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Cytokine Storm and Elderberry Usage {Episode 218}

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Cytokine Storm and Elderberry Usage {Episode 218}

Wondering if you should not take elderberry {or any immune boosting herb} to prevent a cytokine storm?

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Welcome to Functional Nutrition Radio with me is your host, Lahana Vigliano, the owner of Nuvitru Wellness and a board-certified clinical nutritionist. Social media can bring a lot of questions. It’s a place where we trust to go get opinions of friends and I love it – it helps us stay connected and if we didn’t have it, we’d be back in the olden days writing each other letters.

I also make sure that anytime on social media, there may be some misinformation going around or maybe just a misunderstanding. I’d love to be able to clear it up. This topic was found on a crunchy mom’s Facebook page asking about cytokine storms and elderberry.

So keeping things pretty simple – a cytokine is part of our immune system. It produces inflammation. It’s a pro-inflammatory marker. This type of acute inflammation is good – yay!. If we have a virus or bacteria, we want inflammation because inflammation is there to do its job – to bring our body back into homeostasis and to help clear out infections.

So a little bit of inflammation. It’s a good thing. Double thumbs up. What we don’t want is the chronic inflammation – double thumbs down. A lot of times chronic inflammation comes from our diet, our lifestyle, a lot of stress. All these things can turn on this inflammatory response.

Any virus though has a potential to turn into a cytokine storm. And this is actually still not as well known in the science world. Yes, we have some studies on it, but it’s also up in the air of how exactly a cytokine storm can happen. The idea is, is that in a cytokine storm, our inflammatory response goes a little cray-cray!

There is an uncontrolled amount of cytokines being released. Going deeper, there are different types of cytokines. There’s interferons, interleukins, chemokins, and tumor necrosis factor (that’s TNF). Your immune system just goes haywire and normal feedback loops that regulate how much cytokines are produced are not working.

What I read in studies is that this is not the only reason, but a reason for something simple like a virus that can be out of control and cause us to have a more serious response to it. Now, there is a study done back in 2001 and this is what I saw on social media that someone shared about a study of elderberry increasing cytokines and it’s producing this inflammatory response and it’s doing what it needs to do.

It’s helping your immune system release these guys and say, “we got to get to work here. There is something going on. We’ve got to produce inflammation. We’ve got to get the body back in homeostasis.” Remember, our bodies are designed to win. Especially if you’re doing everything. If you’re feeding it right, getting good sleep, reducing stress, your body is a machine that’s designed to win.

Now from this, people are like, “Watch out with the Coronavirus. Don’t take elderberry because it does increase cytokines causing a possibility of a cytokine storm.” But the thing is that – we can’t take it face value like that. There has never been a COVID-19 and elderberry study. In general, there never been a case that directed the use of certain herbs creating a cytokine storm and this is not just elderberry but echinacea, and other immune-boosting herbs, hence the word immune boosting.

There is a side note with any immune-boosting herbs is if you have an autoimmune condition or other immune system dysfunction, you should take precaution and avoid immune-boosting herbs, like elderberry and echinacea. With autoimmune conditions, there is already some immune dysregulation going on. You may have an increased risk!

This is why it’s important to work with a qualified practitioner in the sense of figuring out what supplements you should be taking. I know it’s really easy to fall for the blogs and the social media, but that doesn’t mean it’s ideal for you.

While there has never been a direct link with herbs to cause a cytokine storm, there is some cool synergistic effects that goes on. Antioxidants usually aren’t a singular therapy for treatment in a cytokine storm, but antioxidants has been used to decrease a cytokine storm. It’s just like if we look at a fruit that has vitamin C, along with vitamin C, there are a bunch of other components that help the body! Elderberry is full of antioxidants too!

Antioxidants benefit the body in a cytokine storm because there is a lot of free radical production that can increase DNA damage and cellular damage and antioxidants protect this. Other herbs and supplements can help against a cytokine storm reducing formation of cytokines – these are turmeric, garlic, NAC, etc. There are ways you can pair your supplements as well!

The biggest takeaway from this episode is that if you have an autoimmune condition, these herbs might not be your go-to defense. Focus in on nutrient density with vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc, etc. The other big takeaway is that while Coronavirus is a new strain, ANY virus has the potential to create a cytokine storm. Parents have been using and studies showed how great elderberry can be with the flu and colds by reducing duration and severity and even flu can create a cytokine storm. Yet, we’ve always used elderberry for it + never batted an eye. While COVID-19 is a new virus + we’re learning more about it every day, take a deeeep breath + this isn’t something you need to be panicking over.

Cytokine storms still rarely happen. Should you stop using elderberry? I personally won’t, but do what you think is best for your family! Some people are taking it in the beginning of the infection and then tampering off usage. I do think autoimmune patients should take precaution and work along side with your healthcare provider. Your health care provider knows your history and current health status. Find a healthcare provider that you trust and be one of your biggest health advocates.

Don’t stress about throwing your elderberry syrup out! 😉 Check out part 2 in natural remedies with calming a cytokine response!

Avatar for Lahana Vigliano
Lahana Vigliano

Lahana Vigliano is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and CEO of Nuvitru Wellness. She has her Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition Science and Masters Degree in Nutrition Science and Functional Medicine. She is currently pursuing her doctorate degree in Clinical Nutrition. Lahana and her team help support women who struggle with weight loss, hormonal imbalances, digestive issues, chronic fatigue, and many other lingering issues that leaves women not feeling their best. She uses food as medicine, as well as herbs and supplements when needed, to support her clients. She looks at the whole body holistically making sure women are understanding how nutrition, sleep, stress, and their environment impact their health. Connect with her on Facebook + Instagram (@nuvitruwellness).