What is Goji Berry, and How Will It Benefit Your Health?

Goji berries have recently gained popularity due to their benefits. Learn how this superfruit can help support your health and well-being.

A bowl of red goji berries on a wooden surface

You’re probably familiar with strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, but there’s another berry species that is also considered a superfood with many nutritional values. The red goji berry (harvested from the Lycium barbarum shrub) is native to China and synonymous with the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region — famous for good quality goji berries. The plant grows in the form of a shrub and is also called the Chinese wolfberry.

Besides the red goji berry, there’s also the black goji berry (from the Lycium ruthenicum plant). All types of goji berries are rich in a bioactive substance called phenolics. Phenolic compounds in plants are good sources of natural antioxidants. In addition, a 2017 study by BMC Chemistry says that black goji berries have a higher phenolic content. They also have higher antioxidant levels than red goji berries, but red goji berries have higher carotenoid content. Carotenoids are pigments producing warm colours in plants, such as yellow, orange and red, and they have an antioxidant effect on humans. 

Because of their many benefits, goji berries have been consumed in Asia for decades to treat common health problems such as high blood pressure, fever, diabetes, and deterioration of eyesight due to ageing. The berries can be eaten cooked, dried, or raw and can also be brewed in a herbal concoction alongside other herbs. 

Benefits of Consuming Goji Berries 

Goji berries aren’t just a staple of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) but have an array of uses in Ayurvedic and Western treatments. Furthermore, TCM belief states that goji berries are sweet and neutral in nature, and can nourish the liver and kidney whilst enhancing a person’s jing (essence) and vision. With many nutrients and bioactive compounds found in these brightly coloured plants, here are some reasons why goji berries are hailed as superfruits. 

Improves eyesight 

The goji berry is widely believed to be good for the eyes. “Goji berries are a good source of vitamins and minerals. They are rich in vitamin A, which is vital for eye, bone, skin, and cell development,” says Eu Yan Sang’s TCM physician Lim Sock Ling. “The amount of beta-carotene in goji berries is among the highest of all edible plants. With the high level of zeaxanthin, goji berries can benefit the vision and may help in age-related eye diseases.”  

These benefits are demonstrated in the findings of a 2011 study published in Optometry and Vision Science, where elderly subjects consumed a daily dietary supplement with goji berry for about three months showed an increase in plasma zeaxanthin – a compound beneficial for the eyes – and antioxidant levels in the macula, which is part of the retina. The same study also finds that the supplement may protect the eyes from soft drusen — debris accumulated into tiny pebbles that form over time.

Interestingly, a separate study also found that the consumption of goji berries can also help to prevent or delay vision deterioration in people with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) — rare genetic disorders that cause a break down and loss of retina cells. This relates directly to the antioxidative component of the berries, including arabinose, galactose, glucose, mannose, rhamnose and xylose. These polysaccharides also show the ability to protect retinal function and retinal ganglion cells after partial optic nerve section in animal models. Similarly, it can preserve retinal vasculature from retinal ischemia or reperfusion injury.

Clinical studies have also shown that consuming goji berries can protect against photoreceptor degeneration in animal models with RP. 

Protects against cancer 

Goji berries contain antioxidants that help to neutralise the harmful effects of free radicals. This helps maintain good cellular health, with a lower likelihood of becoming cancerous.

Specifically, goji berry consumption shows positive effects against breast cancer. In a 2019 study published in Folia Medica, researchers tested goji berry fractions on three types of breast cancer cell lines, and found significant inhibition in two out of the three lines.

Lowers cholesterol 

Goji berry consumption can also help to lower cholesterol and fat levels. According to the Journal of Natural Remedies, the consumption of goji berry powdered extract yields a significant reduction in total cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol levels.

Stabilises blood sugar 

Goji berries are beneficial for balancing blood sugar. Medicinal Chemistry states that goji berries helped stabilise blood sugar and balanced blood insulin levels in patients with type-2 diabetes. The study also reported an increase in good cholesterol (HDL) levels among patients.

Reduces anxiety 

People who consume goji berries have reported better well-being, more energy, and improved alertness. Besides these positive effects, goji berries are capable of reducing anxiety and improving sleep quality.

A 2020 animal study published in the Turkish Journal of Biology showed that goji berries could reduce anxious behaviour. Further research can help to evaluate the potential to produce a herbal anti-anxiety medication in the future.

