I rarely look at my Facebook feed, but last night as I was scrolling through I came across a post by a Pharmacist where she provided a “Public Service Announcement” in which she warned readers of the ineffectiveness of some natural remedies for the flu. One of those remedies was elderberry (Sambucus nigra), which she claimed only shortened the duration of illness by a day or two. She did not list any of the sources she reported researching, but assured the trustworthiness of the information shared by reinforcing her credentials as a pharmacist. This is not uncommon amongst allopathically trained medical professionals (though this is changing!), many of whom deny a layperson’s ability to critically consider various perspectives and to form opinions for themselves.
I responded with links to studies that are critical of the Influenza vaccine and Tamiflu (conventional flu treatment), as well as links supporting the effectiveness of elderberry in treatment of the flu. Also included were the package inserts for Tamiflu and flu vaccines that list some serious adverse events to be aware of, as well as the CDC link to the ingredients in various flu vaccines. All of this was taken from mainstream sources.
Though my comments were both civil and well referenced, they were marked as spam and deleted. Prior to that I received a reply or two with Simpsons cartoon gifs, a comment that indicated the reader did not actually go to my linked references, and a man linking his own study claiming it came to a different conclusion than it actually did, strongly suggesting he didn’t actually read the evidence supporting his own argument. These are also fairly common tactics in these discussions – making jokes and accusations, name calling, throwing out theories as if they are facts and outright evasion of debate by strategies such as marking a legitimate comment as spam or deleting it. None of these involve actual evidence or critical thought, much less respect for others as human beings.
Science isn’t everything. It is limited as it is constructed and carried out by flawed human beings. Studies can even be deliberately designed to ensure an advantageous result, conclusions can be drawn that are inconsistent with the data acquired and studies can be altogether hidden away when research results are undesirable. Therefore an abundance of science claiming to support something doesn’t necessarily, while a lack of research doesn’t always indicate that a given option doesn’t have therapeutic value. The latter is particularly the case in natural medicine, where products of nature are un-patentable and therefore don’t provide the large profit margins/funding that pharmaceuticals are afforded. The former is perhaps especially relevant with regard to vaccine safety, where the standard is to not even use a real placebo (like a saline injection) in control groups, but a different vaccine or injection of other preparations that are anything but inert. Nonetheless, all types of evidence have strengths and weaknesses, including scientific, historical and experiential, among others.
Elderberry is primarily discussed here to keep things simple. A few other natural strategies/options to research for immune system support during flu season are supporting fever rather than suppressing it, minimizing sugar intake, eating whole foods, getting enough sleep, vitamin D3, vitamin C, Homeopathic Oscillococcinum, Bone Broth, Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, and Thieves and oregano essential oils.
Overall, remember that it isn’t the pathogen that determines the degree of illness a person experiences when they are exposed to it, but the state of that person’s immune system; and a well supported immune system can overcome just about anything.
Below you’ll find links to some science on elderberry, flu medications and flu shots for those interested in views that differ from what is currently prominent in the media.
Here is a study on elderberry that shows it relieved flu symptom duration by 4 days compared to placebo:
Elderberry has an inhibitory effect on flu virus propagation and possesses antimicrobial activity against bacteria that can cause secondary infections:
This one says the elderberry showed “relatively strong defense” against influenza infection in mice:
Tamiflu and Relenza (conventional flu treatments)
Tamiflu and Relenza shortened the duration of the flu by less than a day (16.8 hours):
Tamiflu use could induce sudden deterioration leading to death, especially within 12 hours of prescription:
Tamiflu package insert including adverse events:
Included events are neuropsychiatric events such as hallucinations, delirium, and abnormal behavior, in some cases resulting in fatal outcomes. Others mentioned are anaphylaxis and toxic epidermal necrolysis.
Flu vaccination not found to decrease incidence of influenza infection, but was associated with significantly increased risk of non influenza respiratory infections:
Children who get the flu vaccine are more at risk for hospitalization than their peers who do not get the vaccine, especially asthmatic children:
The available evidence for people aged 65 years or older with regard to the safety, efficacy or effectiveness of influenza vaccines is of poor quality and provides no guidance:
Influenza Vaccine Ingredients (there are several different vaccines) provided by the CDC:
Included are squalene, polysorbate 80, thimerosal, formaldehyde, monosodium glutamate and Madin Darby Canine Kidney (MDCK) cell protein among others. Keep in mind these are injected, not ingested therefore not subject to the protection of digestive processes.
Influenza vaccine package inserts (provided by the FDA):
There are several vaccines and many adverse events. A few included adverse events are “Influenza-like” illness, convulsions (including febrile seizures), encephalomyelitis, encephalopathy, anaphylactic shock, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, facial or cranial nerve paralysis and limb paralysis.
The pharmacist I mentioned earlier did not link to her sources but even if she is correct in claiming that elderberry only shortens flu duration by 1-2 days, that is better than Tamiflu, minus the potential for neuropsychiatric events and toxic epidermal necrolysis.