British researchers revealed last week that Sambucol,
a standardized extract of black elderberry,
has been found to fight the avian flu virus H5N1.
A Special Extract
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. She said, “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.”
Dr Mumcuoglu stressed that the results need more testing to show a benefit for humans infected with the bird flu strain that has killed more than 70 people, mostly in South East Asia, since the outbreak began in 2003. Nor will she be able to test it in a human trial. But she is looking into starting an animal trial using ferrets, which have similar flu symptoms to humans.
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.
Dr Mumcuoglu says Sambucol blunts the haemaglutinin spikes on the outside of viruses and stops them from entering cells where they reproduce, cause the cell to explode and allow the virus to continue invading the body. An in vitro study has also shown Sambucol to be effective in increasing the production of four inflammatory cytokines, suggesting that the supplement may have an immuno-stimulatory effect and therefore be worth taking all year round to prevent flu and other disease.
Jerusalem-based Razei Bar Industries now produces more than 1.5 million bottles of Sambucol syrup, with average growth of 10 per cent each year. “I didn’t invent anything,” claims Dr Mumcuoglu. “Elderberry has been known from the beginning of time. What people didn’t know is what the active ingredient is, how to keep it intact and how to formulate to keep it active.”
This active substance has not been patented to protect the firm’s market. While several copycat products are available in healthstores, Razei Bar says it has tested several of these and found none of the active ingredient.
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.
Elderberry Extract a Possible Cure for Bird Flu
An extract from black elderberries could be used to combat the bird flu virus, research suggested today. A study looked at whether the food supplement Sambucol could combat the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu when added to canine cells in laboratory tests. The team, from research institute Retroscreen Virology, found that the elderberry-based product was at least 99% effective at reducing the virus in the cells. But experts warned that many more studies were needed to find out whether the formula was effective in combating H5N1 in humans.
The virulent H5N1 strain of avian flu has already killed more than 80 people, mainly in Asia, after they contracted it from close contact with birds.
But there are fears that the virus could mutate into a form that is easily passed from human to human, leading to a flu pandemic which could potentially kill millions worldwide. The main medical solutions in case of a pandemic include a vaccine, but this could take up to six months to develop once the strain emerges.
Countries around the world are stockpiling antiviral drugs which can reduce the length and severity of flu symptoms. The latest study by Retroscreen, which is affiliated to the University of London, looked at how effective the elderberry extract was in combating H5N1 infections in the dog kidney cells.
The formula was added to the infected cells and compared with samples which were just allowed to incubate the virus. The researchers found that Sambucol was effective in significantly neutralising the virus infections in the cell cultures.
Effective Against Ordinary Flu
Dr Madeleine Mumcuoglu, who developed the formula using the secret ingredient from elderberries, said that studies also showed that Sambucol could combat the ordinary winter flu. “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 said the results did not mean that the formula would be able to cure flu in humans, but it gave some hope that it may be a possible further solution if more studies supported the findings. “Sambucol has been shown to be effective in the treatment of the common flu.
“It enhances the immune system and has no side effects and is backed by six scientific studies over 13 years of experience,” she added.
Professor Claude Hannoun, from the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said while the results looked promising, more research was needed to confirm the effectiveness of the formula. “There is a need for more studies to understand the underlying mechanisms that appear to produce this effect in flu cells. “It could be that it complements the other tools we have to combat flu. “But much more data has to be obtained,” he said.
Dr Mumcuoglu is continuing to investigate the effectiveness of Sambucol against avian flu on a wider scale. The formula, made by Razei Bar Industries Israel, is available in 17 countries around the world, including the UK. The manufacturers are submitting an application to update the product’s packaging in Europe to say it may be effective in combating flu. At the moment the packaging says that it “may help maintain a healthy immune system”.
Study Shows Israeli Elderberry Extract Effective Against Avian Flu
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.
