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John Kelley, MD: Elderberry, Zinc, and Fighting Viruses

Sambucus nigra, or Elderberry, is a plant with medicinal roots that dates back to 400 B.C., used by the “father of modern medicine”, Hippocrates, for the treatment of various ailments. In the past few years, elderberry has seen a resurgence of popularity and consumption during cold and flu season in order to treat common upper respiratory symptoms. While the evidence isn’t overwhelmingly strong (as is often the case with supplements and natural remedies, largely because it is very expensive to run large studies and not in the interest of pharmaceutical companies developing new, more lucrative medicines, but I digress…) there have been some studies that are very encouraging toward its use.

In 2004, a randomized study of 60 adults with flu-like symptoms, who took 15 milliliters (mL) of elderberry syrup four times a day, saw symptoms clear up on average four days earlier than those who took a placebo syrup. You will often see elderberry medication combined with zinc. Zinc has several studies showing that, if taken within 24 hours of cold symptoms, can reduce length and severity of said viral illness. Pooled results on children taking zinc (10-15mg daily for 5 months) showed decreased incidence of the common cold.

For treatment at onset of symptoms, I suggest Zicam® for my patients. I only recommend the oral Zicam (there have been case reports of anosmia (smelling loss) with the intranasal). For prevention, I suggest zinc 10mg (kids) to 30mg (adults) in capsule or gummy form daily.

If during this COVID-19 pandemic you come down with viral symptoms, adding high quality elderberry and zinc supplements to your medicine cabinet could help you recover faster. As always, ask your physician if elderberry presents a risk for your personal use.


Get to know John Kelley, MD
Family Medicine & Functional Medicine

Dr. John Kelley practices holistic medicine in the broadest sense of the word. For him, every patient is approached as an individual with specific needs, focusing on the mind-body connection through a bio-psycho-social lens.

“I focus on diet, exercise and healthy personal and spiritual lives in the treatment and prevention of chronic disease,” he says. “I am always seeking ways to get patients safely off of medications.”

As a board-certified family medicine and certified functional medicine physician, Dr. Kelley incorporates a broad range of perspectives for patients of all ages. He is available for in-person and telemedicine appointments.

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