Q: Why haven’t you recommended elderberry extract against the flu? As I understand it, tests have proven it to be better than Tamiflu.

I never get flu shots, even though almost everyone else in my retirement community gets them. Several still catch the flu.

At the first sign of a throat tickle, I start taking elderberry extract. I haven’t had even a sniffle.

A: There is some evidence suggesting that elderberry has antiviral activity. One meta-analysis found that elderberry supplements (Sambucus nigra) can reduce upper respiratory symptoms such as congestion and cough (Complementary Therapies in Medicine, February 2019). Scientists have also found that a compound in elderberry, cyanidin 3-glucoside, acts in several ways to inhibit influenza infection (Journal of Functional Foods, March 2019).

Q: I add sliced ginger to my coffee. It helps my arthritis and lowers my blood pressure as well. Can you tell us all about its many health benefits?

A: Not everyone would appreciate the flavor of ginger in coffee, although many people like it in tea. Ginger has been used for centuries to ease nausea, heartburn and other digestive difficulties.


In animal studies, ginger has shown cardiovascular benefits (Natural Product Research, September 2018). It also can lower blood pressure and improve insulin sensitivity. Ginger has long been a favorite cough remedy and has been used experimentally to prevent migraines.

Q: Late in 2016, I began taking red yeast rice to lower my total cholesterol and LDL. My glucose level in March 2017 was 118. My doctor recommended nutritional counseling for a “prediabetic condition.”

When I told the counselor I was taking red yeast rice, she told me to stop taking it, as it can raise blood glucose levels. I did so, and the following year my blood glucose was 105. This year it was 95. Does red yeast rice raise blood sugar just like a statin drug?

I am a healthy 63-year-old who exercises daily. I have no history of heart disease or stroke and a 4% lifetime risk of heart attack according to the ACC/AHA calculator. I would rather have high cholesterol than become a Type 2 diabetic with all its attendant risks.

A: Red yeast rice does contain statin compounds, and it therefore can produce some statin-type side effects. The best study we found to answer your question was conducted recently in Taiwan, where red yeast rice is a popular prescription remedy (Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapies, Jan. 9, 2020).

The researchers compared 34,000 people prescribed RYR to 34,000 prescribed lovastatin. None of these people had diabetes to start with. Those taking lovastatin were more than twice as likely as those on RYR to develop diabetes over the next five years.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”