According to a recent study, elderberry supplementation protects you from the cold and flu viruses when traveling. Several studies reveal that air travel increases the risk of respiratory infections such as the common cold and the flu (Mangili, et.al., 2009). Studies also reveal that elderberry is an effective preventive for the cold and flu. Researchers sought to discover whether or not elderberry could also prevent the viral infections that are faced by international travelers. These findings are particularly noteworthy for the students who join us on our European Educational Tour.
“Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.”
Australian researchers investigated the use of elderberry syrup as a preventive for viral infections in a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled clinical trial. In this study, elderberry capsules were given to a treatment group and placebos were used with a control group to contrast outcomes. This study has a primary research question: Does a standardized elderberry extract (BerryPharma®) effectively prevent respiratory symptoms in intercontinental air travelers? Additionally, researchers sought to learn if the extract had a positive impact on overall physical and mental health on travelers.
Herbal Product & Dosage
The capsules each contained 300mg of elderberry extract, which was standardized by a laboratory. Ten days before the trip, participants began taking 2 capsules each day, and they increased the dose to 3 capsules a day the day before the trip. They discontinued the capsules 4-5 days after arrival. During this time, they measured respiratory symptoms using a validated self-reporting measurement.
This sample included 312 passengers who were traveling on intercontinental flights during the research period from April 2013 to December 2014. This is well above the 280 participants the researchers found that they would need when conducting a power analysis. The goal of 280 participants would have given the researchers a study with 80% power, which means that it is more than large enough to answer the research question.
To qualify, participants had to travel a minimum of 7 hours, with a layover no longer than 12 hours. They also had to stay at the destination for a minimum of 3 days. The participants and the control group did not differ in terms of sex, flu vaccine status, and other potentially contributing factors at the start of the study. In other words, the two groups were well matched and the participants were randomized well.
There were several noteworthy findings from this study. While those in the treatment group were less likely to catch a cold during the study, the difference was not statistically significant, meaning that mathematically, researchers cannot be sure that the difference was due to the elderberry extract and not due to mere chance.
However, the study found that the colds in the treatment group were shorter and less severe than the colds in the placebo group. Based on the analysis, these differences can be attributed to the supplement, meaning they are statistically significant. Total days with cold symptoms were 117 in the placebo group and only 57 in the treatment group. Furthermore, total symptom severity scores in the treatment group were less than half those in the placebo group–a substantial improvement in overall quality of life while traveling.
Practically, this means that the group taking the elderberry product had colds that were 2 days shorter than those who did not take the elderberry supplement and their colds were only about half as severe.
So what to do with this information? Can it be replicated at home? Absolutely! In this study, researchers used a smaller preventive dose prior to the trip when the traveler is facing preparation stress and may have suboptimal immune health. This was followed by a larger dose during the trip itself and for the 4-5 days following the trip. The larger dose protects the body during times of increased exposure to the multitude of viruses found in airports and other heavily trafficked areas.
It is important to note that the supplement did not prevent a cold entirely, but it reduced the total duration and severity of the cold by a large margin. Setting appropriate expectations with natural health is a key requirement for efficacy. If the participants had discontinued the supplementation at the first sign of a cold, they would not have enjoyed the benefits of a reduced infection.
Mangili, A., & Gendreau, M. (2009). Infectious risks of air travel. Infections of Leisure, Fourth Edition (pp. 359-366). American Society of Microbiology.
Tiralongo, E., Wee, S. S., & Lea, R. A. (2016). Elderberry supplementation reduces cold duration and symptoms in air-travellers: A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Nutrients, 8(4), 182.
Have more questions? The entire study article is available via open access.