Does elderberry reduce severity and duration of flu?

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Elderberry is becoming a popular natural remedy during cold and flu season – but does it work?

One recent study examines whether elderberry extract decreases severity and duration of the flu.

“It (elderberry) actually didn’t make any difference at all compared to placebo when you took all the patients who took elderberry and all the patients who took placebo medication, their illnesses lasted almost the identical length of time,” said lead author Dr. Michael Macknin, of Cleveland Clinic Children’s.

The study looks at 87 people, ages five and up, who went to the emergency department with flu.

They took elderberry extract or placebo for five days -- some also took other prescription flu treatments.

Results suggest elderberry had no significant advantages over placebo.

People who received elderberry and no other flu treatment actually had moderate-to-severe symptoms two days longer on average, than people taking only placebo.

These results contradict previous studies and Macknin said further research is needed.

When it comes to the flu, prevention is key. And the best way to prevent influenza is a flu shot.

“It’s important to emphasize that right now we don’t have anything to treat the flu that works wonderfully well,” said Macknin. “Even the four standard treatments that are available only make you feel better about one day sooner and any medication also comes with some side effects, so I think it' important to try and prevent flu and get the flu vaccine.”

It’s recommended everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot each year.

Complete results for the study can be found in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.