The Science Behind Black Elderberry
Article By: Dr. Jessie Hawkins, PhD
Founder and Executive Director, Franklin School of Integrative Health Sciences
With the recent worldwide focus on immune health, black elderberry’s awareness and popularity soared. Elderberry has a long-standing history of medicinal use and immune support properties, and several scientific studies have outlined its antiviral effects and efficacy with ameliorating symptoms from respiratory viruses. However, stated conclusions from one recent clinical trial have been the catalyst for some conflicting information circulating in the media about whether black elderberry is an effective herbal ingredient.
To officially set the record straight and explain what the science really says about elderberry, Dr. Jessie Hawkins, an expert on the science of black elderberry and author of the recent independent meta-analysis, objectively navigates through the existing human studies and explains what the totality of the clinical research concludes about black elderberry.
- To date, four clinical trials have evaluated the effects of elderberry on routine cases of upper respiratory infections, and one clinical trial has evaluated black elderberry treatment as a potential authorized drug in patients hospitalized with influenza.
- A 2018 quantitative meta-analysis of the existing research showed elderberry had an extremely large reduction effect on cold and flu symptoms.
- Collectively, the body of evidence demonstrating the beneficial effects of elderberry on upper respiratory symptoms is strong.
- The recent 2020 clinical trial from the Cleveland Clinic only included patients who had been seen in the Emergency Room (ER) for severe influenza and no statistically significant benefits from elderberry were observed. However, upon review of the trial details there are questions about the final design of the study.
- When a new study produces findings which contradict the entire body of literature, it has to be interpreted within the context of existing scientific evidence.
- While the outcome of the elderberry drug study has been recently cited as evidence that elderberry is ineffective, such claims underscore the importance of understanding how to interpret the scientific literature. Clinical research must be interpreted within the context of the research question, relevant outcomes, research methodology, and the body of evidence as a whole.
- The uncertainty surrounding elderberry’s drug potential does not negate the documented benefits of the substance as a dietary supplement in support of positive immune health.