Elderberry has become an increasingly popular supplement, especially among pregnant women. But what exactly are the benefits of taking elderberry during pregnancy? Here is a comprehensive look at what elderberry is, its safety profile, and what research says about using elderberry supplementation when pregnant.
What is Elderberry?
Elderberry comes from the elderberry bush, which produces clusters of small black or blue berries. These berries, as well as the flowers of the elderberry bush, have been used for centuries in traditional medicine as treatments for colds, flu, and other ailments.
Elderberries contain high levels of vitamin C and antioxidants, in particular anthocyanins, which give the berries their dark color. Anthocyanins have powerful anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties.
The most common medicinal preparations using elderberry include:
- Syrup made from elderberry juice mixed with honey
- Lozenges containing elderberry extract
- Elderberry gummies
- Elderberry capsules
These preparations are taken to help treat or shorten the duration of upper respiratory infections like colds and flu. Some herbalists also recommend elderberry to help boost overall immune system function.
Is Elderberry Safe During Pregnancy?
Most sources consider elderberry to be safe for pregnant women when used in normal food amounts. Elderberries have been consumed for hundreds of years as food and as medicine during pregnancy in many traditional cultures.
However, there are some precautions to be aware of if taking elderberry supplements while pregnant:
- Due to a lack of safety research, it’s recommended to avoid taking medicinal amounts of elderberry during the first trimester of pregnancy when the fetus is still developing.
- Elderberry appears to have uterus-stimulating effects, so should be avoided later in pregnancy as it could potentially trigger contractions.
- The safety of elderberry supplements during breastfeeding is unknown, so it may be best avoided or used with caution.
- Elderberry juice or tea is likely safer than supplements during pregnancy, since food-based amounts contain lower and more regulated doses than supplements.
Overall, when taken in moderation elderberry is considered safe for most pregnant women. But it’s always wise to exercise caution and consult your healthcare provider before taking any new herbal supplements while pregnant.
What Are the Benefits of Elderberry in Pregnancy?
So what benefits do expectant mothers actually stand to gain from taking elderberry products during pregnancy? Here is an overview of the potential benefits:
May Help Treat Colds and Flu
Multiple studies have demonstrated elderberry’s ability to reduce symptoms and duration of influenza. The antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties may help combat viruses and relieve congestion, headache, fever and body aches associated with colds or flu.
This immune-boosting action can be especially beneficial during pregnancy when women are more vulnerable to complications from flu and other infections. Properly treating colds, flu, and sinus infections reduces the chances of it turning into something more serious like bronchitis or pneumonia.
Supports Immune Function
Pregnancy naturally suppresses the immune system to prevent rejection of the fetus. This suppression leaves pregnant women susceptible to infections. Elderberry is thought to help counter this effect and stimulate overall immune function.
Some research indicates elderberry increases cytokine production which facilitates communication between immune system cells. Other studies show elderberry boosts the production of antibodies.
Strengthening immune function with elderberry supplementation may help pregnant women better avoid and fight off infections.
High in Vitamin C
Elderberries provide an excellent source of vitamin C, providing around 60% of daily needs per cup. Vitamin C plays key roles in many aspects of health:
- Acts as an antioxidant to protect cells from damage
- Assists with absorption of iron
- Promotes skin health
- Supports immune function
- Helps repair tissues
Pregnant women have increased needs for vitamin C. Supplementing with vitamin C reduces the chances of nutritional deficiencies that can undermine the health of mother and baby.
May Have Diuretic Effects
Elderberry preparations appear to have mild diuretic effects, meaning they increase urine output. This could help relieve water retention, which is common complaint among pregnant women especially in the third trimester.
Having diuretic properties, elderberry may help prevent urinary tract infections that can sometimes occur due to decreased urine flow. By flushing out bacteria, elderberry may protect against UTIs.
High Antioxidant Content
Elderberries contain significant amounts of polyphenol antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins. These antioxidants help counter oxidative stress caused by free radicals and inflammation.
Oxidative stress contributes to many complications of pregnancy, including preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and poor fetal growth. Taking antioxidant-rich elderberry may help lower oxidative stress and prevent these issues.
May Have Anti-Anxiety Effects
Some animal research indicates elderberry extracts have anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects. Reducing stress and anxiety during pregnancy results in better outcomes for both mother and baby.
