Goji Berries

By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness
Goji Berries.

I go to a lot of conferences and tradeshows designed to publicize scientific breakthroughs and hot new natural products. I love poking around at these events, and I usually find something noteworthy. The last natural product show I went to had an array of natural foods and supplements. But one ingredient seemed to really stand out.

When I first saw this new superfood, I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. After all, it was red and wrinkled and had a funny name – goji. But it turns out that goji berries are the new “wonder food” for healthy snacking. Think of them as supercharged raisins.

Goji berries have made such a splash that a visit to your local health-food store can yield goji snacks, goji juice, goji supplements and even goji skincare. Yet, while you might think that goji is the new kid on the block, it’s actually been around for centuries. Only the name has been changed to profit the not-so-innocent.

Hype or Health?

Goji berries – also known as wolfberries – have played an important role in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 2,000 years, gaining a reputation as an anti-aging tonic and a valuable treatment for everything from poor vision to erectile dysfunction to cancer.

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If these exotic berries sound too good to be true, consider this: Goji berries are incredibly nutrient dense with high levels of ascorbic acid – a precursor to vitamin C. The berries also contain significant amounts of beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, polysaccharides, beta-sitosterol, hesperidin, nicotinic acid and vitamins B1, B2 and E.

These little nutritional powerhouses are also home to more than 30 essential and trace minerals like zinc, iron, copper, calcium and selenium, as well as 18 amino acids, including trytophan, leucine and arginine.

With such an amazing array of nutrients, it’s no surprise that goji berries have the highest score on the ORAC scale. The ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale measures the antioxidant levels present in the food. No wonder goji berries are being touted as a tasty way to promote good health.

A Visionary Nutrient

Along with goji’s potent antioxidant properties, recent studies show that the berries can improve your vision – thanks largely to their extremely high zeaxanthin content. In one recent trial, those who took 15,000 mg. of supplemental goji berry experienced more than twice the blood levels of zeaxanthin than those who didn’t take the supplement, leading the researchers to speculate that a daily dose of goji just might help ward off age-related macular degeneration.

The berries also contain lutein which, when paired with zeaxanthin, form the lynchpin for healthy vision. In fact, the macula is composed primarily of these two antioxidants. Not only do these two nutrients work hand-in-hand to prevent age-related macular degeneration, they may also keep cataracts at bay.

Several well-known studies have proven the effectiveness of zeaxanthin and lutein. The Beaver Dam Eye Study found that subjects who consumed the most lutein and zeaxanthin had a significantly lower risk of cataracts compared to those with the lowest intakes. Another study, known as the Nurse’s Health Study, confirmed that the more lutein and zeaxanthin you consume, the lower the chance that you’ll need cataract surgery.

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Smarter Snacking

Goji berries also help protect brain cells from harmful chemical toxins. Plus, recent studies suggest that these wrinkly red treats may boost memory and learning ability – which means that simply munching on a handful of these sweet and sour berries may help you avoid those embarrassing “senior moments.”

More importantly, preliminary research has discovered that goji guards against the formation of specific compounds typically found in the brains of Alzheimer patients.

Using a laboratory model of Alzheimer’s, scientists found that goji protected brain cells from the harmful effects of amyloid beta peptides, damaging agents that are linked to the pathological changes seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. These findings suggest that goji just might help prevent this memory-robbing disease.

One Last Thing …

While it’s too early to tell if goji berries will prove effective in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, swapping your morning glass of O.J. for goji juice may make you happier and more energetic. During a recent clinical trial, 35 people drank either four ounces of goji juice or a placebo drink for 14 days. At the end of the study, the participants who drank the goji juice reported that they slept better, felt calmer and more content, and had greater mental acuity. Half of the goji group also said they had more energy, better athletic performance and improved gastrointestinal health.

This Just In …

The economy. It’s on the minds of everyone these days. But, despite financial uncertainty, a new survey conducted for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) shows that most of us don’t intend to give up our supplements. The respondents also noted that supplements are an essential part of their wellness regiment.

Taking supplements – especially a multivitamin – is also an investment in the future. After all, engaging in preventative health measures now, like incorporating supplements into a healthy lifestyle, may help you avoid potential healthcare costs down the road. While times are tough for many of us right now, just remember the old adage that if you have your health, you really do have everything.


References:

Amagase H, Nance DM. “A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical study of the general effects of a standardized Lycium barbarum (Goji) Juice, GoChi.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2008;14:403-412.

Chang RC, So KF. “Use of Anti-aging Herbal Medicine, Lycium barbarum, Against Aging-associated Diseases. What Do We Know So Far?” Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology. 2008;28(5):643-52.

Ho YS, Yu MS, Lai CS, et al. “Characterizing the neuroprotective effects of alkaline extract of Lycium barbarum on beta-amyloid peptide neurotoxicity.” Brain Research. 2007;1158:123-134.

Li XM, Ma YL, Liu XJ. “Effect of the Lycium barbarum polysaccharides on age-related oxidative stress in aged mice.” Ethnopharmacology. 2007;111:504-511.

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