Last week, Retroscreen Virology, a leading British medical research institute associated to Queen Mary College, University of London, announced that Sambucol was at least 99% effective against the avian flu virus, H5N1, and in cell cultures significantly neutralized the infectivity of the virus. “I think that Sambucol has a great role to play – it really can save lives,” Mumcuoglu told ISRAEL21c. “To my knowledge, it’s the only product that can cut the flu in half, before complications have a chance of setting in. If we do have a cure for chicken flu, this is a really positive thing for Israel.”
Mumcuoglu (pronounced mum-shu-glu) was born in Algeria and immigrated to Israel in 1974. She holds a Doctorate in Virology, and studied bird flu during her Ph.D. In the 1980s, Mumcuoglu began studying the natural healing elements of the elderberry from the black elder tree (Sambucus nigra). Her interest in the plant was piqued because it had been used in medicine for many centuries. It was first referred to as a healer in the 5th century BC and received mentions in the writings of Hippocrates, Dioscurides and Plinius.
Elderberry wine was traditionally used for influenza and the ill effects of the chills, and the juice of the black elderberry has historically been an invaluable remedy. The elder has often been called the ‘medicine chest” of the country people.
During Mumcuoglu’s research she discovered the key active ingredient in elderberry and when she tested it against the flu virus, she found it effective. On her arrival in Israel, Mumcuoglu joined the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, and continued her research.
The result was Sambucol, a patented natural formula which contains a potent antiviral compound, AntiVirin, isolated from the black elderberry, and three flavonoids – naturally occurring plant antioxidants. In 1992, Mumcuoglu decided to commercialize her elderberry supplement, and founded Razei Bar Industries to do so.
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.
Today Razei Bar sells a number of different liquid anti-viral treatments including Sambucol Black Elderberry Extract, Sambucol Black Elderberry Syrup, Sambucol Immune System, and Sambucol for Kids. The company also has a number of elderberry flu remedies designed for diabetics.
At the end of last year, Retroscreen Virology in London began laboratory tests on Sambucol to discover whether the natural remedy could also be used to combat the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu in dog kidney cells. And their findings last week are an encouraging sign.
While it is too soon to know if Sambucol can cure avian flu in humans, the Retroscreen Virology trial does hold out hope that it may be a possible solution if more studies support the findings. Mumcuoglu admits that clinical research into H5N1 is impossible at this stage, because there have only been 140 or so cases around the world, and the mortality rate is over 50%. Instead, the company is preparing to begin in vivo studies to look at the effect of Sambucol against the disease caused by the avian influenza virus.
If Sambucol does prove effective against H5N1, it will be a major breakthrough. Unlike many of the other remedies being touted as possible treatments to bird flu, this is a tried and tested product, already on sale in 17 countries around the world, including the US, Canada, Britain, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Israel, South Korea, and Singapore.
In the US, Sambucol has been well received and now controls about 80% of the elderberry remedy market. The liquid food supplement is distributed by Nature’s Way Products and sold in most health food stores across the country.
A SPINS survey revealed that in the US three of Sambucol’s products are among the top 10 out of 662 herbal formulas available for adults. The children’s remedy, Sambucol for Kids, is at the top of the list as the number one formula for kids out of 192 products in different categories.
Another advantage of Sambucol, says Mumcuoglu is that 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.
Recently there has also been doubt cast on the effectiveness of Tamiflu as two Vietnamese patients, including a 13-year-old girl, developed resistance to the anti-viral drug and died. A report on this was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Commenting on the report in the journal, Prof. Anne Moscona of Cornell University in New York said Tamiflu-resistant H5N1 “is now a reality”. “This frightening report should inspire us to device pandemic strategies that do not favor the development of Tamiflu-resistant strains.”
The US, like many nations around the world, has stockpiled supplies of Tamiflu.
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.
Currently about 30,000 people die of regular flu every year in the US, a figure that could rise alarmingly if avian flu becomes the pandemic experts are predicting. If Sambucol proves effective against bird flu, however, Mamcuoglu believes that figure will be much lower.
The next round of trials into Sambucol’s efficacy as a treatment for bird flu are likely to be completed during the year. Mumcuoglu is ready for any upsurge in sales that are likely if the results are positive. “We have additional production facilities on standby,” she says.