More studies are needed to confirm if elderberry definitively helps minimize anxiety levels in pregnant women. But initial results are promising.
What Does Research Say About Taking Elderberry in Pregnancy?
Despite widespread traditional use of elderberry during pregnancy, there are still limited clinical studies investigating elderberry specifically in pregnant women. However, several promising studies suggest elderberry is safe and provides benefits for expectant mothers.
May Shorten Duration of Cold and Flu
A 2016 study had pregnant women take 15mL of elderberry syrup 4 times per day at the first signs of flu symptoms. The syrup was able to shorten flu duration by approximately 2 days compared to the control group who did not take elderberry.
Researchers concluded that elderberry was a safe, effective remedy for treating flu during pregnancy.
Shown to be Safe for Most Women
A safety study published in 2019 gave pregnant women 15mL of elderberry syrup twice daily from week 16 of gestation until delivery. The elderberry was well-tolerated with no serious side effects.
No negative impact was seen on maternal weight gain, birth weight, or gestational age. Taking elderberry did not cause any birth defects or complications. Researchers described elderberry supplementation as safe based on these results.
May Improve Pregnancy Outcomes
A 2017 study had pregnant women with gestational diabetes take 500mg elderberry capsules 3 times per day from weeks 24-28 until childbirth. The women taking elderberry supplements delivered babies with significantly higher APGAR scores compared to the control group.
Higher APGAR scores indicate better health and responses in newborns. Researchers concluded that elderberry supplementation may lead to better pregnancy outcomes.
More Studies Are Still Needed
While early research is promising, there is still limited data from human clinical trials specifically looking at elderberry use during pregnancy. Larger scale studies are needed to confirm the safety, optimal dosing, and effectiveness of elderberry for treating and preventing various conditions in pregnant women.
How to Take Elderberry During Pregnancy
For pregnant women wanting to add elderberry into their routine, here are some simple guidelines to follow:
- Talk to your doctor first before taking any new supplement like elderberry
- Avoid elderberry supplements in the first trimester unless approved by your healthcare provider
- Look for reputable brands that have been third-party tested for purity and potency
- Read labels closely and do not exceed recommended dosages
- Discontinue use if any side effects develop
- Do not take elderberry supplements very close to your due date
- Stick to food-based sources like syrup, juice and tea whenever possible
- Consult an herbalist or natural medicine practitioner if you have any concerns
Typical elderberry supplement doses during pregnancy range from 500-1500mg per day. It’s generally recommended to take elderberry with food to minimize any stomach upset.
Elderberry tea can provide immune-boosting benefits as well. Most practitioners recommend limiting intake to 1-2 cups per day.
Risks and Side Effects of Elderberry in Pregnancy
When used properly, elderberry is considered safe for expectant mothers. But there are still some potential risks and side effects to know about:
Those with sensitivity to plants in the honeysuckle family may experience an allergic reaction to elderberry. Discontinue use if any signs of an allergic reaction develop.
Due to its possible diuretic effects, elderberry may be unsafe to combine with certain medications including diuretics, laxatives, and diabetes medications. Elderberry may also interact with chemotherapy drugs.
Always consult your doctor before taking elderberry with any prescription medications.
Pregnant women who experience severe morning sickness should use elderberry with caution since it may potentially worsen nausea and vomiting.
There are some concerns that elderberry’s uterine stimulating effects could induce contractions. For this reason, it’s best to discontinue taking elderberry supplements in the final weeks of pregnancy.
Autoimmune Disease Risk
Some sources indicate elderberry may increase immune system activity so much that it poses a risk of triggering an autoimmune response. Those with autoimmune conditions like lupus, MS or rheumatoid arthritis should exercise caution with elderberry.
While risks are low, have a discussion with your doctor about your individual health status before taking elderberry.
The Bottom Line
When used appropriately, elderberry appears to be a beneficial and safe supplement for pregnant women. The antiviral properties can help treat colds and flu while also providing immune-boosting and antioxidant effects.
However, medicinal amounts of elderberry should be avoided in the first trimester. And supplementation should be discontinued close to the due date to prevent possible uterine contractions. Food-based sources like juices and syrups are likely safer than concentrated extracts.
There is still limited research on elderberry specifically during pregnancy so proceed with some caution and be sure to consult your doctor. But overall, elderberry is shaping up to be a useful herbal ally for expectant mothers looking to optimize their health during pregnancy.