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Australian University Retracts Study Claiming Elderberries Help Fight The Flu

By  Ashe Schow

Your father may have smelt of elderberries, but he probably wasn’t using them to fight the flu.

That’s despite the findings of the University of Sydney, which previously published a study claiming that eating elderberries could help fight the flu. The university has now been forced to retract that study, according to Melbourne, Victoria local news outlet The Age.

In retracting its survey, the university admitted it had overhyped the results. Also, the study was partly funded by a company that sells flu remedies made with elderberries and even sent an employee to help with the research. Oh, and the researchers only dosed human cells with concentrated elderberry juice. No tests were actually conducted on humans or mice (or hamsters), the Age reported. The outlet stated that it did “not suggest this is improper, and do not question the validity of the study itself or the work of the study’s authors,” however.

The university had touted the study in a press release on its website, saying, “Eating elderberries can help minimise influenza symptoms.” The press release has since been removed and the university now acknowledges it has no real evidence to support the original claim.

“It has withdrawn the press release and launched an investigation into how it was produced, and said it would change its practices to always highlight industry funding,” the Age reported.

The press release did not mention that Pharmacare, a company that sells elderberry flu remedies, helped pay for and conduct the research. The actual study did declare that an employee worked on the research.

One of the study’s authors told the Age that Pharmacare asked not to be mentioned in the press release – and the university obliged.

“We asked them, ‘Do you want to be named?’ Although they were very excited about all the promotion of their products, they don’t want to be specifically named,” the author told the outlet.

Beyond that, Pharmacare was also shown “a near-final copy” of the university’s press release before it was distributed, a university spokeswoman told the Age.

Ken Harvey, an associate professor and president of Friends of Science in Medicine, told the Age that the press release was “appalling.”

“This is an appalling misrepresentation of this Pharmacare-funded in-vitro study,” Harvey said. “It was inappropriate and misleading to imply from this study that an extract was ‘proven to fight flu.’”

In a statement, the University of Sydney’s acting deputy vice-chancellor for research, professor Laurent Rivory told the Age that future press releases would include funding information.

“The accurate reporting of our research is crucial. It should have been clearer in the media release that the research didn’t involve the human consumption of elderberries and that more research was required before the full impact on humans could be determined,” Rivory said. “There was no attempt to hide the funding source from the media. The authors included Pharmacare among its financial contributors in the published paper, which is publicly available online and a link to this paper was included in the final media release.”

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