Verify: Is Elderberry as Effective as Tamiflu at Treating Influenza?

With flu cases on the rise, so are claims of more non-traditional treatments. Let's verify.

As the number of flu cases and deaths continue to rise, numerous claims are being made on social media that there are effective natural treatments for the influenza virus.

Among the most popular are black elderberry and echinacea.

Some posts on Facebook even claim that the right combination of elderberry extract with other natural ingredients can be almost as effective as Tamiflu at treating flu symptoms.

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Dr. Albert Gros, chief medical officer of St. David's South Medical Center, said he has had heard lots of these claims.

"It's very common," he said. "I even have people in my own family who are strong believers in alternative medicine."

Dr. Gros said, in general, the homeopathic concoctions sold on store shelves are hard to value and often ineffective.

"We've really got no good, hard evidence that they're effective," he said of the mixtures. "Nothing more so than than the placebo effect."

But, Dr. Gros clarified, out of all the different remedies out there, black elderberry and echinacea actually have some merit.

"Elderberry in particular has been the subject of a number of studies recently that shows it can actually decrease the duration of symptoms of the influenza virus," Dr. Gros said.

According to him, the high level of antioxidants present in the extract are able to "interfere with the activity of the virus itself."

Dr. Gros stressed that Tamiflu is still the most effective product in the market for treating and lessening the flu in patients, but recognized that elderberry had merit.

"While I think typically these herbal medications are more to offset the symptoms, or shorten their duration, the net effect is the same," he said. "Tamiflu, by interfering with the virus, shortens the duration of the symptoms as well and makes them less severe."

The good news, Tamiflu and elderberry can be used at the same time with no risk, and while Dr. Gros understood why folks would seek out the antioxidant bearing extract, he urged caution when using it in place of Tamiflu.

As a side note, while writing this story, it appeared that the demand for elderberry had outstripped city supplies. While putting the story together, KVUE's Jason Puckett visited four separate pharmacies and was unable to locate any elderberry extract.

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