid and gets hot. The
area becomes painful due to the accumulation of material aggravating the nerves, and
if there is an infection, pus will eventually be formed from the dead neutrophils used to
kill the bacteria or virus.
There are many different types of cytokine, including those that initiate the
inflammatory response and others that stop the immune response once the invader
has been killed off. Other cytokines, such as the interferons, stop viruses from
multiplying, and others take part in the response only to specific types of antigen.
Each cytokine has a specific message to pass to the relevant components of the
immune system in order that the immune response is appropriate to the invasion
concerned and does not overreact. Hence, a grain of pollen in the nose will elicit a
lesser response than a varicella antigen that leads to those horrible chickenpox
In general terms, cytokines give the immune system a kick start once an antigen is
spotted. The elderberry anthocyanins produce predominantly inflammatory cytokines,
but also one anti-inflammatory cytokine, and so helping to boost the inflammatory
Some viruses use what are known as spike proteins that mimic the molecules of their
host in order to gain access to cells by binding to the target cell receptors. However,
these spikes are easily recognized by the immune system, and the elderberry
anthocyanins are active in promoting this recognition. For that reason, viruses
vigorously continue to change and mutate to overcome this, one manifestation of
their success in achieving this being in the annual infections of influenza that have
overcome last year's antibodies by means of this mutation.
The influenza virus contains what are known as hemagglutinin spikes on its surface
which, when deactivated, cannot break through your cell walls, enter the cell and
replicate, thus leading to influenza. That is the mechanism by which the constituents
of elderberries help to control influenza and reduce its effect on your body. If not
deactivated, the spikes allow the virus to invade the cell and provoke the immune
response that you know as the flu.
Many such winter ailments have a similar mechanism, which is why, apart from its
general health benefits through its high antioxidant content, that elderberry can boost
the immune system in winter.
About The Author
More information on elderberry extract can be found at VitaNet, LLC Health Food
Precautions: None for the flowers or berries, however use in moderation as directed.
Excessive use can cause nausea and vomiting for some individuals. When using the
berries, use those from the Sambucus nigra species (black elderberry) because others are
known to be poisonous.
Elderberry Can Boost The Immune System In The Winter
by Duane Miller
The immune system is frequently
overworked when the days get
shorter and the temperature
starts to drop, and elderberry
can boost the immune system in
winter for those that find
themselves susceptible to all the
colds, flu and other viral
infections that seem to come out
of the woodwork at that time.
Elderberry is the fruit of the elder
tree that is native to Asia, Europe
and North America. They are
found just about anywhere due
to their tolerance for a wide
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