Medical science has only recently discovered the likely basis for the elderberry’s health-giving reputation. Studies (Pietta 2000, Mateus 2004) have shown that elderberries are unusually rich in the phytochemicals known as flavonoids. Among all fruits, elderberries are the most concentrated source of anthocyanins, a class of flavonoids that act as powerful antioxidants to boost the immune system and protect the body’s cells from harm.
These anthocyanins are found in the purple pigment of black elderberries, and according to Dr. Gerhard Rechkemmer, president of Germany’s Federal Research Institute for Nutrition and Food, they have significantly greater antioxidant capacity than common antioxidants such as Vitamin C. In fact, Dr. Rechkemmer’s research has shown that the anthocyanins in black elderberry actually boost the production of cytokines, the proteins that act as messengers within our immune system, and thereby serve to enhance the body’s immune response.
Cytokines play a crucial role in the immune system’s response to disease. Cytokines work in ways very similar to hormones. They are released by immune cells into the blood stream or locally into body tissue during an immune response.
There are many different types of cytokines including interleukins, interferons and tumor necrosis factors.
Several studies have shown that extracts from the fruits of the black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) may help to activate the immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production. (Barak 2001, Barak2002)
Both studies above found that extracts from black elderberries helped increase the production of interleukins 6 and 8 (IL-6, IL-8) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α). All of which have been shown to have pro-inflammatory properties in fighting infection (2,3).
One study (Barak 2002) also demonstrated that an extract of black elderberry increased the production of the anti-inflammatory cytokine Il-10.