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Elderberry Fights Flu Symptoms

Jelly, Jam, or Wine Won't Help -- Only Extract Works
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WebMD Health News

Dec. 22, 2003 -- Sambucol, a black elderberry extract, appears to short-circuit flu symptoms, a new study shows.

This is more evidence that this herbal treatment for flu -- if taken when flu-like symptoms first appear -- could help people get through this year's flu invasion a bit easier.

However, Andrew Weil, MD, director of the program in integrative medicine at the University of Arizona, is cautious. The findings on Sambucol are only preliminary, he says. He advises people to take prescription drugs if they get the flu, but notes that Sambucol may help.

"Sambucol is for treatment, not for prevention," Weil tells WebMD. "It has an unknown mechanism of action. Research suggests it inactivates the flu virus, but we don't know that for sure."

The flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza are used for the treatment of the flu, if the symptoms have been present for no more than two days. They can also cut flu severity and shorten illness if taken soon after flu symptoms appear. Background on Black Elder

In folk medicine, flowers from the black elder bush have been used to ease flu symptoms, colds, and sinus problems. In recent years, researchers have begun formal studies of Sambucol -- a formulation of elderberry extract -- to better understand this herbal remedy.

A small study published five years ago showed that 93% of flu patients given Sambucol were completely symptom-free within two days; those taking a placebo recovered in about six days. However, the study took place during an outbreak of influenza B -- so it was unclear whether Sambucol worked with type A virus.

This current study shows that, indeed, it works for type A flu, reports lead researcher Erling Thom, with the University of Oslo in Norway.

Thom's findings were presented at the 15th Annual Conference on Antiviral Research in 2002. The study has been accepted for publication in the Journal of International Medical Research.

The study involved 60 patients who had been suffering with flu symptoms for 48 hours or less; 90% were infected with the A strain of the virus, 10% were infected with type B. Half the group took 15 milliliters of Sambucol or and the other group took a placebo four times a day for five days.

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