Many of us are focused on prevention and immune support right now with the advancing COVID-19 virus. Elderberry extract has been very popular in recent years during the cold and flu season. Before this hit, I saw shelves stocked with Elderberry Extract (Sambucus nigra is the plant name) prior to our fall season, do you have any at home?

What Makes COVID-19 So Deadly?

Let me refresh you on what makes COVID-19 so deadly. I did a newsletter on this on March 11th, for a deep dive go Here…. Essentially it’s a Cytokine storm in the lungs that becomes so bad the patient cannot breathe (hence respirators) and if it becomes over-whelming, you then have total system shut downs.

Cytokines are a large group of proteins that are secreted by specific cells of the immune system. Cytokines are a category of signaling molecules that mediate and regulate immunity and inflammation. This is how your immune system works, with inflammation. Cytokine Release Syndrome (CRS) and its extreme form, cytokine storm, can occur in advanced infection states like Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), sepsis, or COVID-19. This is what is happening with severe cases of COVID-19. This is a serious condition and requires ICU intervention and should not be addressed with an herbal supplement. For this discussion, I’m talking about a healthy population using it for immune support.

Will Elderberry Cause a Cytokine Storm?

There actually has been quite a bit of discussion about this. The study that has been cited over and over again to back up a claim that elderberry could trigger a cytokine storm, is a study published in European Cytokine Networks in 2001 by Barak, et al. The study was done on monocytes and concluded that elderberry extract could “activate the healthy immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production.” Let’s put this into perspective, running in a marathon has been shown to increase IL-6 (a cytokine) about 100-fold! You cannot extract data from monocytes alone and apply it to the whole human, or to the local cellular environment in the lungs. There is just not enough data to support this. There is no evidence to suggest that the small elevation in cytokine release by monocytes after high-dose elderberry exposure is enough to trigger a cytokine storm in a human.

Elderberry is one of the most used, and most trusted immune support botanicals in the integrative medicine repertoire. It has also been studied in humans with influenza, an infection with a known risk of cytokine storm and ARDS, and there are no studies reporting an increased risk of respiratory distress, cytokine storm, or ARDS.

Is There Evidence?

Here are a few examples:

1) A 2004 study in Norway followed 60 patients (aged 18-54) suffering from influenza-like symptoms for 48 hours or less. They were given 15 mL of elderberry extract 5 times daily or placebo for 5 days. Among reported outcomes, the patient use of respiratory rescue medication was reduced, suggesting fewer respiratory complications in the elderberry group.

2) A 2019 meta-analysis of Sambucus (Elderberry) supplementation for upper respiratory symptoms (including influenza) reported no increase in respiratory risk or side effects and determined elderberry to be safe in this population.

3) This Study compared Sambucus to products containing propolis and Echinacea. The results showed Elderberry “Sambucol could, therefore, have immunostimulatory properties when administered to patients suffering from influenza (as shown before), or immunodepressed cancer or AIDS patients who are receiving chemotherapy or other treatments.”

For a look at even more studies you can go HERE….

Focus On Lowering Inflammation


Now, having a healthy immune system to start is essential. If someone is in an inflammatory state such as auto-immune, diabetes, “itis’s” such as arthritis, diverticulitis, rheumatoid arthritis etc. then we know that they are already in a heightened inflammatory state. Should that person take Elderberry extract? I would suggest that person focus on lowering inflammation.

I’ve discussed this many times, lowering inflammation in your body is the key to disease prevention and longevity. Why is COVID-19 so deadly for the older population? Because as we age we have increased inflammation in the body and weaker immune systems. As we age and especially if we start to see signs of increased inflammation, that is the body talking to us, let’s listen!

The number one thing that lowers inflammation is your diet. A diet with sugary foods, high acid foods like grain carbohydrates and excessive coffee and tea along with processed and packaged foods is like lighting a match to the prepared kindling. As we age we have to work harder than ever before! No, we’re not going to get out of here alive but it sure would be nice to finish strong and healthy and go out like a light-bulb, wouldn’t you agree???

Is This Your Time?

We are all very limited in our activity right now. Some of you are still working outside the home but a vast majority are “social distancing” at home. What better time than now to focus on your health? Want a health coach to keep you motivated to move your body daily, give you the tools to eat a low inflammatory diet, help you focus on lowering stress and getting good, restorative sleep? I’m here for you! Join us on April 13th to focus on 10 Days of clean eating, movement, sleep, digital detox, stress reduction and the joy of rejuvenating your body!

Doors close April 9th so decide now your body is your priority! Learn more here…

Alongside you,


About the Author: Chris McKee

Chris McKee Certified Nutritionist and Certified Diet Counselo

Chris McKee is a Certified Nutritionist and Certified Diet Counselor with over 30 years of experience in whole-food cooking, healthy lifestyle coaching, individual nutritional counseling and speaking to 1,000’s of people about the role of good nutrition in preventing disease.

Chris is also a Certified Nutragenomix practitioner and this allows her to look deep into your genetic profile and personalize your nutrition program based on your unique genetic fingerprint.

She runs on-line courses including her 10 Day Clean Eating Challenge, 21 Days Prepping for the Keto Diet as well as her Hope 4 Cancer Recovery program.

Chris and her husband Ed love to travel, hence the name “The Nomadic Nutritionist”.  She is a grandmother of four and a great-grandma of two!  She loves to cook, explore new food finds, hike and fish.

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