Benefits of Goji Berries

Overview

Goji berries, also called wolfberry or Lycium barbarum, can be eaten dried or used as an ingredient in juices. Many claims have been made by goji product manufacturers about the small red berry's health benefits and uses, but the relatively few studies done on the topic, while showing promising effects, are not definitive.

History

Goji berry is native to China, but it grows extensively as a hedge bush in the United Kingdom, where it was brought by traders in the 1700's. Across Asia, goji fruit has a history of medicinal use for many ailments, including indigestion, headaches and cancer. It also has been used as an anti-aging remedy.

Legal Status

It has been accepted as an established food ingredient in the U.K., but it is not regulated as a drug there. Despite manufacturers' claims that goji can fight diabetes, cancer, arthritis, heart and stomach complaints, and many other serious diseases, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the fruit for use as any type of medicinal treatment. None of the claims have been proved. And the FDA has sent letters to U.S. marketers of goji berry products warning them that making claims about goji berry's health benefits violate food and drug safety laws.

Dietary uses

In China, it is used to make teas and wines. It is eaten fresh or dried. In the United States, it is becoming a common ingredient in health drinks and elixirs, including fruit juice blends and energy drinks. One European brewery makes a goji-flavored beer. The berry tastes like a sweet tomato with a nutty flavor.

Antioxidant properties

Goji is often touted as a superfood because of its antioxidant properties and high vitamin C content. The berry is high in carotenoid pigments, which are associated with antioxidant effects. One Chinese short-term study published in 2008 tested the effects of polysaccharides from the goji berry on aged mice, and found that mice receiving them showed fewer aging markers than a control group receiving vitamin C. The study suggests that goji berry has anti-aging benefits above and beyond that of its vitamin C content, which is itself an antioxidant. A 2009 short-term study in humans suggests its antioxidant effects work in people also.

General studies

A 2008 study of adult humans who were given goji juice for two weeks noted the participants reported increased feelings of well-being, better sleep, more energy, calmness, acuity and happiness and more regular gastrointestinal function. In contrast, a control group reported only increased happiness and decreased heartburn. However, no physical changes to the subjects or improvement in objective conditions were noted in the study, and it concluded more research would be needed.

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About this Author

Kim Hoyum is a Michigan-based freelance writer. She has been a proofreader, writer, reporter and editor at monthly, weekly and daily publications for five years. She has a Bachelor of Science in writing and minor in journalism from Northern Michigan University.