Looking at the effect of elderberry on our physiology, many studies show that elderberry is antiviral and protective for the immune system. It is now pretty much a mainstream recommendation by many to boost immunity and help protect against cold and flu. But in addition to being anti-viral, elderberry also produces production of several inflammatory particles (cytokines). Obviously, everyone is working to gain an understanding of the physiologic changes with Covid-19, but what is becoming evident is that what is dangerous about the virus is not necessarily the virus itself, but the affect it has on the immune system.
Let me clarify. One thing we’ve all heard about is the fact that the virus is very contagious. That is one thing about the virus itself that makes it more of a concern. Why? Well, you’ve heard it called “novel”. Novel = New. Which means it hasn’t been around before. Which means our immune systems have not been previously exposed and therefore have not produced antibody protection from it. Ultimately, it seems, then, that exposure equals infection. So that is a problem. The other part of that equation is the fact that viruses can mutate. This virus mutated and spread from animals to humans. Again, new to our physiology so we don’t have an immune response built up against it. SO, something that helps boost our immune system should be helpful in fighting this, yes?
Well, in general we would assume so. But there are some differences in the way this virus works in comparison to, say, the flu, that might indicate that certain compounds or nutrients that seem to boost immunity, might in this case be contra-indicated. A big factor to consider is how this virus enters the cell. Viruses need to gain access to our cells in order to basically hijack them and use them to replicate. Our cells communicate with each other. Good communication between the cells can help keep us healthy – it is a normal, necessary physiologic function. They do that through receptor sites on the cells. This virus enters the cell through a different receptor site than the flu.
Because Covid-19 is a new virus, we don’t have established research directly on ‘this’ virus. So we look to similar viruses, those with similar structure and function and make some assumptions, or educated guesses, on how Covid-19 might function and what might help or hurt with it.
How may elderberry help or hurt in the fight against the coronavirus?
Covid-19 enters the cells through the ACE2 receptor sites on the cell. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32132184/ https://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.m810/rr-2 If we look at another similar coronavirus, NL63, we see that elderberry directly stops the attachment of that virus to ACE2, so it likely does it for this new virus as well (similar structure and function). Blocking entry to cell (where they eventually replicate and spread) blocks survival. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31560964/ Additionally, viruses have a sort of lipid coating on them. Washing your hands is so effective because the soap breaks up this lipid coating. Elderberry breaks down the lipid later in some bird coronavirus strains, so it potentially be protective in that way as well. Given all of this, it seems like taking elderberry for prevention might be a potential strategy.
Remember it’s too early for specific research on this new virus itself, so we look to other studies. What about studies on the effect of elderberry on immune function. An NIH study shows that elderberry is anti-viral ( which is why it has become a mainstream recommendation for flu season), AND it triggers production of several inflammatory cytokines, including IL-6, which combines with something called TGF Beta during this virus infection. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/11399518/
The most dangerous part of this virus seems to be the effect on the immune system. Once the virus is established in the cells it sort of hijacks the cell and the immune system and triggers an intense, out of control, inflammatory response called a “cytokine storm”, which settles in the lungs, and later maybe the heart, creating scarring and tissue damage. This NIH study seems to indicate that the IL-6 may contribute more to this dysfunctional immune imbalance, the cytokine storm, which leads to the thought that maybe it should be avoided, at least once infected.
This is the challenge in making decisions on what will help, or hurt, and what to use and not to use. I’m definitely looking at nutrients that up-regulate (or make more active) the ACE2 receptor site as things to avoid right now because that is how the virus enters the cell. In the last week my thoughts on elderberry have swung back and forth several times as I read the research. But the preventive aspect – the blocking entry to the cells – has me pulling out my elderberry syrup right now. Studies on dosing elderberry for flu and cold protection run from between 700-900 mg / day divided into 2-4 doses/day.
I have syrup in the house, but lozenges or capsules would be ok. I will start taking my elderberry again to hopefully help prevent infection, but will discontinue it if I start showing any symptoms.
Knowledge is power and the more we know the better decisions we can make on what we do to keep ourselves healthy.
My next post will be on some other nutrients used to boost immune function with cold and flu, that may be contraindicated with this virus because they too upregulate the ACE2 receptor which COVID-19 uses to gain entry into the cell.
Nancy Lark, MMS, MESS, RDN, FAARFM, ACCBHC, CGP
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Disclaimer: It is important that I state, and that you understand, the information I provide in these posts on tips for Coronavirus 19 are not done as medical advice, and are not meant to replace or substitute the constantly evolving and changing public health recommendations. These are meant to inform you and supply as much knowledge and understanding of this situation at this time, as seen through my eyes as a Functional Medicine practitioner, a lifestyle medicine practitioner, a nutritionist, exercise physiologist, a brain health coach, a preventive health and chronic disease management specialist and someone who understands that knowledge is power. Knowledge gives some control to a situation that may seem out of control right now. Knowledge gives you, and I, the power to make educated decisions on what we do to support our health. These discussions are not by any means comprehensive and exhaustive but are meant to support you in your general understanding of this virus as it may relate to general health recommendations and guidance. Specific health concerns and specific health advice require working with a health professional. For more information about how I can help, visit my website at www.youroptimalhealthsolutions.com . You can connect directly via the Contact Us option https://www.youroptimalhealthsolutions.com/contact.html