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Goji Berry—The King of the Berries—Supports Heart, Brain and Overall Health

Also known as Lycium barbarum fruit, goji berry grows on a bush and is native to northwestern China. The oblong-shaped berries are bright red and contain 20-40 tiny seeds, and can be eaten raw, or made into a juice or wine, brewed for tea, or prepared as a tincture. But it’s the extracted phytochemicals used in nutritional supplements that provide the most potent health benefits.

Goji berry has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years as a health tonic to promote overall health and healthy eyesight, strengthen the immune system, protect the liver, improve circulation and sperm production, and to enhance sexual performance. It has also been used as a remedy for diabetes, anemia, tinnitus, and lung diseases.

In TCM terms, goji berries are sweet in taste and neutral in nature, they act on the liver, lung, and kidney channels and enhance “chi” or life force. Goji berry continues to be a revered and popular health tonic in China. In fact, in 1983 the Ministry of the Public Health of China approved goji berry to be marketed as a botanical medicine.

Goji berry’s important phytochemicals:

  1. Polysaccharides are long-chain sugar molecules and are a distinguishing characteristic of goji berry. They are a primary source of dietary fiber in the intestinal system, and once they are metabolized polysaccharides:
    • support and maintain the health of the colonic mucosal lining
    • lower pH and reduce colon cancer risk
    • enhance mineral uptake
    • stabilize blood glucose levels
    • stimulate the immune system
    • offer antioxidant protection
  2. Zeaxanthin, an antioxidant in the carotenoid family—a group of naturally occurring, fat-soluble pigments found in plants that play a key role in our immune system support—are abundantly found in goji berry. Zeaxanthin is a powerful vision protector that accumulates in the macula, the prominent, bright yellow spot in the center of the retina that allows you to clearly distinguish fine detail. The concentration of zeaxanthin in the center of the macula is about 85 times greater than its concentration in the periphery. Consequently, many researchers believe zeaxanthin (and lutein, another carotenoid) may be a potent protectant against macular degeneration 16, and may retard aging of the lens in preventing cataracts from forming.78 So, vision support is another one of goji berry’s many health benefits.
  3. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid pigment in orange-red foods like goji berry, pumpkins, carrots, and salmon. It is important for the synthesis of vitamin A (a fat-soluble nutrient and antioxidant that is essential for normal growth), vision, cell structure, bones and teeth, and healthy skin. Goji berry’s beta-carotene content is among the highest for edible plants.

Scientific research

Most of the research on goji berries over the past 30 years has come out of China, but international awareness about its health benefits is growing.

Goji berry supports cardiovascular health

In the book Discovery of the Ultimate Superfood, the authors document the science behind goji berry and list 67 medical studies showing how goji berry supports healthy heart function.9 A Taiwanese study of the antioxidant activity of goji berry and two other Chinese herbs found goji berry to be the strongest inhibitor of lipid peroxidation (a major factor in cardiovascular disease) in animal models.{ref10{

Reduces blood glucose and lipids in animal models

After three weeks of eating a diet supplemented with goji berry, laboratory animals with non-insulin dependent diabetes II showed a significant decrease in weight, cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin levels, leading the researchers to conclude that goji berry may be helpful in improving insulin resistance.11

Another study found that goji berry contains potent antioxidants that reduced blood glucose levels, and total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations in rabbits, while increasing high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL)—“good cholesterol” levels after 10 days of treatment.12

Increases immunity

In a 1988 report published by the State Scientific and Technological Commission of China, researchers discovered that after eating 50 grams of goji berry, human volunteers showed an increase in white blood cell count and a 75 percent increase in the antibody immunoglobulin A (lgA). In a more recent animal study, goji berry polysaccharides stimulated production of interleukin-2, a hormone-like substance that stimulates the growth of blood cells important to the immune system, which protect against cancer cells and microbial invasion.13

Protects against DNA damage

One of the most amazing things about this berry is that it has been shown to actually protect against DNA damage and reduce DNA damage that has already occurred in animals … which means it may very well counteract aging. Although studies haven’t been done yet on humans, the potential is tremendous.

