goji berry benefits

Goji berries are orange-red berries that are native to China. Though they have been eaten and used for their medicinal properties for more than 2000 years, they have recently gained popularity in the western world. Rich in several antioxidants, goji berries are known to boost immunity, protect against diabetes, and fight depression. In this article, we will learn about goji berries, their nutritional profile, health benefits, and side effects.

What are goji berries?

Goji berries, also known as wolfberries, are the fruit of the Lycium barbarum or Lycium Chinese plant, which belong to the Solanaceae family. They are native to China and have been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.

These berries are bright red when they are fresh and look like red raisins in their dried form. Fresh goji berries have a bitter, slightly sour taste. Their juice tastes similar to tomato juice. Dried goji berries have a sickly sweet taste and consistency.

History of goji berries

According to a legend, more than 2000 years ago a doctor visited a village in China where the residents lived for 100 years or more. After observing them for a few days, he noticed that the people who lived the longest-lived near the wells where the goji trees grew. As the berries ripened, they would fall into the water in the well, and the water would become infused with them. These people received the benefits of goji berries by drinking this water.

The first documented proof of goji berries is in the book Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, written in the year 250 BC by the Chinese emperor Shen Nong. In the sixteenth century, Li Shi-Zhen wrote another book about the goji berry and its benefits. Most of the goji berries are produced in Northwest China. There are some goji plantations in Mongolia and Shaanxi.

The nutritional profile of goji berries

Goji berries are highly nutritious as they contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They contain antioxidants called Lycium barbarum polysaccharides, which provide numerous health benefits. Goji berries also provide 11 essential amino acids, more than most common berries. Five tablespoons (28 grams) of dried goji berries contain (1) –

  • Calories – 100
  • Fat – 0 grams
  • Fiber – 3 grams
  • Sugar – 13 grams
  • Protein – 4 grams
  • Vitamin A – 7510 IU (134% DV)
  • Vitamin C – 14 mg (25% DV)
  • Iron – 12 mg (10% DV)
  • Amino acids – 18 (11 essential amino acids)
  • Phytochemicals – beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, lycopene, cryptoxanthin, lutein, and polysaccharides

Health benefits of goji berries

1. Rich in antioxidants

Goji berries are rich in antioxidants, which help fight free radicals and inflammation and boost immunity.  They contain zeaxanthin, which gives goji berries their bright color. During one study, when 50 Chinese adults were given 120 ml of goji berry juice per day for 30 days, their antioxidant markers increased by 8% as compared to the volunteers who did not get any goji berry juice.

These results indicate that goji berries increase antioxidant efficacies in humans and reduce free-radical related conditions (2). During another study when older men and women took 13.7 grams per day of a milk-based formulation of goji berry for 90 days, their plasma zeaxanthin levels increased by 26 percent and overall antioxidant capacity increased by 57 percent (3).

2. Prevent macular degeneration

The high levels of antioxidants in goji berries protect the eyes and prevent age-related eye diseases.  The antioxidants in these berries, especially zeaxanthin, help stop the damage caused by UV light exposure, free radicals, and oxidative stress.

According to a 2014 study from China, the polysaccharides in goji berries protect the retina from ganglion cells, which helps prevent glaucoma (4). Another study showed that when healthy older men and women were given goji berry supplements for 90 days, it increased their plasma zeaxanthin and antioxidant levels and protected their eyes from hypopigmentation and drusen accumulation (3).

3. Boost immunity

Goji berries are rich in vitamins C and A, both of which help build immunity and prevent illnesses like flu and other infections. During one study, 60 healthy older adults were given goji berry juice for 30 days. The results showed that goji juice significantly increased their immunological responses and feeling of general wellbeing without any adverse effects. It boosted the levels of lymphocytes which are responsible for protecting the body from harmful bacteria and illnesses (5). Another study from the University of Singapore also showed that goji berry activates T lymphocytes, which contribute to its immune-enhancing function (6).

4. Protect against cancer

Goji berries are rich in antioxidants like zeaxanthin, carotenoids, and vitamin C, which are known for fighting cancer cells. These antioxidants reduce inflammation, remove toxins, and slow down tumor growth. Several test-tube studies have shown that goji berry extracts can inhibit the growth and lead to apoptosis in cancer cells (7, 8).

