Cold And Flu Medicine Sambucol. Does It Work?

Elderberries have a well-documented, long history of use in folk medicine. Native Americans use it for cough, infections, and skin conditions. When mixed with sage, honey, lemon, or vinegar, elderberries were recommended as a gargle for coughs, flu, and shortness of breath.  When combined with honey and peppermint, elderberries were used in folk medicine to promote sweating and relieve cold. Ancient Egyptians and other cultures used elderberries mostly to relieve pain and for wound healing.  

The original version of Sambucol contains elderberry extract only, while newer formulas have added nutrients like vitamin C and zinc, or homeopathic preparations. Some are sugar-free formulas sweetened with stevia. This brand is one of the most popular cold and flu remedies worldwide since it was created in 1991 by a virologist. Millions of people have been using this product, and it is still a best seller to date, winning special awards in recent years. 

Elderberries are highly nutritious, containing high amounts of vitamin C (over 50% of the daily value), plenty of fiber, and plant compounds. For example, quercetin and other flavonols, as well as the anthocyanins from elderberries have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. 

Sambucol research 

Several species of Sambucus produce elderberries. Sambucus nigra, the key active ingredient in Sambucol, is the most researched variety of these species.

Elderberry extracts work best when used at the first symptoms of a cold or flu

Based on a review of multiple studies, Sambucus has “good” or “B level” scientific evidence to manage influenza. There is less evidence ( level C evidence/ unclear or conflicting results) for its benefits to manage bronchitis, bacterial sinusitis, to reduce cardiovascular diseases risk, constipation, high cholesterol levels, gingivitis (gum inflammation/infection), and obesity.

There are research studies looking specifically at the brand Sambucol. A randomized clinical trial concluded that the low cost and absence of side-effects of Sambucol offers a  potentially safe treatment for influenza A and B. Roughly 90% of the participants of the study in the Sambucol group achieved complete resolution of symptoms within 2-3 days, while in the placebo group the duration of symptoms lasted at least 6 days. Another review study found that in addition to its antiviral properties, Sambucol Elderberry Extract is able to activate the healthy immune system and increase the production of certain immune cells. The same study suggested that Sambucol may also protect the immune system and stimulate it in people with cancer or AIDS. 

How often should you take Sambucol and what is the recommended dose?

The dose depends on the formula you are taking and whether you want to manage or prevent a cold or flu. For daily maintenance, Sambucol is recommended twice daily, and for intensive use four times daily.  Many options are available nowadays- syrup, drinks, gummies, tablets, capsules, and lozenges. There are formulas created for kids, as well.  Infant drops for toddlers and babies as young as 6 months are also available. 

  • Generally speaking, the recommendations are for adults and children over 4 years of age are as follows:  Take 2 teaspoons (or 10 ml) daily – for maintenance and  2 teaspoons (equivalent of 10 ml) four times daily during intensive use (when you experience symptoms of colds and flu). 
  • The kids formula. For daily maintenance the general recommendations are: 1 teaspoon (5 ml) daily for 2-3 years old babies, and 2 teaspoons daily for children aged 4-12. For intensive use. 1 teaspoon four times daily (for 2-3 years old) or 2 teaspoons four times daily for those aged 4-12.  
  • Infant drops age 6 months or older: 1 ml for Infants 6-12 months: 2 mls for children 12-24 months. The full dropper contains 0.5 mld, and therefore you need to fill the dropper twice for infants and 4 times for babies 12-24 months old. 

For other formulas, -capsules, tablets, gummies, drinks, check the label. 

The syrup can be mixed with fruit juice, yogurt, smoothies, or yogurt. Sambucol can be used daily, in low doses, during the cold seasons. However, it is best to take it for no more than 12 weeks at a time (not enough research for long-term use). After a few weeks’ break, it can be consumed again. 

Safety concerns

Use standardized formula based on berry extracts. There are documented cases that the bark, unripe berries, and seeds can cause stomach problems and other digestive problems. In theory, elderberry extracts should not be used by those who are on immunosuppressive therapy or steroids. There is not enough data about the safety during pregnancy, lactation, and children younger than 18 years of age (although Sambucol has infant drops and kids formula). 

Whether you choose Sambucol or another supplement, it is best to seek advice from a doctor specializing in nutrition and natural products. Although many brands of elderberry extracts are available on the market, Sambucol continues to keep high standards and the products are tested for quality and purity. In addition, this brand is certified-free from common allergens like gluten, dairy, soy, wheat, nuts. It does not contain artificial colors and flavors either. Sambucol is suitable for vegetarians and is Kosher certified. 

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