There is a short answer for most people and that’s “no, herbs will not cause cytokine storms.” Let’s not stop there. Let’s talk about what a cytokine storm is and some physiology to get the answer to the question, “will herbs cause cytokine storms? For most people herbs like elderberry and echinacea can be very beneficial in supporting the immune response. I take them and so does my family. There is a lot of misinformation out there about herbs like echinacea and elderberry causing cytokine storms so let’s get the knowledge and look at it from a different perspective.

“Definition of cytokine
: any of a class of immunoregulatory proteins (such as interleukin or interferon) that are secreted by cells especially of the immune system”

Cytokine is a messenger protein that works like a hormone. Your pituitary gland produces hormones as messengers and your immune cells create cytokines as messengers. These cytokines are produced by immune cells then released to tell other immune cells and tissues what to do. That’s pretty genius. Your body is so smart, and it has this whole process to help your body mount an immune response to virus and other pathogens. Cytokines are an important part of that immune response! Do cytokines sound like the good guys or the bad guys here? They are pretty cool if you ask me. Cytokines are how your immune cells talk back and forth!

What is a Cytokine Storm?

But some people have heard things that make them concerned and it’s when they hear language like “cytokine storm.” Well, I can understand that. A cytokine storm sounds a little angry and potentially dangerous. So, what’s a cytokine storm? Unfortunately, it’s not clearly defined, and most are looking at it from wrong perspective. There’s actually no real validity to this term and it’s not an appropriate description of what is happening. The term was coined by a group out of Boston right around the time of Desert Storm. That doesn’t mean it’s a correct description or the use of the word should be continued.

I’m not saying there isn’t an increase. There is. In fact, there is often an increase that can be beneficial. In some instances, it can be an inappropriate increase and then it should be talked about as cytokine release syndrome. This term was created when a form of systemic inflammatory response arose from complications from adverse effects to monoclonal antibody drugs as well as from t-cell adoptive therapies. Basically, they administer a medication and the immune system reacted to the medication. Medications can force your body to have a response but that doesn’t mean herbs will cause cytokine storms.

Immune Response Vs. Cytokine Release Syndrome

Let’s get away from this idea of cytokines being released as bad. It’s what happens when we are exposed to an illness normally. If a pathogen gets through the initial layers of our immune system, like the skin and the mucosal layer, then the immune system will respond with a very controlled response. It knows what it’s doing. If the signaling molecule gets flooded into the system because there is inflammation, infection or trauma then this is an appropriate immune response. The immune response is to release a cytokine to signal other immune cells to come there which will cause inflammation and redness. That’s a good thing if it happens in your nose or throat. This will cause natural redness, inflammation and immune response. This is your body’s natural defense!

Cytokine release syndrome happens when there is an unnatural stimulation. For example, when there is an injection into the blood stream that bypassed the innate immune response. Vaccines or other drugs injected in the blood stream. The immune system is not used to a direct injection because most pathogens come through more slowly. These direct injections are induced and not natural. We have to look at what induced to that response and the immune system responded because you bypassed the innate immune system.

It’s important to remember that your body does not over respond. It responds appropriately to the stimulus. Cytokine storms, as people call them, aren’t necessarily bad. If you twist your ankle and there is inflammation and a large immune response that is not bad. It’s a good thing. During the upregulation of the cytokines, understand the immune system is doing what it’s supposed to. Even in destruction because if you twist your ankle, your body has to destroy and restore some cells to return to normal, and it hurts. The immune system is still repairing the body.

Learn More About the Immune System In Dr. Patrick Flynn’s Video:

Why Do Some Think Herbs Cause Cytokine Storms

Well Doc, there must be a reason so many people think elderberry and other herbs cause cytokine storms. The study that is often cited when people who are worried about elderberry and cytokine storms was done similarly to an injection directly into the blood. I don’t recommend taking elderberry this way and I doubt any of you would even think to do it that way. It was done in a petri dish where they took an elderberry product and added it to the blood of a dozen different people. It did show an increase of cytokines, but that’s it.

To automatically think that’s bad is a misunderstanding of the immune system. The immune system should respond to something that doesn’t belong there. Elderberry syrup and the other components in the elderberry product like glucose syrup, citric acid and potassium sorbate don’t belong there! I also don’t think sugar and glucose belong in elderberry products. Those ingredients are very inflammatory themselves. Were they reacting to the elderberry or the toxic ingredients themselves?

There is only that one study that people are referencing, and they are looking at it wrong. In fact, the study never actually says that elderberry is bad if you read it. They are ignoring all the other studies that show how elderberry can be a benefit and a very protective herb.

Elderberry is a Protective Herb

Elderberry is an immunomodulator and has so many aspects that the body can use. If the body is deficient in some of these aspects, it won’t respond appropriately. Herbs like elderberry can provide some of those aspects and when it has them, launch an appropriate response. The herbs don’t make the body respond. It gives the body the tools to respond and helps you restore your health. So, when you take elderberry your body starts going after any infections, or traumas.

If you are immune compromised or have concerns about your immune system, then you need to find out why to get to the bottom of it. Herbs used appropriately to support the immune response are not cause for alarm.

So Now I Ask You, Will Herbs Cause Cytokine Storms?

What’s your answer? Will herbs cause cytokine storms? We live in this world where people don’t understand the immune system. What are the cytokines doing and what role do they play in immune cells physiology? That’s what we should be talking about. By understanding this we can really talk and learn about how the immune system works. You can feel confident in your immune system and that it knows how to work. You can support your immune response by taking elderberry, echinacea, medicinal mushrooms and herbs.

Written by Dr. Patrick Flynn

Dr. Patrick Flynn goes into more detail in his video from the DPF Unscripted Series. Learn more about why people think herbs cause cytokine storms and how to look at it with a different perspective.