During one study by Second Military Medical University, Shanghai, 79 advanced cancer patients were treated with immunotherapy and goji berry extracts. The results showed that these patients achieved a 25 percent higher rate of cancer regression as compared to the patients that were only given immunotherapy (9).

5. Improve blood sugar control

Goji berries can help to lower blood sugar levels, improve sugar tolerance, and alleviate insulin resistance.  Studies have shown that goji berries exhibit hypoglycemic effects and insulin-sensitizing activity by increasing glucose responsiveness.

During one study, when goji berry extracts were given to rats with diabetes for four weeks, it decreased their blood glucose levels significantly (10). Goji berry extracts improve insulin sensitivity by increasing glucose metabolism and insulin secretion and promoting pancreatic beta-cell proliferation (11).

6. Prevent liver damage

Goji berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat liver disease. These berries, along with other herbs like licorice, Ganoderma, pentaphylla, and gynostemna, are used to treat various liver illnesses.

Studies also show that goji berry extracts protect the liver from exposure to toxic chemicals and prevent the progression of alcohol-induced fatty liver disease. It can even inhibit the growth of tumors in liver cells (12). Goji berries also help to keep the kidneys healthy. You can also consume them as a natural remedy for kidney stones.

7. Improve skin health

Goji berries contain beta-carotene, which helps to keep skin healthy. Regularly drinking goji berry juice protects the skin from damage caused by UV rays. According to a study from the University of Sydney, when mice were given 5 % goji berry juice, it protected skin disorders and lipid peroxidation of UV light damage. Two skin antioxidants – haem oxygenase-1, and metallothionein were found to be involved in photoimmune protection (13).

Drinking goji berry juice also protects people who are susceptible to skin cancer. According to a study from Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, goji berry extracts inhibit glycation, a process that ages the skin (14).

8. Boost energy and reduces stress

Consuming goji berries has been linked to improved energy levels and general wellbeing. During a 2008 study,  researchers gave120 ml of goji berry juice to healthy adults for 14 days. At the end of 14 days, the participants of this trial felt significant improvements in energy level, quality of sleep, athletic performance, ease of awakening, mental acuity, ability to focus on activities, calmness, and feelings of health, and happiness. Goji juice also significantly reduced fatigue and stress, and improved regularity of gastrointestinal function (15).

9. Improve fertility

Goji berries have been linked to sexual health for years. Studies show that goji berries improve sperm count and movement, improve sexual ability and recovery of testosterone levels. It can be used for the treatment of erectile dysfunction in men. Goji berries treat infertility in women with ovarian failure and the inability to ovulate regularly.

According to an animal-based study by Wuhan University, China, goji berries have protective effects against heat-induced testicular damage and H2O2-induced DNA damage in testicular cells and have a beneficial effect on sexual behavior and reproductive function of hemicastrated rats (16).

10. Weight loss

Goji berries are low in calorie-content and high on energy quotient. They are high in dietary fiber, which helps to stay full for longer and prevent unhealthy snacking. Have a few of these berries as a snack or add them to yogurt. They are a sweet and nutritious alternative to processed snacks.

Side effects of goji berries

Goji berries are safe for most people, although some people can have an allergic reaction to these berries. The symptoms include tingling in the mouth, skin rash, or itchiness. Some people may also get a stomach ache if you eat them in high quantities.

Goji berries contain sugar, so you must not overindulge. People with diabetes should avoid eating a lot of goji berries. Goji berries could also interact with some medications. Avoid goji berries if you are taking warfarin. These berries can also interact with diabetes and blood pressure drugs, so consult with your doctor before you eat these berries.

Final thoughts

Goji berries are the fruit of the Lycium barbarum or Lycium Chinese plant, which belong to the Solanaceae family. They are native to China and have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.

These berries are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, iron, and amino acids. They prevent macular degeneration, boost immunity, improve blood sugar control, protect against cancer, prevent liver damage, improve skin health, improve fertility, and help in weight loss.

However, eating too many goji berries can cause stomach ache. Some people may also have an allergic reaction after eating these berries. Consult with your doctor before eating goji berries if you are taking warfarin, diabetes, or blood pressure medications.