Sambucol, a standardized extract of black elderberry,
has been found to fight the avian flu virus H5N1.
At first glance, world-renowned Israeli virologist Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu does not seem like the sort of person you expect to come up with what could turn out to be a cure for one of humanity’s biggest threats today – the avian flu. She seems comfortable and grandmotherly, not the type you usually associate with the frontline of research into a potential pandemic.
On the other hand, however, Mumcuoglu is clearly a very determined woman who has turned a lifetime of research into the health benefits of elderberry, an old folk remedy for influenza, into a clinically proven treatment for regular flu. Now, new in-vitro tests have proved that her remedy, the elderberry-based Sambucol, also appears to be effective against avian flu.
The new laboratory results were presented at a press conference held in the Royal Society of Medicine, London last week. Another trial is now underway at Hadassah Medical Organization Ein Kerem in Israel. A team at Retroscreen Virology, an institute associated with the University of London, said that the extract was at least 99 per cent effective against the H5N1 virus and significantly neutralized the infectivity of the virus in cell cultures.
Dr Madeleine Mumcuoglu, the Israel-based developer of Sambucol, said the good results confirmed her earlier findings on the product, which is currently marketed around the world as a natural supplement for fighting common flu. “It is active against lots of different types of flu viruses and I did my PhD on its effect on a non-virulent strain of bird flu so the results did not surprise me. But I’m very happy with these results, especially as the work was done by Dr John Oxford, a reputable specialist in flu,” she added.
Dr Mumcuoglu added that bird flu is still a lower threat than common flu, thought to kill about 25,000 people in the UK alone each year through complications. While the new bird flu results might boost sales of Sambucol, it is the evidence from two human clinical trials on human flu that has created a significant market for the product. The double blind, placebo-controlled studies – the first done in Israel, and the second in Norway – both found that people who took the elderberry supplement got rid of flu in half the time of the placebo group, or after two to three days compared to about six.
The flu virus cannot replicate by itself. It must do so inside a living cell. “It binds to cells via hemagglutin on the virus surface. “Sambucol blocks the hemagglutin and prevents the entry of the virus into cells,” she said. Dr Mumcuoglu says Sambucol stops them from entering cells where they reproduce, cause the cell to explode and allow the virus to continue invading the body.
Mumcuoglu, who is president of Razei Bar, first tested her research on patients in the Southern Israel flu epidemic of 1992/3. The results were extremely encouraging. Within 24 hours, 20% of those patients taking Sambucol had dramatic improvements in symptoms like fever, muscle aches and pains and coughing. By the second day, 73% were improved and by day three, 90%. In the untreated group, only 16% felt better after two days. The majority of that group took almost a week to begin feeling better.
In 1995, laboratory studies were carried out at Hadassah, which showed that Sambucol was effective against human, swine and avian influenza strains. Shortly afterwards, a further randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted in Norway, where Sambucol was shown to significantly reduce the duration of flu by approximately four days. The use of rescue medication (pain relievers, etc.) was significantly less in the group receiving Sambucol than in the placebo group. The study concluded that Sambucol stimulates the healthy immune system by increasing production of inflammatory cytokines.
In a new arrangement, the liquid food supplement is distributed by Nature’s Way Productsand sold in most health food stores across the country. It has a new name with Nature’s Way, Sambucus. Sambucol for Kids, is at the top of the list as the number one formula for kids out of 192 products in different categories.
Unlike the anti-viral drug Tamiflu, which is the only treatment for bird flu now available that is thought to reduce the length and severity of flu symptoms, Sambucol has no side effects. It can also be given safely to children. Tamiflu, in contrast, cannot be given to children under 12.
The deaths of some children who had been given Tamiflu has raised the concern that flu virus is developing a resistance to Tamiflu. In fact, Prof. Anne Moscona of Cornell University in New York said Tamiflu-resistant H5N1 “is now a reality”.
Another advantage of Sambucol is that it can treat every type of flu virus. “Our research has shown that the antiviral effect of Sambucol is not strain-specific,” says Mumcuoglu. “It was effective against all influenza viruses tested. The original formulation of Sambucol is the product we have tested in all cases – both in the laboratory and in clinical studies for the common flu. It is what was also used in the recent experiments in London against avian influenza virus thus any Sambucol already on the shelves is the same as any we would produce now.”
Traditional vaccines given to prevent flu from developing are often created through guesswork, with scientists simply speculating which strain of flu is likely to hit that year. The three most likely strains are combined into a vaccine, but by the time the flu season arrives, these strains may have undergone changes, or new strains may have emerged. Despite this, Mamcuoglu insists that those at risk continue to take their flu jabs.
Mamcuoglu insists that use of Sambucol against traditional flu viruses will help reduce the annual death rate. “If you stop the flu virus at the beginning then you stop it going to the lungs, or from creating the additional complications that are normally the cause of death,” she explains.
It makes sense to us also!
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