Goji berries: What you need to know about this Superfood

Originally published 02 October 2007 at   NewsTarget.com

by John Cole

(NewsTarget) Goji berries, goji juice, and snack bars and other products containing goji berries have become increasing popular over the past two years or so. Part of this is because some celebrities are reportedly consuming (and raving about) them, and part is due to their legendary health-promoting properties. Once only found in health food stores in the U.S. and Western Europe, goji berries are now appearing in a few supermarkets.


So Many Names

The scientific name for goji berry is Lycium barbarum, and the popularly used name “goji” apparently came from the common Chinese name for the berry. An additional common name often used in the west is “wolfberry”, and the berry has yet several other names, which are not frequently used. The name used most often in Japan in KUKONOMI. Some sources say there are actually two very closely related species, Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense, whose fruit is called the goji berry; other sites insist there is only one species, Lycium barbarum. Claims for more than one or two species may be just marketing ploys. The exact origin of the goji plant is unknown, and although goji berries are reportedly grown in several different areas of the world, any goji berries you purchase will most likely come from China, where the berry has been used in traditional herbal medicine for about two thousand years. The berry is of such importance in China that every August in Ningxia a festival is held at the time of the goji berry harvest.

Why You Want To Consume Goji Berries Daily

Celebrities are eating goji berries, and online companies are promoting all kinds of goji products with health claims that range from protection of the retina in your eye all the way to cancer prevention and even cure. But what is actually known about the nutrition of goji berries?

It’s often said they are one of the most nutritionally dense foods known, and this appears to be true. The list of nutrients, in high concentration, is impressive: plant-derived polyphenolic antioxidants; carotenoids such as beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, and lycopene; vitamins C, B1, B2, and niacin; more than 30 essential and trace minerals, including zinc, iron, copper, calcium, selenium, and phosphorus; polysaccharides; and 18 amino acids such as isoleucine, tryptophan, leucine, and arginine. That list may help explain why goji berries have the highest ORAC score among 46 foods (and one tea) listed on one web page. Goji is truly the best food to up your body’s antioxidant activity! Click here for a quick primer on ORAC and the list. And here is another web page with good info on ORAC.

Does 2 + 2 = 5?

However, even that long list of nutrients above may not be the full story behind goji’s high free radical scavenging power in the body. In science, there’s something known as synergism, and it basically means that the total effect is greater than the individual effects added together. In some cases, one agent helps stabilize or even promote another agent, for example vitamins C and E protecting and perhaps even potentiating each other in the human body. In goji’s case, the “missing link” may be superoxide dismutase (SOD). It is the antioxidant that scavenges one of the most damaging free radicals in the body.

In his 2003 book entitled The Metabolic Plan, Stephen Cherniske reported that beyond having enough of the nutrient precursors for SOD in your body, there was not much that could be done to slow down the age-related decline in SOD activity… except for the emotion of joy, proving again that being happy and laughing a lot really is good for you (Stephen Cherniske, M.S., The Metabolic Plan, Ballantine Books, 2003; page 73). Fast forward just two or three years, and suddenly we have research showing that consumption of goji actually increases SOD activity in the body! (The same foundation introduced two supplements in 2005, one that in their tests raised SOD levels in human volunteers; and one that consists of a wheat protein vector attached to SOD that prevents its destruction in the stomach and allows SOD’s absorption. The recent findings on goji convinced them to add 100mg of goji extract to each capsule of their supplement.)

Small Bag, Big Price

After reading earlier this year about goji’s ability to increase SOD levels, I decided this superfruit was something that I wanted in my diet every day. At the supermarket right across the street, to my surprise, I found goji berries, and was I ever happy! However, buying a 50-gram bag every day for 198 quickly made me realize that this was becoming a big-budget item. I looked around on the Japanese web pages, trying to find someone selling bigger sizes. I ended up with 5 kilograms for 5025 including shipping (1.005 yen per gram vs. 3.96 yen per gram for the small bags; that’s a little less than US$9.00 a kilogram – – or roughly US$4.00 a pound – – for the bulk goji berries). At first I thought I must have made a mistake in my calculations, or else the bulk product must be something inferior, so I recruited the help of my assistant here, who is a university student taking Clinical Nutrition at a reputable university nearby. We bought one more tiny bag, compared the bulk goji berries to the ones from the tiny bag, ate some of each, read the labels on both bags carefully, and decided that they are indeed the same product, from the same place (“China”).

After that I did a lot more looking around at various sites in the US selling goji products, and came away with the notion that there is a lot of marketing hype involved in getting as high a price as possible for goji berries. Claims like Tibetan Goji Berries, Himalayan Goji Berries, and any combination of the two are simply not true. Most areas of Tibet and of the Himalayas are at an altitude inhospitable for almost any kind of agriculture; the region is said to be arid and the soil of poor quality. Claims for “organic” goji berries are, too, unsubstantiated, since true organic farming as practiced in the US does not yet exist in China. A “Green Certificate” is in fact a mere agricultural training programs for poor, rural farmers in China; China’s “Green Food Standard” in fact allows some use of herbicides and pesticides. Click here for that information.

What’s In The Juice?!

