A small, delicate red berry, goji, also known as wolfberry, offers up big health benefits. A 1/4-cup serving of dried goji berries supplies 4 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, 5,600 international units of vitamin A, 12 milligrams of vitamin C and 1.8 milligrams of iron. However, goji's real star power is found in its phytonutrients, an array of plant-derived compounds with potent health effects.
Goji berries provide an abundance of zeaxthanthin, a member of the carotenoid family of antioxidants that provide the yellow, orange and red colors of many of your favorite fruits and vegetables. Zeaxanthin is found in high concentrations in the macula of the eye, the part that is responsible for your most detailed vision. A study published in the December 2005 issue of the journal "Plant Foods for Human Nutrition" measured the amount of carotenoids in goji berry and determined that goji is comprised of 0.03 to 0.5 percent carotenoids, as much as 56 percent of which is zeaxanthin.
A polysaccharide molecule in goji called arabinogalactan may work wonders to strengthen your immune system. A study on arabinogalactan published in the August 2010 issue of "Nutrition Journal" found that the compound protected study participants from pneumonia by increasing antibody levels. In a laboratory animal experiment published in the August 2012 issue of the "Journal of Nutrition," supplementation with whole wolfberry fruit decreased the severity of influenza infection, prevented weight loss and decreased virus levels in the lungs. Wolfberry also increased levels of immune cells and immune messenger molecules.
Earning high marks for anticancer benefits, goji contains a number of compounds that prevent cancer and enhance the effects of conventional cancer therapies. The effects of goji berry against cervical cancer were demonstrated in a study published in the June 2012 issue of the "Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture." In the tissue culture study, goji extract inhibited the cells from reproducing and shortened the cells' lifespan. Researchers concluded that goji showed potential to be developed into a chemotherapy agent for the treatment of cervical cancer. In a preliminary study, supplementation with goji polysaccharides increased antioxidant levels and helped protect against liver cancer. Further studies will be needed to confirm these results before goji can be recommended for cancer prevention in humans.
Blood Sugar and Cholesterol-Lowering
Goji berries may help lower your blood sugar and cholesterol levels and prevent Type 2 diabetes, according to researchers who conducted a laboratory animal study published in the July 2009 issue of the "African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines." Supplementation with goji berry for 28 days lowered fasting blood sugar, triglycerides and total cholesterol levels. The same compounds in goji may also protect against kidney damage caused by diabetes, according to a laboratory animal study published in the September 2009 issue of the "Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology." In that study, goji extract improved antioxidant activity in the kidneys and prevented diabetes-related damage.
- Clemson University: Acai and Goji Berries
- Stanford University: The Consumer Guide to Multi-Vitamins
- Plant Foods for Human Nutrition: Quantification of Zeaxanthin Dipalmitate and Total Carotenoids in Lycium Fruits (Fructus Lycii)
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- Journal of Nutrition: Dietary Supplementation with Lacto-wolfberry Enhances the Immune Response and Reduces Pathogenesis to Influenza Infection in Mice
- Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture: Lycium Barbarum Polysaccharide Inhibits the Proliferation of HeLa Cells by Inducing Apoptosis
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Tracey Roizman, DC is a writer and speaker on natural and preventive health care and a practicing chiropractor. She also holds a B.S. in nutritional biochemistry.