What Are Goji Berries?
Goji berries are a fairly impressive berry. They possess a unique profile of bioactive plant compounds that don’t exist in many other foods. They’re an ingredient that’s often found in supplements, juice blends, powders and other health foods. Goji berries have been traditionally used in Chinese soups and as a herbal tisane.
Goji berries (Lycium Barbarum) are also sometimes known as ‘wolfberries’ or ‘matrimony vine’ and originate from Asia, and most commonly China. Qinghai goji berries are an organically grown and superior quality berry compared to those grown in other parts of China. These are considered larger and sweeter and because they’re processed locally, they retain much of their nutritional value.
Goji berries have a sweet, tart flavour, similar to a cranberry. When fresh, goji berries are a vibrant red and are about the shape and size of a large grape. At harvest time, they’re shaken down from the vine once they’re ready for picking, then undergo a process of drying. Most goji berries can successfully be sun-dried to prevent spoilage. After this, they’re packed and exported for sale. Once dried, goji berries are a deep crimson red and look like stretched red sultanas. Dried goji berries are more commonly available compared to fresh. However they reconstitute well in water, back to their original state.
Nutrient Content of Goji Berries
28g of dried goji berries contain:
- 4g protein
- 21g carbohydrates
- 0.1g fat
- 3g fibre
- High in vitamin A
- Vitamin C
Polyphenols In Goji Berries
- Caffeic acid
- Chlorogenic acid
Health Benefits of Goji Berries
Goji berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. These berries have long been enjoyed as tonics or teas, with a heap of empirical evidence to support their benefits. One thing to know about goji berries is that their health effects are largely due to their polyphenol content. The polyphenol content of goji depends on the geographical origin. The type of soil, climate and time of harvest will influence the bioactive compounds that exist in the fruit.
Goji Berries: Is It All Just Hype?
Plenty of health writers and otherwise credentialed experts don’t like goji berries. When goji berries burst onto the world stage in the early 2000’s, various supplement companies latched onto their health claims to drive product sales. It wasn’t long before a few wild health claims and alleged tall tales emerged. One famous claim was that of Li Qing Yuen, a Chinese martial artist who lived to the age of 256. The secret to his longevity was apparently due to his daily ritual of eating goji berries, bestowing him with youthfulness and good health.
Goji Berries: What’s The Verdict?
It’s wise to be discerning with foods that have outlandish or exaggerated health claims. Goji berries attracted a lot of heat with their debut upon the Western palate. This meant they also accrued their share of scrutiny from experts in health science. Thankfully, the net effect of this is that we now have a robust amount of literature on the health benefits, risks and nutrient profile of goji berries. All this research has helped myth-bust and substantiate any health claim out there.
Some of the reported health benefits of goji berries include:
- Metabolic health & weight loss
- Help with weight loss
- Supports eye health
- DNA protection
Anti-Cancer Effects of Goji Berries
The antioxidant properties of goji berries contribute to their powerful anti-cancer activity. The antioxidant capacity of goji berries was assessed in a study by Georgiev et al. (2019). In this cell study, the anti-proliferative effects of goji berries on breast cancer cells were measured. The results showed significant ‘antineoplastic’ activity against breast cancer cells in vitro.
Different species of goji berries possess varying antioxidant activity, depending on the polyphenol content. The main capability of goji berries on cancer cells is their impact on cell reproduction. Goji berries cause cancer cell arrest and apoptosis (cell death) in several clinical studies. Another big tick for goji against cancer cells.
Goji berries have also shown efficacy against cervical cancer cell proliferation. Three separate peptides have been identified in goji berries, in a study conducted in 2021, all of which caused cancer cell death and inhibited cancer cell replication. The authors of this study affirmed these effects have been exhibited in lab studies and in vivo samples. Now, there’s a clear trend for goji berries towards the potential treatment of cancer.
Berries have been labelled as an ‘anti-obesity’ food for years. But what does this mean and is it even true? Berry fruits are full of polyphenol compounds that have specific influences on body systems which are involved with weight loss. Berries such as blackberries, raspberries, cranberries and goji berries have been shown to improve several endpoints relating to excess weight. These include energy expenditure, reducing appetite, improving satiety and altering the microbiome. All of these areas of health collectively help to improve obesity outcomes, according to research.
