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, while 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.
The company also has another interesting product in the pipeline, called ArteryCare 40 Plus. This is an antioxidant formula containing strong antioxidants from the elderberry, the pomegranate and the persimmon. It helps avoid the formation of plaque in the arteries by preventing the oxidation of LDL (the bad cholesterol), and is thought to also have anti-aging properties.