How to Add Goji Berries to Your Diet 

A granola bowl placed next to a spoonful of goji berries and chia seeds on a wooden table
Add goji berries to your breakfast smoothie bowl for an extra dose of antioxidants.

The popularity of goji berries has led to their availability in various forms. Their pleasant, sweet taste makes them easy to consume too. For convenience, these berries are commonly available dry or in powder form. Moreover, they are available as supplements and juice blends. It’s worth noting, though, that the recommended consumption of goji berries is between 6 to 12 grams daily. 

1. Raw   

Goji berries are safe to consume raw. You can add them to your trail mixes, cereal, yoghurt, and salads — a handful a day is enough. Dried goji berries are also available in convenient packs, making them easier to consume when you’re out and about.

2. Cooked   

You can develop innovative recipes with this fibre-rich ingredient. Try making a goji berry cheesecake or muffin! You can also add them to savoury food like soups and steamed dishes.

3. Drinks

A glass of goji berry juice placed next to raw goji berries
Drink goji berry juice for a refreshing pick-me-up when you feel tired.

You can add goji berries to your juices and smoothies. Just mix them together in your blender with other ingredients such as bananas, apples, or almond milk. In addition, you can steep dried goji berries in hot water to make goji berry tea. You can even improvise by adding a teaspoon of honey and a few slices of ginger to your liking.

Some ready-to-drink goji berry juice variants are also available at local supermarkets. 

4. Supplements/Extracts   

Goji berry supplements or extracts are available in the market for people to take on the go for ease of consumption. People around the world know it as tonic for enhancing longevity.

Who Should Avoid Goji Berries  

Individuals with underlying medical conditions should consult doctors or TCM physicians for professional advice regarding the consumption of goji berries. 

People with allergies   

Goji berries are generally safe to consume. Yet, people with existing food allergies should exercise caution because it might trigger allergies in rare cases.

“Studies have shown that individuals who are allergic to lipid transfer proteins may be allergic to goji berries,” physician Lim says. For this reason, those with food allergies should consult their doctor or a TCM physician before consuming the berries.

People taking certain medications  

People on certain medications for high blood pressure or diabetes, as well as anti-coagulation therapy (warfarin), should consult their doctor or a TCM physician before taking goji berries.

Pregnant women   

Goji berries contain betaine, a compound that might be potentially harmful to foetal health. However, more research needs to be conducted to determine whether goji berries are safe to consume during pregnancy.

The benefits of consuming goji berries are plentiful. The berries are safe to consume for most of the population, so if you haven’t tried them yet, it’s about time you add them to your “things-to-try list” for the future!

References

Chemistry Central Journal. 2017. Comparative studies on phenolic profiles, antioxidant capacities and carotenoid contents of red goji berry (Lycium barbarum) and black goji berry (Lycium ruthenicum). [Accessed 28 August 2021] 

Folia Medica. 2019. Antioxidant Activity and Antiproliferative Effects of Lycium barbarum‘s (Goji berry) Fractions on Breast Cancer Cell Lines. [Accessed 28 August 2021]

Journal of Natural Remedies. 2013. Evaluation of hypolipidemic effects of Lyciumbarbarum (Goji berry) in a murine model. [Accessed 28 August 2021] 

Medicinal Chemistry. 2015. Practical Application of Antidiabetic Efficacy of Lycium barbarum Polysaccharide in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes. [Accessed 28 August 2021] 

Optometry and Vision Science. 2011. Goji Berry Effects on Macular Characteristics and Plasma Antioxidant Levels.  [Accessed 28 August 2021] 

Polish Journal of Food and Nutrition Sciences. 2016. Goji Berry (Lycium barbarum): Composition and Health Effects – A Review.  [Accessed 28 August 2021] 

Turkish Journal of Biology. 2020. Anxiolytic, antioxidant, and neuroprotective effects of goji berry polysaccharides in ovariectomized rats: experimental evidence from behavioral, biochemical, and immunohistochemical analyses. [Accessed 28 August 2021] 

Henry Ho-lung Chan, et al. 2019. Delay of cone degeneration in retinitis pigmentosa using a 12-month treatment with Lycium barbarum supplement. [Accessed 28 August 2021] 

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