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Unraveling the Science of Goji Berries

Goji berries are packed with vital vitamins, minerals, and bioactive components, all offering an array of health benefits. From anti-aging antioxidant properties to cancer prevention, vision improvement, and brain protection — goji berries are worth checking out.

Key takeaways:

The basics of goji berry

Initially valued for their ability to nourish the liver, kidneys, and eyes, goji berries have been a part of Chinese cuisine and medicine for over two millennia. In modern times, goji berries are recognized by traditional Chinese medicine for their anti-aging properties. They are commonly used to treat numerous ailments, such as abdominal pain, gray hair, blurred vision, cough, fatigue, dizziness, and headaches.

Scientists continue to research the historical and modern uses of goji berries as both functional food and medicine to verify their effectiveness. Although more research is needed, scientific evidence is beginning to support the health benefits of goji berries, which have been intuitively known for thousands of years.

Goji berries are part of the nightshade family of plants called Solanaceae and belong to the Lycium genus, which has 80 other species found in Asia, South America, southern Africa, and occasionally in Europe. Of the seven species in China, Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense are commonly used interchangeably in traditional Chinese medicine.

Lycium barbarum is the most widely distributed and extensively studied in scientific research. Both plants are known as Lycium in the United States, but goji berry is the most commonly used term. Other common names for goji berries include wolfberry and boxthorn.

Nutritional components of goji berries

Are goji berries actually a "superfood" or "superfruit," or is it hype?

The concept of superfoods or fruits refers to healthy foods rich in nutrients that contribute to overall health and well-being. In reality, superfoods are all around us and available worldwide, coming in various forms and sizes.

So yes, goji berries are superfoods packed with essential nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Vitamins found in goji berries

Goji berries provide loads of vitamins to help promote overall health and well-being. Some of the vitamins found in goji berries include the following:

  • Vitamin A (retinol or beta-carotene)
  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin)

Minerals found in goji berries

Goji berries pack a big punch for such a small berry. In addition to various vitamins, they also contain a number of minerals, including the following:

  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium

Amino acids found in goji berries

The health benefits of the goji berry don't stop with vitamins and minerals. Goji berries also contain 16 amino acids — the building blocks of proteins.

Eight of these 16 crucial amino acids found in goji berries must be obtained through diet — as we cannot produce them naturally. Each amino acid serves a unique function in the body.

Bioactive compounds of goji berries

Bioactive compounds, known as phytochemicals, naturally occur in plants like goji berries. They positively impact biological processes in the body and are thought to promote health while preventing diseases. These compounds demonstrate diverse physiological effects, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-modulating properties — contributing to the goji berries' overall health benefits.

The following are a few bioactive compounds found in goji berries that contribute to their health and wellness effects:

  • Polysaccharides. Specific to goji berries Lycium barbarum polysaccharides (LBP) provide multiple health benefits, such as reducing DNA damage.
  • Carotenoids. Carotenoids such as beta-carotene and zeaxanthin provide antioxidant properties and support eye health.
  • Phenolics. Phenolics like caffeic acid, p-Coumaric acid, rutin, and scopoletin help protect against oxidative stress-related damage.
  • Phytosterols. Natural plant compounds, including beta-sitosterol, are known for their antioxidant, anti-aging, and cholesterol-lowering properties.
  • Betaine. A natural amino acid with anti-aging effects that support cellular energy.

Science-backed benefits of goji berries

These five health benefits are linked to consuming goji berries.

1. Cancer prevention

Research indicates that goji berry phytochemicals specifically target and inhibit the growth of cancer cells, including HT-29 colorectal cancer cells. They also play a role in regulating the cell cycle and promoting cell death. These findings underscore the potential of goji berries as a natural strategy to combat cancer and hinder tumor development.

2. Heart and vascular protection

Not only do goji berries have the potential to help protect against heart attacks, but they may even prevent the progression of heart disease. Preliminary studies with animals have demonstrated that the goji berry LBP's play a role in heart benefits.

For example, in an experiment investigating the effects of LBPs on myocardial injury, LBP treatment reduced the negative indicators associated with heart damage and promoted positive indicators for heart health. Additionally, studies on animals with hypertension showed that LBP-treated rats had reduced blood pressure compared to untreated rats. Furthermore, in experiments with rats and rabbits with high cholesterol, LBP administration decreased total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol levels while increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

These findings suggest that goji berries, particularly their LBP content, contribute to heart-protective effects by reducing heart damage, lowering blood pressure, and improving cholesterol levels.

