At sites in Switzerland and Italy, researchers have uncovered evidence that the black elderberry may have been cultivated by prehistoric man, and there are recipes for elderberry-based medications in the records dating as far back as Ancient Egypt. Historians, however, generally trace the tradition of the elderberry’s healing power back to Hippocrates, the ancient Greek known as the “father of medicine,” who described this plant as his “medicine chest” for the wide variety of ailments it seemed to cure.
Over the centuries, elderberry has been used to treat colds, flu, fever, burns, cuts, and more than 70 other maladies, from toothache to the plague. In the 17th century, John Evelyn, a British researcher, declared, “If the medicinal properties of its leaves, bark, and berries were fully known, I cannot tell what our countryman could ail for which he might not fetch a remedy [from the elderberry], either for sickness or wounds.”
The Science of Sambucol®
Free radicals are molecules with one or more unpaired electrons. They are a by-product of a normal bodily process involving the metabolism of oxygen for energy. Environmental factors such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, radiation and ultraviolet light can also cause free radicals to form.
Because free radicals lack an electron, they are unstable and highly reactive. As a result of their instability they steal electrons from other cells. This in turn destabilizes those cells, turning them into free radicals. This can cause a chain reaction which can occur indefinitely, causing destruction to the body as cellular damage accumulates.
Free radicals enter our bodies as we breathe in polluted air and cigarette smoke, and are generated during prolonged stress or illness and through every metabolic reaction involving oxygen. When oxygen molecules become unstable, they seek to stabilise by reacting with other chemicals. If left unchecked, this leads to inflammation and arterial wall damage.
This sort of damage is the number one cause of aging and a significant contributor to diseases in those aged 60 or over.
By increasing the daily intake of antioxidants through diet and supplements, free radical activity within the body could be reduced. Our bodies contain natural antioxidants in the form of vitamins, minerals and hormones, but due to the incredible amount of stress modern society puts on us, it can be good to take in more in our diet.
Sources of antioxidants include vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene. These can all be found in many fruits – such as elderberries and vegetables.
In 2007, The United States Department of Agriculture looked at the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) or overall antioxidant capability of various berries. They studied the antioxidant capacity of certain berries in terms of how effective they were at attacking these damaging free radicals. The higher the figure obtained, the more antioxidant capacity the berries had.
Of the berries studied, the elderberry had one of the highest total antioxidant capacities.
Flavonoids are powerful, natural antioxidants that work to protect the body’s cells from the potential damage thought to be caused by free radicals. Flavonoids can be found in every day foods such as fruit and vegetables.
The importance of one type of Flavonoid – Anthocyanins
Of special interest are a particular group of flavonoids called anthocyanins. These can be found in the pigments of purple, dark blue and red fruits such as the black elderberry (Mateus et al 2004). It is the activity of the anthocyanin pigments that give the black elderberry powerful antioxidant action.
Elderberries may contain more than 1% of anthocyanins and other polyphenols. The colour of the berries is mainly due to the presence of the anthocyanin cyanidin-3-glucoside which has 3.5 times the antioxidative activity of a vitamin E analogue.
The anthocyanins that occur naturally in the black elderberry are some of the most potent in the plant world. Therefore they can be extremely effective at preventing free radicals from causing any damage and have a remarkable ability that may help to stimulate the body’s immune system. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the highest concentration of anthocyanins are found in black elderberries – this is nearly double the amount found in any other fruit and almost 5 times higher than blueberries.
Studies have shown that taking a supplement containing black elderberry may be beneficial to help boost the immune system at times when it may be weakened, such as when suffering with a cold, flu or other viruses. A study using an elderberry extract (Zakay-Rones 1995) showed inhibition of several flu viruses in vitro.
Viruses are unable to multiply on their own and need to be inside healthy cells to do so. To help them enter a cell, some viruses are coated with haemagglutinin spikes. Black Elderberry Extract is believed to contain an antiviral agent, ‘Antivirin’ which can help neutralise the activity of the haemagglutinin spikes. When these spikes are deactivated, the viruses can no longer pierce cell walls to enter the cell and replicate.
Elderberries are particularly rich in flavonoids, in particular anthocyanins. These act as powerful antioxidants to help the immune system defend itself.
Anthocyanins are found in the pigment of purple, dark blue and red fruits such as the black elderberry. Elderberries contain higher flavonoid content than other fruits including cranberries, blackcurrants and blackberries and almost 5 times the anthocyanins content of blueberries.
Due to the high anthocyanin content, the black elderberry has powerful antioxidant properties to also help attack the viruses.