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Elderberry and Hashimoto's Disease

Should you take immune-boosting elderberry with Hashimoto’s?
Elderberry and Hashimoto's Disease
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Humans have always turned to nature in search of healing remedies. Indeed, some of the most powerful medicines are from the Earth. People suffering from certain health conditions can benefit from using both pharmaceutical drugs and natural medicines. Elderberry is one such natural medicine that is used to treat a variety of health concerns and is commonly in over-the-counter medications to treat common cold symptoms and flu symptoms.

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What is elderberry?

Elderberry is an indigenous tree to Europe and is in seasonal climates all over the world. This tree has beautiful white flowers and produces an abundance of dark purple berries. Black elderberry, or Sambucus nigra (S. nigra), is the most commonly used variant of this species for medicinal purposes. Historically, people have used the bark, leaves, flowers, and berries of this medicinal plant to treat a variety of health ailments, as well as to add flavor and nutrients to meals. The berries must cook before eating, as consumption of raw elderberry may cause stomach upset.

What are the health benefits associated with elderberry?

Elderberries have high levels of vitamins and minerals that support the immune system. Specifically, vitamin A and vitamin C play an important role in maintaining immune function and heart health.

Different parts of the elderberry tree have served to treat ailing humans throughout time.Historical accounts of medicinal elderberry use indicate that people have used the elderberry plant in many ways:

  • The tree bark is used to release toxins in the body by causing a person to vomit or have diarrhea. Eating the bark or drinking it in tea was also thought to create a diuretic effect so that people would urinate toxins as well.
  • The flowers and leaves are used to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and release toxins through sweat and urination.
  • The berries, whether consumed whole or in elderberry tea or elderberry juice, have been used to treat illness (bacterial and viral infections), headaches, nerve pain, chest pain, and dental pain. Raw elderberries also have a laxative and diuretic effect and can induce vomiting.   

Today, elderberries may treat many similar ailments to those experienced by our predecessors. Clinical trials have even supported many of the uses of elderberry in treating health conditions.

Studies have confirmed the following benefits of elderberry use in humans:

Antiviral properties

Studies have confirmed that the liquid extract of elderberry helps fight off the influenza virus.  

Relieves cold and flu-like symptoms

Elderberry extract is commonly found in cold and flu medications because it is a supportive agent to the immune response in fighting these kinds of illnesses. One study found that people taking an elderberry syrup when they have the flu had a quicker recovery than those who received a placebo syrup. 

High in antioxidants

Elderberries contain phenolic acids and anthocyanins, which have powerful antioxidant properties in the body. These compounds reduce oxidative stress and can inhibit inflammation.  

Exceptionally nutritious

Elderberries contain high levels of health-promoting nutrients, including vitamins (especially vitamin C), dietary fiber, protein, minerals, flavonols, and antioxidants. 

There are also reports that elderberry may also serve other health benefits to humans; however, the evidence and support from the scientific community are limited.

Elderberry use may help:

  • Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease because elderberry contains compounds like flavonoids
  • Ward off certain bacteria that cause common health ailments, including GERD and sinusitis

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What are the side effects and health risks of elderberry?

The main side effects of taking elderberry come from its potential to cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, especially when it is prepared improperly. Berries that are ripe and cooked are usually safe to eat when eaten in moderation. Certain parts of the elderberry tree are considered poisonous. The leaves, roots, bark, and stems of these trees should not be consumed in any form as they contain cyanogenic glycoside (which can form cyanide). People who experience poisoning from elderberries can experience severe symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, difficulty breathing, dizziness, and numbness. 

People who have autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease should not use elderberry. Elderberry may boost the immune system, which can worsen autoimmune diseases. Many autoimmune disorders require immunosuppressant drugs. When taken alongside an immunosuppressant (including steroids), elderberry can reduce the effectiveness of the immunosuppressant. Consequently, more harm than benefit can come from using elderberry in most autoimmune conditions, especially those treated with immunosuppressants.

Elderberry has not been widely studied and, like most herbal supplements, is not FDA-approved. Because data is lacking on its safety and efficacy of use, people with health conditions or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should check with their doctor before using elderberry.

Should I take elderberry if I have Hashimoto’s disease?

This question is common for people suffering from thyroid disorders, and there is no medically proven answer to date. Because elderberry supports or even boosts the immune system, it may be detrimental for people with autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto's disease. Indeed, elderberry may cause more damage and inflammation to the thyroid gland by supporting the immune cells that specifically attack your thyroid gland.

However, elderberry may help to treat inflammation, curb pain, and ward off depression, which are symptoms that people with Hashimoto’s experience. Thus, some people with Hashimoto’s may be interested in using elderberry to manage their symptoms. We recommend talking to your healthcare provider about the safest, most effective use of elderberry for your particular case.

There is no scientific evidence stating that elderberry use is or is not recommended for people with Hashimoto’s. Most studies on using elderberry for medicinal purposes have been on mice in the laboratory setting. So, the jury is still out on whether or not elderberry is recommended for any health condition.

If you are interested in trying elderberry to alleviate some of your symptoms caused by Hashimoto’s, talk to your thyroid doctor to determine if elderberry is a safe, natural remedy for you.  


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Julia Walker, RN, BSN

Clinical Nurse

Julia Walker, RN, BSN, is a clinical nurse specializing in helping patients with thyroid disorders. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Regis University in Denver and a Bachelor of Arts in the History of Medicine from the University of Colorado-Boulder. She believes managing chronic illnesses requires a balance of medical interventions and lifestyle adjustments. Her background includes caring for patients in women’s health, critical care, pediatrics, allergy, and immunology.

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