COVID-19 (New Coronavirus) was never seen in the human body before 2019, and while there are many of us with theories, few things have been tested, however; it is clear from clinical research and the traditional use over thousands of years that some herbal practices do aid the body's ability to overcome viral infections.
"In 2009, during the H5N1 flu pandemic, the discussion among herbalists about whether the herb Echinacea should be used for this flu or if it presented a problem of stimulating a cytokine storm. Now in 2020, a similar question has arisen about the herb Sambucus, and whether or not it has the potential to stimulate or aggravate cytokine storm in COVID-19 infections", says Paul Berger, Director for the Institute of Medical Herbalism.
What began as a discussion among herbalist turned into rumor, debate, and needless panic when one author hypothesized on the subject of using caution when using Elderberry for those with auto-immune conditions. These folks also involve excess inflammation driven by these and other pro-inflammatory cytokines. Many herbalists, including myself, have not seen worsening of autoimmunity-related inflammation/symptoms with elderberry, but as with anything, I am sure you can find those who disagree.
Cytokines are a broad category, so for this conversation we will focus on the association with inflammation and the effect of a 'cytokine storm'. While an overabundance of inflammation is the root of many health and pain related conditions, it is also the first responder for your bodies immune system, and it goes to work before your body realizes what its dealing with, but inflammation is not the only thing that cytokines are responsible for – these messaging molecules are extremely complex, and they work together to regulate the many levels of your body's immune response.
Research suggests elderberry can upregulate some of these pro-inflammatory responses, and this is one of the reasons it is so valuable for early immune response. There's also research suggesting it reduces those same cytokines, acting as an anti-inflammatory. So, in truth, Elderberry is an immune modulator of cytokine expression or activity, making it generally safe and helpful for the majority of us.
Paul Berger, Director for the Institute of Medical Herbalism says that while some cytokines induce pathologies related to inflammation, others are not pathological but positive. Non-inflammatory portions of the cytokine response facilitate viral clearance and promote tissue repair, and regulate the severity of the inflammatory cytokines (Guo XJ). This may explain why steroids resulted in death in all the N5N1 patients they were given to. The beneficial and regulatory cytokines were suppressed along with the inflammatory, and anti-viral immunity was suppressed.
Cytokine Storm Syndrome (CSS) is an overly exuberant immune response to a triggering event, frequently certain viral infections, including deadly strains of influenza virus. An actual 'cytokine storm', in the sense that it is now being associated, is rare and occurs only as the bodies final effort. It is not at all the bodies initial reaction to illness when you are first exposed to a virus, and not at all what happens when you are just beginning to feel symptomatic. Once someone is running a fever, traditionally we’d be switching to different herbs anyway!
According to Dr. Cron, a leading researcher on the subject of cytokine storm syndrome, at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB), no one knows why some people — and not others — develop this response; but there are likely host risk factors, including genetic mutations in genes that contribute to a familial form of this disease.
So, there you have the summary of my opinion, which is just that, considering that the situation that we are in is new to us all. My opinion is based on my clinical experience, understanding of the available scientific literature, and considering other professional's thoughts on the subject.
In the end, no matter how many of us love Elderberry, it's not the only game in town. There are a number of herbs to choose from. There is no reason to ever rely on a single herb, and if you are concerned, choose something else.
The panic about Elderberry and how it relates to cytokine storms has been taken out of context from one bit of information, condensed, and then put out there as 'fact' or 'research'. In this day of viral misinformation, things were made worse when not only the herb enthusiasts shared this information without knowing the facts, but also a portion of our medical community as well. While well intended, these people have spread information that is simply not factual, and as a result has stirred a pot of lies and discontentment. For that, I wish to convey how very sad I am for the divisiveness this controversy has caused, and how easily people can spread misinformation. It has been a real eye opener to the work that we have in front of us to educate the general herb enthusiast.