April 2020

Clear Up Confusion About Elderberry in COVID-19 Patients

Growing concerns about the potential for cytokine storm syndrome in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients has raised questions about the safety of elderberry.

Cytokine storm syndrome – a severe overproduction of immune cells that can lead to life-threatening lung inflammation – may be a complication of COVID-19 in some patients. This has raised questions about the safety of elderberry, since elderberry may have a pro-cytokine effect. A very small study that used blood from healthy donors shows that elderberry extract increases the production of inflammatory cytokines in vitro. But not all research agrees. Other research suggests that elderberry might actually have an anti-cytokine effect. Furthermore, there is NO evidence that elderberry induces cytokine storm syndrome in humans. Tell your patients that there’s no strong evidence that elderberry causes cytokine storm syndrome.

While this is reassuring, it’s also important to remind patients that there is NO evidence that elderberry can help treat or prevent COVID-19. Although elderberry is commonly taken for colds and the flu, and there’s some evidence it might help for these conditions, elderberry has NOT been evaluated for treating or preventing COVID-19.

Overall, there is no strong evidence that elderberry can cause cytokine storm syndrome, but there’s also no good evidence that it can improve symptoms or prevent COVID-19. Continue reminding patients that the best way to prevent COVID-19 is through proper hand hygiene, using disinfectant sprays or wipes to clean surfaces, etc.

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Reviewed February 2023

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