A recent study at the Fudan University in Shanghai, China, found that when goji berry polysaccharides were given to laboratory animals with DNA damage and non-insulin dependent diabetes, the animals showed a decrease in blood glucose levels and an increase in serum levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD)—an important antioxidant. Additionally, goji berry decreased DNA damage, possibly by decreasing oxidative stress levels, leading the researchers to theorize that goji berry extract supplementation may prevent the development of complications or even the tendency for diabetic animals to develop other health problems.14

Protects testicle cells in animal study

Another animal study at the same university found that goji berry polysaccharides also protected against DNA damage in testicle cells that were pre-treated with goji berry and then exposed to hydrogen peroxide.15 This study could be of particular interest to men who have fertility issues.

Supports brain health

Alzheimer’s disease is predicted to become an epidemic for Baby Boomers, and there are currently about 70,000 scientists working around the world to find a cure. In a recent study at the University of Hong Kong, researchers theorized that since goji berry extract has anti-aging effects, it probably also has neuroprotective effects against toxins in neurodegenerative diseases, namely Alzheimer’s disease. They were right. Goji berry extract protected the brain neurons of laboratory animals from the toxic effects of beta amyloid protein—a culprit in Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers concluded that studies on anti-aging herbal medicine like goji berry might open up a new therapeutic window for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.16

Inhibits cancer growth

Thousands of studies have been done using a variety of dietary supplements, with most of them on animals. A clinical trial done in China in 1994 on goji berry showed very promising results.

Seventy-nine advanced cancer patients were treated with LAK/IL-2 (a cancer drug) combined with goji berry. Initial results indicated that regression of the cancer was achieved in patients with malignant melanoma, renal cell carcinoma, colorectal carcinoma, lung cancer, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, and malignant hydrothorax. The response rate of patients treated with LAK/IL-2 plus goji berry was 40.9%, while that of the patients treated with just LAK/IL-2 was 16.1% (P<0.05). The remission period in the patients treated with LAK/IL-2 plus goji berry also lasted significantly longer. The results indicate that goji berry could be useful as an adjuvant (an agent added to another drug to enhance its medical effectiveness) in the treatment of cancer.17

In a more recent in vitro study, goji berry inhibited the growth of human leukemia cells.18

Protects the liver

Goji berry is a potent hepatoprotective, or liver protector.

  • One study discovered that goji berry helps counteract carbon tetrachloride toxicity in the liver.19
  • A goji berry compound called cerebrosides—a combination of sugar and fat (glycolipids)—was shown to protect liver cells from a toxic dry-cleaning chemical better than the well-known liver protectant milk thistle. 20
  • Pyroles, another hepatoprotective compound in goji berry, are unusual molecules that have a nitrogen atom in their central ring and were found to outperform goji berry cerebrosides in protecting the liver. 21
  • Drug contraindication

It should be noted that in a study of herbal medicines on pharmaceutical drugs, goji berry was found to increase the anti-coagulation effect of warfarin.22 Therefore, persons on anti-coagulant therapy should only use goji berry under medical supervision.

Conclusion

Based on scientific studies, we now know that goji berry’s unique polysaccharides provide potent antioxidative effects and anti-tumor, immune-stimulatory, and cytoprotective benefits. We’re bound to learn more in the near future about the physiological effects that the “King of the Berries” provides. So take advantage of the modern research and ancient wisdom of China, now. After all, the Chinese have been using goji berry for thousands of years. Isn’t it time that you tried it?

