Common elderberry could be remedy for travellers susceptible to cold and flu, say researchers

The common elderberry could be just the remedy for international travellers susceptible to colds and bugs, according to researchers from the Griffith Health Institute.

The long-haul flight typically takes its toll on the body, not least when more than one time zone is factored into the travel equation. And while jetlag remains the disorder most instantly associated with long-distance airtime, holiday-makers are often as likely to bring home a cold as a souvenir. A study by Dr Evelin Tiralongo and Dr Shirley Wee from the Institute’s Molecular Basis of Disease research group, is testing 280 travelling participants to see whether taking elderberry capsules will make them less likely to suffer a respiratory illness after a long-haul flight.

Half of the participants will take standardised elderberry capsules during their travel period, while the other half will take placebo capsules.

“Elderberry fills the folk remedies of three continents and formed the bedrock for doctors’ prescriptions since Hippocrates first claimed the Elder tree as his personal ‘medicine chest,’” says Dr Tiralongo.

“The berry’s benefits are mainly preventative, as it contains powerful antioxidants (anthocyanins and flavonoids) and vitamins. We expect that trial participants who will take Elderberry will have a lower incidence of cold and flu symptoms than those participants who are taking placebo capsules.”

The trial, which is still seeking participants, follows on from the research team’s 2010 trial of Echinacea which proved the benefits of the herbal medicine in reducing the incidence of respiratory symptoms for international airline passengers.

The Echinacea research was backed by a large clinical trial led by Cardiff University where researchers also identified preventative effects of Echinacea.

“Given that more than half of the population already uses herbal medicines, vitamins and minerals, we need to establish more evidence for those medicines,” says Dr Tiralongo.

“Intercontinental air travel can be stressful, adding extra strain on a passenger’s physical and psychological health. Planes are suitable for conducting cold and flu trials as air travel can be stressful with hundreds of travellers from all over the world locked in a pressurised, dry air cabin for a long time. This environment places passengers at higher risk of catching something.”

The elderberry trial is expected to continue through to early 2014.

Interested trail participants need to be healthy, aged 18 or over, travelling on a minimum of a seven hour flight in economy class and staying for a minimum of four days overseas.

The elderberry trial is based at Griffith University’s new Griffith Health Centre, a $150m primary healthcare facility which is opening its doors to the community this week.

With expanded clinical services and a wealth of new student learning opportunities, the facility – set to be officially opened on Friday July 19 by Her Excellency The Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO – will operate alongside the new Gold Coast University Hospital and focus on Chronic Disease Management and Sports Health.

Griffith University is launching a suite of initiatives under its three-year ‘New Griffith 2013-2016’ program, signifying an intensive period of change and innovation.

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