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Elderberry supplementation: a safe option for symptoms of common cold and influenza

Traditionally, elderberry has been used for the prevention and treatment of symptoms of upper respiratory infections such as common cold and influenza.


Elderberry fruit contains vitamins C, A, B, iron and other minerals, quercetin and flavonoids (with antioxidant properties to prevent cell damage), and anthocyanidins (to boost immune function).


A systematic review of 5 clinical trials showed that elderberry can potentially reduce the duration and severity of cold and flu symptoms, with lower risk of adverse effects, comparing to oseltamivir (an antivirus medication). No evidence of overstimulation of the immune system was reported. This study concluded that elderberry supplementation can be a safe option for treatment of common cold and influenza (1). Also, a meta-analysis of clinical trials reported that supplementation with elderberry considerably reduced the symptoms of cold and flu. The study presented elderberry as a safer alternative to prescription drugs for treatment of routine cases of viral respiratory infections (2).


Remember to avoid eating raw elderberries, seeds, leaves and bark of the tree, since they may be toxic and lead to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Cooked berries are safe to consume (3).


  1. Wieland LS, Piechotta V, Feinberg T, et al. Elderberry for prevention and treatment of viral respiratory illnesses: a systematic review. BMC Complement Med Ther. 2021;21(1):112. Published 2021 Apr 7. doi:10.1186/s12906-021-03283-5

  2. Hawkins J, Baker C, Cherry L, Dunne E. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials. Complement Ther Med. 2019;42:361-365. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004 


Intermittent Fasting (IF): Pros and Cons

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Intermittent fasting has gained popularity as an eating approach with potential health benefits supported by emerging scientific evidence. This eating pattern involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting. Unlike traditional diets that focus on restricting specific food groups, IF primarily emphasizes when to eat rather than what to eat.

The main types of intermittent fasting are:

  • Modified fasting or 5:2 diet: in this method, individuals consume a regular diet for five days and significantly reduce calorie intake (fasting) for the remaining two non-consecutive days.

  • Alternate-day fasting: this method involves alternate days of regular diet and fasting.

  • Time-restricted eating: in this method there is an “eating window” of 4-12 hours, and a fasting period of 12-20 hours every day. Individuals can eat without restriction during the eating window. The most common type in this pattern is 16:8 type with 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours for eating.

The glycogen stores in the liver are consumed after 12-36 hours of continuous fasting, which changes metabolic processes with consequent health benefits. However, according to some research a minimum of 16 hours of fasting is recommended. 


What are some benefits of IF?


Regulates Circadian Rhythm or “Body Clock”: Circadian rhythms refer to the natural changes in an organism's physical, mental, and behavioral aspects that occur within a 24-hour cycle. The primary influencers of circadian rhythms are the alternation between light and dark. However, factors like food consumption, stress levels, physical activity, social surroundings, and temperature also play significant roles in shaping these internal patterns.

Research indicates that extended daily eating periods, lasting from 12 to 15 hours, might interfere with the circadian rhythm and elevate the likelihood of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes (1). IF, especially time-restricted eating reduces the “eating hours” during the day and potentially regulates the circadian rhythm.


Improves Blood Lipid Levels: IF may reduce total cholesterol, LDL “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides, and increase HDL or “good” cholesterol. (2) High LDL and triglycerides are believed to increase the risk of heart diseases.


Lowers Blood Sugar: IF may improve insulin resistance and so, lower fasting blood sugar and HbA1c levels in type 2 diabetes (3).

Changes Body Weight and CompositionSeveral studies have shown that IF can result in 0.8-7% weight loss (and specifically fat loss) in an average of 8 weeks (4). It can reduce visceral fat, waist circumference and total body fat, which are risk factors of metabolic syndrome, including heart diseases and type 2 diabetes.


Reduces Inflammation and Oxidative Stress: There is evidence that lower calorie intake in the evenings and fasting during the night may reduce inflammation in body and occurrence of inflammatory conditions such as breast cancer (5). IF may also enhance the body's ability to resist oxidative stress, a factor associated with aging and numerous chronic diseases (6).


While the evidence is promising, it is crucial to approach IF with caution and consider individual variations. The effectiveness of this approach may vary from person to person, and it might not be suitable for everyone, especially those with certain medical conditions or specific nutritional needs. Some side effects of IF include: feelings of irritability and worsened mood, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and overeating during eating windows. Consulting with a healthcare professional before embarking on an intermittent fasting regimen is advisable to ensure its appropriateness for individual health goals and overall wellbeing.



  1. Adafer R, Messaadi W, Meddahi M, et al. Food Timing, Circadian Rhythm and Chrononutrition: A Systematic Review of Time-Restricted Eating's Effects on Human Health. Nutrients. 2020;12(12):3770. Published 2020 Dec 8. doi:10.3390/nu12123770

  2. Antoni R, Johnston KL, Collins AL, Robertson MD. Effects of intermittent fasting on glucose and lipid metabolism. Proc Nutr Soc. 2017;76(3):361-368. doi:10.1017/S0029665116002986

  3. Furmli S, Elmasry R, Ramos M, Fung J. Therapeutic use of intermittent fasting for people with type 2 diabetes as an alternative to insulin. BMJ Case Rep. 2018;2018:bcr2017221854. Published 2018 Oct 9. doi:10.1136/bcr-2017-221854

  4. Welton S, Minty R, O'Driscoll T, et al. Intermittent fasting and weight loss: Systematic review. Can Fam Physician. 2020;66(2):117-125.

  5. Marinac CR, Sears DD, Natarajan L, Gallo LC, Breen CI, Patterson RE. Frequency and Circadian Timing of Eating May Influence Biomarkers of Inflammation and Insulin Resistance Associated with Breast Cancer Risk. PLoS One. 2015;10(8):e0136240. Published 2015 Aug 25. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0136240

  6. Aftab Ahmed, Farhan Saeed, Muhammad Umair Arshad, Muhammad Afzaal, Ali Imran, Shinawar Waseem Ali, Bushra Niaz, Awais Ahmad & Muhammad Imran (2018) Impact of intermittent fasting on human health: an extended review of metabolic cascades, International Journal of Food Properties, 21:1, 2700-2713, DOI: 10.1080/10942912.2018.1560312

Western Diet: Microbiome, Inflammation,
and Chronic Diseases

Western diet has not been clearly defined. Although generally

it is characterized by excessive intake of highly-processed foods  

and drinks, especially processed red meats, unhealthy fats, refined

grains, sugar, salt, and alcohol, with low intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, fiber, whole grains, grass-fed animal products, fish, nuts, and seeds. As a result, Western diet - also known as Standard American Diet or SAD - provides less essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and plant-derived molecules such as anti-oxidants. 


A recent review has highlighted the negative effect of the Western diet on gut microbiome - causing the imbalance of microbial populations - and the increased risk of inflammation and development of chronic conditions such as heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and Alzheimer's disease. 

This research showed that consumption of high-fat (especially saturated fat), low-fiber diet reduces the population of specific bacteria that are important for maintaining a healthy gut lining, balanced immune cell population, production of anti-inflammatory chemicals, and absorption of nutrients in the gut. Some of these bacteria are also associated with greater lean muscle mass. Some food additives such as artificial sweeteners can also increase inflammation and reduce absorption of nutrients through decreasing the number of these bacteria. 

Some studies on mice models showed that high saturated fat and high sugar diet is associated with lower cognition, while pre/probiotics have been potentially helpful for improvement of some of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, and concentration in major depressive disorder.

In general, it has been discussed that Western diet not only changes metabolism, but also shifts the microbiome composition, which is an important factor in development of many chronic conditions.





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