3. Brain and nervous system protection

Goji berries protect the brain and nervous system by helping to reduce damage caused by harmful substances like glutamate, which is associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Studies have shown that goji berries, particularly their active component called LBPs, improve neurological deficits and promote the growth of brain cells. For instance, drinking goji juice has been linked to better brain function.

Further research is needed to understand these benefits better, but goji berries show promise for supporting brain health.

4. Eye protection

Studies have shown that goji berries, rich in carotenoids and LBPs, protect and improve vision by preserving retinal function, inhibiting cell death, and regulating retinal structure.

Goji berry extracts have also been found to benefit the early stages of retinal degeneration and protect against glaucoma and diabetic retinal injury. Additionally, goji berries elevate antioxidant and zeaxanthin levels, which benefit macular (eye) health. The presence of taurine, an essential amino acid, in goji berries may also hinder the progression of diabetic retinopathy. These findings further highlight the vision-protective effects of goji berries.

5. Anti-aging properties

Goji berries possess powerful anti-aging properties that help combat oxidative stress, inflammation, and skin damage caused by factors like UV radiation. Their natural components, such as betaine, β-carotene, and flavonoids, play a key role in fighting the signs of aging. For example, betaine, found in goji berries, helps to protect the liver, reduce inflammation, and even prevent colon cancer. Furthermore, it also acts as a shield for the skin, safeguarding it from the damaging effects of the sun's rays.

Additional health benefits of goji berries

This superfood's health benefits are concentrated in its phytochemicals. Early studies suggest that the natural plant compounds found in goji berries also assist with the following:

  • Immune support
  • Blood sugar control
  • Skin health
  • Digestive health

Incorporating goji berries into a diet

Incorporating goji berries into a diet is simple and versatile — similar to any other fruit or berry. They are commonly available dried and can be used in various ways:

  • Salads, yogurt, and smoothies. Sprinkle goji berries onto salads, mix them into yogurt, or blend them into smoothies for added flavor and nutrition.
  • Oats, oatmeal, and baked goods. Incorporate goji berries into oats, oatmeals, or baked goods like cookies and muffins for a delightful twist.
  • Teas, syrups, and sauces. Create flavorful teas by steeping goji berries, or use them to make syrups and sauces.
  • Goji berry-infused wine. Add goji berries to wine for a unique and tasty infusion.
  • Explore processed forms. Goji berries are also available processed, as tinctures, powders, and tablets, offering convenience and versatility.

A healthy quantity of goji berries

Goji berries are considered a food by the FDA and not a supplement. As such, incorporating them into a healthy diet in moderation poses no risks for most healthy people.

For specific health concerns, consult a healthcare professional to determine an appropriate measure of dried goji berries for your specific needs and safety. Traditional herbal medicine dosages of goji berries are typically 6–18 grams of dried goji berries when combined with other herbs and up to 15–30 grams if used alone.

It's worth noting that five tablespoons of goji berries equal roughly 28 grams, representing a higher dose. Seeking guidance from a healthcare professional helps ensure that consuming an appropriate amount of goji berries optimizes health results and safety.

Goji berry risks & considerations

Remember that all of the studies on herbal medicine, goji berries included, are preliminary, meaning that more research is needed to confirm the effectiveness, risks, and proper consumption quantities for health benefits.

Caution is advised for those with diabetes due to goji berries' carbohydrate and sugar content. While they may lower blood sugar levels, overconsumption can be a concern.

Furthermore, consuming large quantities of goji berries without guidance from a healthcare provider is ill-advised, as there have been reports of liver toxicity.

Who should avoid consuming goji berries?

Though goji berries do provide a slew of health benefits and most people can safely incorporate them into their diet, they may cause reactions or interfere with some medications. Thus specific groups of people should use caution or altogether avoid goji berry consumption, including:

  • Pregnant people
  • People on warfarin, sold commercially as Coumadin
  • Those with allergies to other fruits or berries should consult their doctor before consuming

Goji berries have long been recognized for loads of health benefits. These red, slightly tart, and nutritious fruity gems provide essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, which offer plenty of antioxidant health benefits. Incorporating nutrient-packed goji berries into a daily dietary routine adds flavor and supports overall well-being.



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