What’s super about goji berries?
With the arrival on the Australian market of every kind of goji berry product you can think of (including goji berry juice, chocolate-coated goji berries and goji berry facial oil), you could be forgiven for thinking the health benefits of this bright red berry from Central Asia are a modern discovery. But Chinese, Tibetan and other central Asian systems of medicine have been using these berries for medicinal purposes for more than 2000 years.
The medicinal use of the dried fruit of Lycium barbarum, known as goji berries, was first mentioned in a Chinese text from the 1st century CE. A Chinese herbalist who, it was claimed, lived for 252 years attributed his longevity to tonic herbs including goji berries.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) goji berries are thought to be able to replenish the yin energy component and the blood. The berries are used by TCM practitioners to treat a variety of ailments including liver, kidney, blood sugar and vision problems, making them a favourite ingredient in herbal formulas and recipes for older people.
Why so red?
It’s the high concentration of antioxidant carotenoids found in goji berries that gives them a bright red colour and is responsible for many of their medicinal effects. Beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants all present in goji berries.
The other two significant medicinal compounds in goji berries are betaine and some unique polysaccharides. Betaine assists with liver detoxification and the production of neurotransmitters, while the polysaccharides stimulate immunity.
Goji at a glance
- Have been used medicinally for thousands of years
- Are a great source of antioxidants
- Have anti-ageing properties
- Help regulate blood sugar
- Boost immunity
- Support eye health
Oxidative damage from free radicals increases with age and is thought to be a major contributing factor to the process of ageing. Antioxidants are therefore a logical treatment for age-related disorders as well as other conditions that have been associated with high levels of oxidative damage such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Research has found that extracts of goji berries have a beneficial effect on total antioxidant status.
Type 2 diabetes is a major global health problem. The World Health Organization has estimated that by 2010 diabetes will affect 221 million people worldwide. Animal research into the blood-sugar-regulating effect of goji berries has so far been positive. However, as diabetes is a complex disorder that requires medical monitoring and the use of either medication or insulin, the use of goji berries to manage diabetes is not recommended. The primary benefit of goji berries for people with diabetes is a protective effect against diabetic complications such as eye and kidney problems.
Most of the current research into the immune-stimulating effects of goji berry polysaccharides has been performed on animals, but the results are very encouraging. Several studies have shown that the polysaccharides increase the activity of white blood cells and may increase the immune response against certain cancers. It has also been found that goji berry polysaccharides have a protective effect against the immune suppression caused by chemotherapy and radiotherapy, highlighting another potential use in cancer treatment.
Age-related vision loss
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in the elderly population in the Western world, affecting an estimated 30 per cent of people over 75. As the percentage of Australians aged over 70 increases in the coming decades, the impact of age-related macular degeneration on public health will also increase. There is growing evidence that the primary cause of this condition is an age-related decline in the concentration of protective antioxidants, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, within the structures of the eye.
Goji berries are among the richest known sources of zeaxanthin and have similar amounts of lutein to other fruit and vegetable sources, highlighting these berries as a possible treatment for age-related vision problems. A recent study demonstrated that eating goji berries daily significantly increases the amount of zeaxanthin found in the body.
Juice or berries?
- Goji berry juice is a concentrated form of the fruit.
- It’s easy to take.
- Choose a pure goji berry juice with no added sugar or fruit juice.
- Choose a juice that has no added preservatives.
- This is the traditional form in which the berries were used.
- They can be eaten like raisins or added to your cooking.
- No preservatives are used in the drying of the berries.
- Choose certified organic berries.
Gerard Elms is a naturopath, nutritionist and herbalist with a practice in Neutral Bay. He specialises in digestive disorders and men’s health. T: 02 9904 0734, E: firstname.lastname@example.org