References

  1. Bernstein PS, Zhao DY, Wintch SW, Ermakov IV, McClane RW, Gellermann W. Resonance Raman measurement of macular carotenoids in normal subjects and in age-related macular degeneration patients. Ophthalmology  2002 Oct;109(10):1780.
  2. Snellen EL, Verbeek AL, Van Den Hoogen GW, Cruysberg JR, Hoyng CB. Neovascular age-related macular degeneration and its relationship to antioxidant intake. Acta Ophthalmol Scand 2002 Aug;80(4):368-71.
  3. Wooten BR, Hammond BR. Macular pigment: influences on visual acuity and visibility. Prog Retin Eye Res 2002 Mar;21(2):225-40.
  4. Shaban H, Richter C. Biol Chem 2002 Mar-Apr;383(3-4):537-45 A2E and blue light in the retina: the paradigm of age-related macular degeneration. Biol Chem  2002 Mar-Apr;383(3-4):537-45.
  5. Rock CL, Thornquist MD, Neuhouser ML, Kristal AR, Neumark-Sztainer D, Cooper DA, Patterson RE, Cheskin LJ. Diet and lifestyle correlates of lutein in the blood and diet. Nutr 2002 Mar;132(3):525S-530S.
  6. Mares-Perlman JA, Millen AE, Ficek TL, Hankinson SE.
  7. The body of evidence to support a protective role for lutein and zeaxanthin in delaying chronic disease. Overview. J Nutr  2002 Mar;132(3):518S-524S.
  8. Berendschot TT, Broekmans WM, Klopping-Ketelaars IA, Kardinaal AF, Van Poppel G, Van Norren D. Lens aging in relation to nutritional determinants and possible risk factors for age-related cataract. Arch Ophthalmol  2002 Dec;120(12):1732-7.
  9. Hammond BR, et al. Preservation of visual sensitivity of older subjects; association with macular pigment density. Inv Ophthalmol 1996;93:54-8.
  10. Young, G, Lawrence, R., Schreuder, M. Discovery of the Ultimate Superfood. Essential Science Pub, July 2005.
  11. Wu SJ, Ng LT, Lin CC. Antioxidant activities of some common ingredients of traditional Chinese medicine, Angelica sinensis, Lycium barbarum and Poria cocos. Phytother Res. 2004 Dec;18(12):1008-12.
  12. Zhao R, Li Q, Xiao B. Effect of Lycium barbarum polysaccharide on the improvement of insulin resistance in NIDDM rats. Yakugaku Zasshi. 2005 Dec;125(12):981-8.
  13. Deng HB, et al., “Inhibiting affects of Achyranthes bidentata polysaccharide and Lycium barbarum polysaccharide on nonenzyme glycation in D-galatose induced mouse aging model,” Biomed Environ Sci. 2003 Sep; 16(3):267-75.
  14. Wu H, Guo H, Zhao R. Effect of Lycium barbarum polysaccharide on the improvement of antioxidant ability and DNA damage in NIDDM rats.  Yakugaku Zasshi. 2006 May;126(5):365-71.
  15. Huang X, Yang M, Wu X, Yan J. [Study on protective action of lycium barbarum polysaccharides on DNA imparments of testicle cells in mice] Wei Sheng Yan Jiu. 2003 Nov;32(6):599-601.
  16. Yu MS, Leung SK, Lai SW, Che CM, Zee SY, So KF, Yuen WH, Chang RC. Neuroprotective effects of anti-aging oriental medicine Lycium barbarum against beta-amyloid peptide neurotoxicity. Exp Gerontol. 2005 Aug-Sep;40(8-9):716-27.
  17. Cao GW, Yang WG, Du P.  [Observation of the effects of LAK/IL-2 therapy combining with Lycium barbarum polysaccharides in the treatment of 75 cancer patients] Zhonghua Zhong Liu Za Zhi. 1994 Nov;16(6):428-31. [Article in Chinese]
  18. Gan L, Wang J, Zhang S. [Inhibition the growth of human leukemia cells by Lycium barbarum polysaccharide] Wei Sheng Yan Jiu. 2001 Nov;30(6):333-5. [Article in Chinese]
  19. Ha KT, Yoon SJ, Choi DY, Kim DW, Kim JK, Kim CH. Protective effect of Lycium chinense fruit on carbon tetrachloride-induced hepatotoxicity. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Jan 15;96(3):529-35. Epub 2004 Dec 8.
  20. Kim SY, et al., “New antihepatotoxic cerebroside from Lycium chinense fruits,” J Nat prod. 1997 Mar;60(3);274-6.
  21. Chin YW, et al., “Hepatoprotective pyrrole derivatives of Lycium chinense fruits,” Bioorg Med Chem Lett. 2003 Jan 6;13(1):79-81.
  22. Izzo AA, Di Carlo G, Borrelli F, Ernst E. Cardiovascular pharmacotherapy and herbal medicines: the risk of drug interaction. Int J Cardiol. 2005 Jan;98(1):1-14.

 

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