Is Sambucol Safe?

Sambucol, a standard black elderberry extract, is an herbal supplement commonly used to treat cold symptoms and the flu or as an antioxidant supplement. Though data is limited, it has no known drug interactions or recognised adverse effects. No contraindications have been identified.


Sambucol is derived from the fruit of the Sambucus nigra, or black elderberry shrub, native to Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia. For centuries, the fruit and flowers of the elderberry shrub have been used to treat ailments ranging from cold and flu, to toothaches and rheumatism. Sambucol was first developed in 1991, after over 20 years of research. The manufacturer claims that Sambucol is uniquely formulated to preserve and maximise the antioxidant properties of black elderberries. An antioxidant protects the body from cell degeneration and disease associated with ageing by fighting off the harmful effects of free radicals. Free radicals are oxygen molecules in the body that become electrically charged due to natural cellular activity and due to exposure to harmful environmental elements like tobacco smoke. As the "free radical" goes through this oxidation process, it attempts to steal electrons, such as DNA and membrane material, from other molecules, causing a dangerous chain reaction in cells. Antioxidants stop this chain reaction by giving up electrons that neutralise the free radical.


Elderberries contain anthocyanin flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants primarily found in dark blue and purple fruits, which may stimulate the immune system and protect cells from free-radicals. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the highest concentration of anthocyanins are found in black elderberries -- that's five times more than blueberries and twice the antioxidant property of cranberries. Sambucol is produced from whole black elderberries. Each 120ml bottle contains the equivalent of 1,000 black elderberries. Sambucol may stimulate the body's interferon, or prevent a virus from penetrating cell walls and replicating. Its anthocyanins are also said to possess anti-inflammatory properties.

Clinical Research on Sambucol

Sambucol is the only black elderberry extract proven effective in clinical studies. The first study that demonstrated the healing properties of Sambucol was published in the winter 1995 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. In the small study, 93 per cent of all patients given Sambucol recovered from the Influenza B virus in two days; patients receiving a placebo recovered in six days. This raised the question that perhaps Sambucol was only effective on the Influenza B virus. In a more recent 2002 study, published in the Journal of International Medical Research, nearly 90 per cent of all patients infected with the Influenza A virus achieved the same results as the previous study. A journal article published in the European Cytokine Network indicated that Sambucol has been shown to inhibit the replication of 10 different human influenza viruses, including the H5N1 strain (bird flu).


There is no evidence or clinical study that suggests that Sambucol has any negative effect on children or the elderly and people with asthma, hypertension, HIV/AIDS, herpes or cancer. There are a few conditions which may require special consideration before or while taking Sambucol. Diabetics are encouraged to monitor their blood sugar when using elderberry flower extracts, which have shown to increase in vitro insulin release. People who experience heartburn should be aware that some Sambucol products contains zinc and/or vitamin C, which, when consumed in large quantities, may cause heartburn. If one adheres to the recommended dose of Sambucol, they should not experience heartburn. As with any pre-existing condition, a health care professional should be consulted before taking Sambucol. Sambucol contains no yeast, wheat, soy, milk or eggs. It is vegetarian-safe and is not derived from any nut products or produced on any equipment that uses or manufactures nuts or nut products. Sambucol products are also gluten free and certified kosher under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate of Jerusalem.


Though there have been no reports of adverse effects on fetal development, pregnancy or lactation, it is advised that all pregnant and nursing women consult a health care professional before using Sambucol. Care should be taken to distinguish between Sambucol and other preparations of elderberry, which have reported side effects such as nausea, vomiting, weakness and stupor.

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