Perhaps the highest-priced goji product available is goji juice, which has been promoted as a cure for almost anything that ails you, right up to the claim that it prevents human breast cancer (and, sadly, some people consuming the juice are convinced the juice has been proven to CURE cancer). One multi-level marketing (MLM) company routinely threw around the name of a prestigious medical institution in its advertising, along with a report on research done there, quoting numerous times “goji… inhibits growth of hormone-responsive human breast cancer cells…”, effectively promoting goji juice as a cure for cancer. An investigative reporter phoned the medical institution whose name was being used in such a fashion, and a spokesperson said definitively that they had no relationship with the MLM company, and wished that their name would no longer be used by that company. The reporter also caught up with the researcher who did the original “test-tube” research, and he stressed that his results were merely a preliminary step, and that his research had not demonstrated that the goji berry, or goji juice, is a cure for cancer even in mice, much less in humans. This goji juice is said to contain four “bioactive unique master molecule” polysaccharides, and seems to be formulated to concentrate the polysaccharides that are, of course, found in the whole goji berry. However, as shown in the video, other nutrients present in the whole goji berry are present in lower concentrations in the juice, or completely absent.       

Off To The Symphony

A few years ago one of my proofreading customers wrote a paper based on research he had done with a colleague from China on a Chinese herbal complex that was “very impressive” in inhibiting certain “chemo-endocrine resistant” cancer cells lines. After I checked the manuscript, he sent it to a mainstream western journal for publication. However, the journal’s editor rejected the paper outright, stating that the authors must isolate and test the “active component” in order for the paper to be considered for publication in that journal. That author told me face-to-face that the herbal complex was many components working together in ways that we cannot yet fully comprehend or test, and that the idea of isolating and testing any single component of it was absurd. (And, after that talk, I had no doubt as to what his first treatment of choice would be if one of his relatives were diagnosed with cancer…) It’s like after watching a symphony orchestra, someone asks, “Yes, that was beautiful music, but which instrument was responsible?” “All of them, working together harmoniously”, is the obvious answer.

Some mainstream medical journals serve the goals of pharmaceutical companies by insisting that only an “active component” is worthy of publication (of course in hopes of the research leading to the creation a new prescription drug that will be a big money maker). Some honest, sincere doctors, under the pressure to publish, become unwitting accomplices. Unfortunately, it appears that the MLM company mentioned above has been deceived into the same line of thinking (or else just went for the big “value-added” marketing ploy).

Wash Before Consuming

One thing I did learn from all my reading on the web was that any goji berries you buy have likely been sprayed with some agricultural chemicals, and that it’s best to wash them before consumption. (I also found “wash before consuming” on both the tiny and bulk packages of goji berries I bought… it’s surprising how much you can learn from just reading the entire label!) I used to just mix goji berries, straight from the bag, with some almonds, macadamias, or cashews – – they make a mix much superior to raisins & nuts. Now I wash them (I soak about 50 grams of goji berries in water mixed with a little vinegar for a few minutes, and rinse with tap water and then filtered tap water three times each), and unless you’ve dried them just enough in a toaster oven – – which I will try when the weather cools down – – they wouldn’t be good mixed with nuts. So one day, just off the wall, I put my goji berries into my morning smoothie, and… voila – – it was definitely a winner! (As Mike Adams mentioned in his aloe vera article, excessive blending could theoretically damage aloe’s mucopolysaccharides, so it might be best to add aloe as the last ingredient of your smoothie and blend it just enough. Goji’s polysaccharides are under investigation as one of the main ingredients responsible for the stimulation of SOD in the body, so ditto Mike’s caution when adding goji berries to a smoothie: put them in last and don’t blend the smithereens out of them.) Other ideas for using freshly washed goji berries are to mix them in healthful yogurt or pudding, in oatmeal or other hot cereal, or even in soups or stews. Most Japanese are, unfortunately, unaware of goji’s great health benefits, and use them sparingly, mostly as a kind of decoration on top of a dessert, but some people do routinely add goji berries to the rice cooker before hitting the “on” button.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that goji’s long list of concentrated nutrients in combination with its nearly unique ability to raise SOD levels in the body IS A BIG DEAL! Raising SOD activity has been proven to help prevent damage to the skin, eye, pancreas, and other organs and tissues, and to reduce pain and inflammation in arthritis. Higher SOD levels over a period of years should have an enormous impact on health, energy, and maybe even longevity. If I were forced to choose only one of the many foods, superfoods, and herbs I consume every day, I think I’d have to choose goji berries (with the chlorella / spirulina duo a close second).

Seasoned NewsTarget readers already realize that there is no “magic bullet” when it comes to nutrition (and new readers will catch on to this quickly): only an abundance of health–promoting foods, superfoods, and herbs on a daily basis can significantly improve and maintain your health over the long run. Consuming the goji berry on a regular basis, which not only provides you with an impressive array and concentration of antioxidants and other nutrients but also increases your body’s own SOD activity, does not need to burn a hole in your pocket if you buy goji berries in bulk from a reputable vendor.

About the author

John H. Cole has been editing medical manuscripts for publication in mainstream U.S. and European medical journals for the past 15 years in Japan. He also has a small English school in Gifu City, Japan. He believes that natural foods, superfoods, herbs, exercise, sunshine, good sleep, and avoidance of pollution are the answers to most people’s health problems. He is a friend of nature. You can see his editing page at: http://medical-paper-edit.freehostia.com/en/index.htm

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