—A Special Report from Victor Marchione, MD
Goji berries have been used for almost 6,000 years by herbalists in China and other Asian countries. The reason for the goji berry’s longevity when it comes to providing health benefits is primarily due to its antioxidant content: the berries are particularly rich in carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. You might remember that those two carotenoids are particularly important for maintaining healthy vision. One of zeaxanthin’s key roles, in fact, is to protect the retina of your eye by absorbing blue light.
It’s not surprising, then, that researchers based at Kansas State University have found that goji berries, also known as Chinese wolfberries, could help improve the vision problems that commonly occur for those suffering from type-2 diabetes.
The Kansas U research team used type-2 diabetic mice to study the effects of wolfberries on oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is one of the key reasons cells die and it is one of the factors that occurs in diabetic retinopathy — a common complication of diabetes. The researchers also looked at the endoplasmic reticulum — another place where oxidative stress can kill cells.
The researchers found that the goji berry’s phytochemicals protected the retinal cells of the mice from hyperglycemia, or high glucose. It seems that the fruit has protective effects against both oxidative and endoplasmic reticulum stress.
In another clinical trial, researchers looked at the effect of goji berries on age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is a common disorder that causes irreversible loss of central vision. The research team knew from previous research that increased intake of foods containing zeaxanthin may be effective in preventing AMD. The research team collected data from 14 healthy participants. They then measured how the participants’ fasting plasma zeaxanthin concentration changed as a result of dietary supplementation with whole goji berries. The research team found that intake of a modest daily amount of goji berries increased fasting plasma zeaxanthin levels.
Traditionally, goji berries have also been used to improve sexual function, boost the immune system, improve circulation, and slow aging. In Chinese medicine, goji berries are eaten raw, brewed into a tea, added to Chinese soups, or made into liquid extracts. Locally, you can find goji juice in health food stores. Also look for the berries added to snack foods such as trail mixes.