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Can elderberry really help relieve your cold?

San Jose Mercury News


Jan. 09--Move over acai, there is a new powerhouse berry generating a lot of buzz in parenting and wellness circles. Meet the elderberry, the fruit of the Sambucus tree, which has long been used by Native Americans and European communities to boost the immune system to help fight off colds, flu, and other respiratory infections.

The dried flowers (elder flower) and the dried ripe or fresh berries (elderberry) of the European elder tree are used in teas, extracts, and capsules, as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) notes.

Now it's starting to get mainstream attention as numerous elderberry supplements pop up on social media and for sale on Amazon. But can elderberry really help you beat cold and flu season? Or is it just another iteration of the ongoing berry craze?

"Elderberry has been used for many years in folk medicine as a treatment for colds and influenza," says Elizabeth Bailey, director of Food and Nutrition Services at Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center. "In some studies, elderberry extract has been found to decrease the length and severity of cold and flu symptoms, however there is limited evidence and further research is needed to determine a correlation."

In one study conducted in Norway, 60 people with flu-like symptoms took 15 milliliters of elderberry syrup four times a day and reported that their symptoms improved four days before those who took a placebo.

Hailed for its antioxidant properties, the elderberry may be newly trendy but the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has called for more research into its efficacy.

Health experts also warn that you must avoid consuming it raw. Uncooked berries can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Many people prefer to use syrups, lozenges and gummy vitamins made out of elderberry.

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"Elderberries are low in calories and contain good amounts of vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants and can be part of a healthy diet," says Bailey. However at this point, the official advice on how to fight a cold remains to "get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, and eat a healthy diet."


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