Immune health has garnered a lot of attention lately. Whereas a healthy immune system rarely makes itself felt, one that isn’t functioning optimally can produce a range of signs, from frequent colds and infections to low energy to digestive issues. There’s no better time to do something about it than right now. The foundation of healthy immunity is an overall healthy lifestyle. We’re talking about a nutritious, balanced diet, adequate sleep and exercise, staying happy and positive, and not smoking or excessively drinking. Thanks to modern science, it’s possible to get the benefits of many immune-boosting foods in supplement form too. Some superfoods contain special phytonutrients known to enhance immunity in powerful but balanced ways, including antioxidation, immune cell stimulation, regulation of inflammation, and antibacterial and antiviral activity. Two examples of superfruits with research-backed immune health benefits are black elderberries and sea buckthorn berries.

Black elderberries: potent respiratory health support

The black elderberry is the fruit of the European black elder tree (Sambucus nigra). These dark purple berries have long been used as a food and a folk remedy in North America and Europe. Elderberries are generally consumed after cooking because of the presence of toxic cyanogenic glycosides in the raw berries. Besides cooked preparations, elderberry extracts provide a safe, concentrated source of elderberry.

Black elderberries are rich in vitamin C, phenolic acids and flavonoid antioxidants, including flavonols (quercetin, kaempferol and isorhamnetin) and anthocyanins (cyanidin-3-glucoside and cyanidin-3-sambubioside).

Although they have numerous other health benefits, elderberry’s bioactives are most valued for their well-documented ability to boost the immune response and respiratory health:

 - Elderberry extract stimulates immune cells to produce cytokines, or chemical messengers, that conduct the inflammatory response.

 - Elderberry flavonoids can bind to the surface protein (hemagglutinin) of the influenza virus and inhibit the ability of the virus to attach to and enter cells.

 - An elderberry anthocyanin can block an influenza enzyme (neuraminidase) involved in virus release and infection.

 - An elderberry extract inhibited the growth of three pathogenic human respiratory bacteria and two strains of influenza virus in cell culture.

 - In clinical studies, supplementing with elderberry extracts reduced the length of influenza and the severity of flu symptoms.

 - Among a group of air travelers, some of whom caught colds, those taking an elderberry extract experienced a shorter duration of illness and less severe symptoms.

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