Elderberry supplementation may reduce the duration and severity of upper respiratory symptoms, according to a meta-analysis published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

To investigate the effect of elderberry supplementation on upper respiratory symptoms, the authors conducted a literature search for randomized controlled trials where the supplement was used as a primary intervention; 4 studies were included in the final analysis involving a total of 180 patients.

Results showed that treatment with elderberry at the onset of upper respiratory symptoms resulted in substantial reductions in overall symptom duration when compared with placebo. Regardless of pathology (influenza vs common cold), the supplement was found to produce a medium to large reduction in symptoms, however, a larger effect was noted among patients with influenza. In addition, vaccination status did not appear to be related to the overall effect of elderberry as the supplement was found to be equally effective in those who did or did not receive the influenza vaccine.

With regard to safety, no adverse effects were reported in the studies which used commercially prepared products. The authors cautioned that homemade products that are not prepared correctly may increase the risk for gastrointestinal distress; ingestion of uncooked elderberry products can result in poisoning as they contain cyanogenic glycosides.

Based on these findings the authors concluded that the use of elderberry supplementation “provides an effective treatment option [for upper respiratory symptoms] when advanced or more invasive care is not warranted.”

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This article originally appeared on MPR