Improves Diabetes Symptoms
Traditional Chinese medicine teachings hold goji berries in high regard for the treatment of diabetes symptoms. A small RCT involving a group of type 2 diabetic patients was conducted in 2015. Participants were randomised to consume either a dose of goji berries or control. After 3 months, the group who had goji berry extract had significantly decreased serum glucose levels. The participants also had increased HDL cholesterol, which has a protective effect for the cardiovascular system. Interestingly, the authors remarked that the hypoglycemic effect was stronger in those who weren’t already taking diabetic medication. This finding on goji fruit is promising as a potential natural treatment for type 2 diabetes.
A mouse model study found that goji berry juice consumption helps reduce the damage caused by solar UV radiation. The results of this study showed that goji berries served as an ‘immune protecting’ agent that caused a reduction in swelling associated with UV exposure. The authors dubbed goji berry juice as ‘photoprotective’ in relation to UV damage to skin cells.
Improves Memory & Neuroplasticity
The antioxidant actions of goji berries make them a powerful weapon against neurodegeneration and ageing. Brain cells are particularly susceptible to damage from free radicals, environmental toxins and other bodily stressors. Damage to certain brain regions can impact cognitive function and memory. Areas of the brain involved in memory, planning and complex thinking are the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. Therefore, these brain regions are common treatment targets in conventional and natural medicine.
An in vivo study found that daily goji berry consumption for 2 months demonstrated significant improvements in dendritic morphology (neuron size and shape). Improvements were also observed in the hippocampus and a general decrease in inflammation was also seen. This study demonstrates that goji berries have the capacity to not only reduce inflammation and cell damage in the brain, but also improve neuronal function and growth. This latter finding is also known as neuroplasticity. A similar finding was also observed in a double-blind crossover trial in a group of young, healthy participants. Here, the administration of goji berry fruit increases learning capacity, memory and attention via cognitive enhancement. These are all positive findings with regard to goji berries and their effects on brain health and neuroplasticity.
Goji Berry Health Risks
Goji Berry & Nightshade Sensitivities
Goji berries are closely related to other fruits and vegetables belonging to the ‘nightshades’ or Solanaceae flowering plant family. Some well known and safe to consume nightshades include tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, chilli peppers and eggplants. Some people have a sensitivity to consuming foods in the nightshade family, and as such may do well to limit or avoid goji berries as a precaution.
Goji Berry Allergy Risk
New research points towards an increased risk of goji berry allergy for those who have an underlying susceptibility. Larramendi et al (2012) confirmed an associated peach peel allergy leads to a higher rate of allergic response to goji berry consumption. This is partly due to cross-reactivity, which can occur with certain foods and usually happens in people with pre-existing immunoglobulin E allergies. While still rare, going slow with goji berries is worth considering if you’re an atopic allergy type.
Goji Berry Drug Interactions
A case study was reported which confirmed goji berry may interact with warfarin medication. It has been demonstrated that large doses (greater than 12g) of goji berries can significantly augment the clotting action of warfarin. This is due to the effects goji fruit has on medicine metabolism in the liver. In most cases, those who are taking warfarin are aware of drug, herb and food interactions. If you have any doubts, always seek the advice of a trusted health professional.
How To Enjoy Goji Berries
Goji berries can be used wherever your favourite dried fruits are used. They have a slightly chewy texture and work well in baking, biscuits, cakes and muffins. They are a wonderful fruit to reconstitute, simply by adding some boiling water. Goji berries can be steeped in hot water for a few minutes, into a lovely, piquant fruity tea. Chop them up to add to granola or a goji trail mix. Blend goji berries into a smoothie or freeze them into healthy ice blocks. The options are limited only by your imagination.
This is one of those smoothies that can help if you feel you need a reset. Whether it’s due to joint stiffness, fatigue, recovering from an illness or if you’re just feeling burnt out. This smoothie is loaded with enzymes, healthy fats and plant polyphenols that help to reduce and process inflammation in the body. Reduce the pineapple if you need to, it can be strong. Try this renewing, antioxidant-rich smoothie.
- 1 cup fresh pineapple
- ½ cup coconut milk
- ½ cup fresh baby spinach
- ¼ tsp. dried ginger (optional)
- 1 tsp. ground turmeric
- ½ tsp. cinnamon
- ½ cup blueberries
- 1 tbsp. chia seeds
- ¼ cup goji berries (soaked for 5 mins)
- Blend all ingredients well, add extra liquid if desired and pulse until smooth.
- Drink and enjoy.
- Or freeze into ice block moulds and enjoy later.
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Chung, S. Y., Kang, M., Hong, S. B., Bae, H., & Cho, S. H. (2019). Standardized Lycium chinense fruit extract enhances attention and cognitive function in healthy young people by a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial. Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 24, 102. https://doi.org/10.4103/jrms.JRMS_851_18
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