What You Should Know About the Goji Berry

Health Benefits, Common Uses, Tips, and More

Goji berries in a bamboo bowl and scattered on a wooden table
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Goji berry (Lycium barbarum) is a type of fruit that grows on an evergreen shrub native to China, Mongolia, and the Tibetan Himalayas. Also known as wolfberry, the goji berry is rich in vitamin C, zeaxanthin, lutein, betaine, and compounds known as Lycium barbarum polysaccharides.

Frequently consumed as a food, goji berries are slightly tart and sweet and can be eaten dried, raw, or cooked. The whole, dried berries have a similar shape and texture as raisins. They can be added to oatmeal, trail mix, salads, and beverages such as tea and smoothies and are also available in juice or powder form.

Uses for Goji Berries

Proponents claim that goji berries can help with a broad range of health issues, including:

In traditional Chinese medicine, dried mature goji berry is known as Fructus lycii or gou qi zi.

The Benefits of Goji Berries

As goji's popularity as a superfood continues to grow, proponents suggest that consuming goji berries or drinking goji berry juice can boost health and stave off a host of health conditions. Goji berries, for instance, are purported to promote weight loss, sharpen eyesight, lift mood, improve circulation, and slow up the aging process.

Despite these claims, there's a lack of evidence from large, well-designed clinical trials (the type of research needed to draw conclusions) confirming the claims. Here's a look at several findings from the available research:

Age-Related Eye Conditions

Goji berry has been explored for eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, and diabetic retinopathy. It is rich in Lycium barbarum polysaccharides (substances found to counteract oxidative stress) and zeaxanthin and lutein, carotenoids that form the "macular pigment" in the area of the eye known as the macula. Macular pigment is believed to be important for vision and for absorbing blue light (excessive exposure of this portion of the visible light spectrum, emitted by sunlight and electronic devices, may damage light-sensitive cells).

In a small study published in the International Journal of Ophthalmology in 2018, for instance, researchers found that 90 days of goji supplementation increased visual function, macular pigment optical density, and the body's levels of zeaxanthin in people with early age-related macular degeneration.

General Well-Being

Consuming goji berries on a regular basis may boost your general well-being, according to a report published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2012. For the report, researchers looked at four previously published clinical trials (including a total of 161 participants) that tested the effects of daily intake of juice made with goji berries.

In their analysis, the report's authors found that study members who consumed goji berry juice daily experienced significantly greater improvements in factors such as stress, sleep quality, and overall feelings of health compared to study members given a placebo each day.

High Cholesterol

A preliminary study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2017 indicates that goji berry extract may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in people with mild high cholesterol who are considered overweight. For the study, participants consumed a goji berry extract or a placebo after one meal per day over an eight-week period. The study's authors observed that those who consumed the goji extract had a decrease in markers of inflammation.

Side Effects

While goji berries may not cause problems when consumed in small amounts in food, they may trigger such side effects as nausea and stomach upset. Part of the Solonaceae plant family (which also includes tomato and potato), goji berries have been associated with allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock. Avoid goji berries if you have an allergy to plants in this family.

When purchasing dried goji berries (or other products), be aware that some products may contain declared or undeclared sulfites, preservatives that may elicit allergic reactions in some people or cause anaphylactic shock when taken in high amounts by sulfite-sensitive people.

Little is known about the safety of using goji supplements or consuming goji juice in the long-term. However, goji may lower blood sugar levels and increase the risk of bleeding.

If you are taking warfarin (or other types of blood-thinners), have a bleeding disorder, or have scheduled surgery within two weeks, you should avoid goji berries. According to a case report, goji berry juice was the probable cause of adverse effects when taken with warfarin.

Furthermore, goji berries may interact with other medicines, such as blood pressure and diabetes medications. If you're currently taking medication or supplements, talk to your doctor before consuming goji berries.

Avoid taking goji berry products if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Alternatives to Goji Berries

A variety of vegetables contain lutein (such as cooked spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, raw parsley, and raw pistachio nuts). Corn and eggs both contain lutein and are rich sources of zeaxanthin. Kiwi fruit, grapes, orange juice, zucchini, and certain types of squash are high in zeaxanthin, with raw orange bell peppers being one of the richest food sources of zeaxanthin.

Where to Buy Them

You can find whole goji berries, goji berry juice, and goji berry powder in many natural-foods stores and drugstores.

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