The immune system is often overworked when the days get shorter and the temperature begins to fall, and elderberry can boost the immune system in winter for the ones that find themselves vulnerable to all of the colds, flu and other viral diseases that appear to come out of the woodwork at that moment. Elderberry is the fruit of the elder tree that is native to Asia, Europe and North America.

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They’re found just about anywhere because of their tolerance for a wide variety of climates and soil types, and are often found by river banks. There are quite a few different kinds of elder, in the small tree and shrub form, and it’s those with the blue and black berries which are useful medicinally, not those with red berries. It’s not just the berries which are used, but also the elder blossoms. Elderflower wine has long been a favourite state wine, and the berries are used to make jam, pies and also drunk as juice.

Elder has been used for centuries for treating viral diseases like flu and colds, and it has also been found by some to be effective for treating cold sores (herpes simplex). Its effect on flu is supposed to be that it prevents the virus from entering and infecting the body cells, but more on this later. Historically, it’s been used to encourage the excretion of waste products through urination and perspiration, which may be another reason why it’s effective against colds and influenza and some general respiratory issues.

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The juice includes anthocyanins in the kind of anthocyanidin-3-glycosides that seem to be very bioavailable to the body. The anthocyanins are more readily absorbed than those of blackcurrant juice, and are extremely strong antioxidants. The antioxidant effect is reinforced by the existence of large amounts of vitamin C. This difference in bioavailability was proved though the management of both blackcurrant and elderberry juice to volunteers, and analyzing the existence of the anthocyanins in the urine.

This is a measure of the bioavailability, or how readily they’re absorbed by the body, and the larger this bioavailability, then the more successful is that their antioxidant effect. Separate studies have indicated that anthocyanins derived from berries generally, not only elderberry, can reduce oxidative stress because of age, and to aid brain function. An improvement in the memory of the elderly has been seen to have improved following a plan of berry juices rich in these powerful antioxidants.

Elderberry antioxidants

These also enhance the stability of LDL cholesterol by protecting against free radical oxidation, and thus helping to decrease the incidence of atherosclerosis that’s encouraged by the deposition of the oxidized LDL cholesterol on artery walls. This in turn can help to decrease the chance of cardiovascular disease. However, it’s its impact on the immune system for which elderberry is usually studied by the medical professions. Elderberry helps to boost the immune system predominantly throughout the production of cytokines.

To describe how these work, a fast overview of how a part of the immune system functions will be necessary. When intrusion into the body via an antigen (foreign body) is discovered, the first response is the inflammatory reaction. Chemical messengers called cytokines are released into the bloodstream to notify the different areas of the immune system which an invader was spotted. The immediate effect is to increase the circulation of blood into the affected region of the body by dilation of the blood vessels. The distances between the cells in the vessel walls grow to permit the larger components of the immune system, like the phagocytes that have and destroy germs.


Proteins also congregate along with the temperature in the website increases to promote the reactions which the body uses to eject the invaders. The tissue therefore swells because of all the additional fluid and gets hot. The area becomes painful because of the accumulation of substance aggravating the nerves, and when there’s an infection, pus will gradually be formed from the dead neutrophils used to kill the virus or bacteria. There are lots of unique forms of cytokine, including those who initiate the inflammatory reaction and others that prevent the immune response when the invader was killed off.

Other cytokines, including the interferons, prevent viruses from multiplying, and many others get involved in the reaction only to certain kinds of antigen. Each cytokine has a particular message to pass into the relevant elements of the immune system so that the immune reaction is appropriate to the intrusion concerned and doesn’t overreact. Hence, a grain of pollen at the nose will elicit a lesser response than a varicella antigen that leads to those horrible chickenpox pustules. Generally, cytokines give the immune system a kick start once an antigen is seen.


The elderberry anthocyanins produce predominantly inflammatory cytokines, but also one anti inflammatory cytokine, and thus helping to boost the inflammatory reaction. Some viruses use what are called spike proteins which mimic the molecules of the host so as to gain access to cells by binding to the target cell receptors. However, these spikes may be recognized by the immune system, and the elderberry anthocyanins are active in promoting this recognition. Because of this, viruses aggressively continue to change and mutate to overcome this, one manifestation of the success in attaining this being in the yearly infections of influenza that have overcome last year’s antibodies by way of this mutation. The flu virus contains what are called hemagglutinin spikes on its surface that, when deactivated, can’t break through your mobile walls, enter the cell and replicate, thus resulting in influenza. That’s the mechanism by which the components of elderberries help to control flu and reduce its impact on your body. Otherwise deactivated, the spikes permit the virus to invade the cell and provoke the immune reaction which you know as the flu.