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Side Effects of Elderberry Supplements

elderberry juice and berries

Elderberries are dark purple berries that come from trees in the Sambucus family (Sambucus nigra). While berries and flowers from these trees are edible (as long as they’re cooked), elderberries are perhaps better known for their long history of use in natural and alternative medicine practices.

Elderberry supplements remain popular today, touted to support the immune system and help fight against cold and flu symptoms. But this cold and flu season, as you’re looking for ways to stay healthy, you may have wondered if you should be aware of any side effects of elderberry supplements. Here’s what you need to know to stay healthy this winter (and beyond).

Elderberries as Health Supplements

Elderberries have been used medicinally for centuries. Over the years, people have used elderberry supplements to help treat sinus and upper respiratory infections, support energy levels, battle headaches and toothaches, and fight hay fever and allergies. But elderberry supplements are perhaps most commonly used to boost the immune system, help the body fight off infection, and lessen the severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms.

There is some research supporting some of these uses. A 2016 study found that taking elderberry extract supplements could notably lessen the severity and duration of cold and upper respiratory symptoms; that study also found that elderberry appeared to have a positive effect on the immune system of international travelers. Multiple studies have found that there is data indicating that elderberry supplements are an effective way of treating upper respiratory symptoms.

The results of these studies may be the result of anthocyanins found in the elderberry fruit, which is thought to provide a medicinal effect in the body.

Side Effects of Elderberry Supplements

Elderberry supplements appear to have several potential health benefits. But are there any side effects of elderberry supplements you should be concerned about? For most people, the answer is no.

Research indicates that when elderberry is appropriately used for five days or less, most people should not experience any side effects of elderberry supplements. However, every person is different. While using herbs like elderberry to strengthen health has been part of natural and alternative medicine traditions for centuries, herbs can interact with other supplements or medications. Therefore, talking to your doctor before starting a new supplement is always important.

While the side effects of elderberry supplements should not be a concern for most people, some still should avoid taking elderberry supplements. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid elderberry supplements, as should people who have received organ transplants.

Because elderberry may stimulate the immune system, those with autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis should not take it without consulting their physician.

Elderberry can also interact with certain medications. These include (but are not necessarily limited to):

  • Diuretics (including hydrochlorothiazide, bumetanide, furosemide, amiloride, and metolazone)
  • Diabetes medications
  • Some chemotherapy drugs
  • Laxatives
  • Theophylline (a drug for asthma and other respiratory conditions)
  • Immunosuppressants (including corticosteroids like prednisone) 

Also, remember that while cooked elderberries are edible, uncooked ones are toxic (and can cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting). 

Considering all of the above, elderberry supplements may be a smart way to help support your immune system and fight against the cold this winter. But be mindful of the potential side effects and always follow the advice of your primary care physician.

Want to learn more? Read our research about the best elderberry supplement.