The Facts About Elderberry and Cytokine Storms


In times like these, it’s sometimes hard to determine what information is legitimate and what should be ignored. There have, for example, been some inaccurate reports about the potential effects of using elderberry to help support your immune system when it comes to a virus and more specifically during this pandemic. Quite simply, there is no valid correlation between elderberry and Cytokine Release Syndrome (CRS), or a “cytokine storm.”

Here are the facts:

  • There are no reported cases of elderberry and cytokine storms.
  • The only data related to elderberry and elevated cytokines is from a European study using only healthy volunteers. This study demonstrated that elderberry may work partly as a preventive measure.
  • The association between elderberry and cytokine storm is not probable; elderberry is unlikely to be able to cause cytokine storm whether it is used during infection or as a preventive measure.

Understanding cytokines

There are many kinds of cytokines, which are proteins made by the immune system that serve as chemical messengers. Basically, cytokines are cell signaling molecules that facilitate cell-to-cell communication in immune responses. Cytokines are involved in many aspects of inflammation and immunity. This includes stimulating the movement of cells towards sites of inflammation, infection, and trauma.

A cytokine storm is an excessive immune response. It may happen during the later stages of severe illness, acute respiratory distress syndrome, or sepsis. By the time a person experiences a cytokine storm in a respiratory distress situation, they would most likely be in a significantly compromised state. They may even be in the ICU on life-saving respiration equipment with care being managed by medical professionals.

Read: 8 Immune System Boosting Foods

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Immune system support with elderberry

There is a long history of using elderberry for immune support*. Culinary and folk medicinal use of the berries and flowers goes back thousands of years. Used as a herb, elderberry works in a variety of ways in the body. Herbs are generally believed to support physiology, rather than act as overt stimulants.

A study done using Sambucol elderberry syrup suggested that elderberry may support a beneficial cytokine production in healthy individuals. The study did not suggest that elderberry would cause a cytokine storm in situations where the immune system is taxed by an underlying condition. Additional studies have found that elderberry did not stimulate cytokine production. (Remember, there are many kinds of cytokines.)

Bottom Line

What does this mean to you and your family?

  • There are no reported cases or associations of elderberry and cytokine storm.
  • The only data on elderberry and elevated cytokines is from a study using only healthy volunteers. This means all we know is that when elderberry is used as a preventive measure, it may work partially in this manner.
  • Elderberry is not likely to be capable of causing cytokine storm whether used for prevention of infection, or during an infection.



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Randy is the co-founder of and The Healthy Shopper. She has been working in the natural health industry for over 20 years. She is very passionate about healthy living by choosing natural and organic as much as possible, has a personal love of cooking and sharing healthy recipes and is a fitness enthusiast.