Goji berries health benefits & side effects

 

Know in one minute about Goji berries 

  • Goji berry is a bright orange or dark red-colored berry also known as “superfruit” in North America and European countries
  • This fruit is packed with healthy nutrients and antioxidants has various therapeutic values.
  • It contains a high amount of bioactive compounds such as polysaccharides carotenoids (mainly zeaxanthin), vitamins A and C (like lemon).
  • These berries help to boost the immune system, improve vision and fight with aging.    
  • It is also employed to treat various diseases like cancer, diabetes, obesity, reduce inflammation, sexual dysfunction and metabolic syndrome. 

Introduction

Goji berries (Lycium fruits; Family Solanaceae) are obtained from two closely related plants, Lycium chinense, and Lycium barbarum. It is an ancient fruit popular in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2500 years. Goji berries health benefits are anti-aging, antioxidant, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, cytoprotective, neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory and immune-modulatory properties

These are bright orange or dark red-colored (1–2 cm long), the pulp is fleshy and soft in texture.  They are sweet and tangy flavor, eaten raw, drunk as a juice, wine, or tea. These berries are also processed to make tinctures, powders, and tablets. Two types of goji berry available in the market such as black goji berry and red goji berry. A research study suggested that phenolics and antioxidant capacities are much higher in black goji berry than red goji berry. Whereas red goji berry contains a higher amount of carotenoid content than a black one. However other nutrition such as linoleic, palmitic, and oleic acids are higher in the fruits of both species (1)

History

Goji berry was discovered by the Swedish botanist, Carolus Linnaeus in 1753.

Common names

Wolfberry (in English), Gouqizi (in China), Gugija (in Korea), Kuko (in Japan). It is also known as Chinese Goji berry, mede berry, barbary matrimony vine, bocksdorn,  Murali, red medlar, Fructus lycii, and Goji berries boxthorn. 

Geographical distribution

Goji berry is a local food that is widely distributed in the arid and semi-arid regions of China, Korea, Japan, Europe, Mongolia, and the Tibetan Himalayas.  

Main constitutes of Goji berry

Major constituents of goji berries include polysaccharides (30% of the pulp), carotenoids (mainly zeaxanthin), vitamins, fatty acids, betaine, and peptidoglycans (2). The content of vitamin C (up to 42 mg/100 g) in goji berry is comparable to that of fresh lemon fruits (3).  

Nutritional value of Goji berry 

According to USDA fresh as well as dry goji berry is a rich source of protein, dietary fiber, calcium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and other compounds per 100 g is as follows(4).   

Compound Amounts per 100 g.
Water  7.5 g
Energy  349 Kcal
Protein  14.26 g
Total lipid (fat)  0.39 g
Carbohydrate 77.06 g
Fiber, total dietary  13 g
Sugar 45.61 g
Calcium 190 mg
Iron, Fe  6.8 mg
Sodium  298 mg
Vitamin C 48.4 mg
Vitamin A, IU 26822 IU
Cholesterol  0 mg

Goji berries health benefits

Following are the main Goji berries health benefits due to its rich in polysaccharides, phenols and carotenoid.

1. The presence of a high amount of antioxidants and nutrients in Goji berries

Goji berries have recently gained limelight and are also known by “superfruit” in North America and European countries. It contains a high amount of antioxidant compounds such as carbohydrates, polysaccharides, carotenoids, flavonoids and phenolics which exhibit health-promoting properties. These compounds fight against harmful radicals, oxidative stress, and inflammation as well as improve the immunity of the body (3).

2. Good for the eye

The goji berry is an excellent source of polysaccharides, betaine and carotenoid (especially zeaxanthin up to 60%), a key component of vitamin A. These bioactive compounds improve visual function; reduce cell damage or degeneration and dry eye disease symptoms. It also contains taurine (amino acid) which may block the damage of cells (diabetic retinopathy) in a diabetic person (5).  

It halts the progression of vision loss from age-related macular degeneration in older people (6).

3. Manage diabetes

A polysaccharide found in goji berry is effective to decrease serum glucose levels and increase good cholesterol in type 2 diabetes patients. Consumption of goji berry (3 months) shows a wonderful effect on those people who did not take any hypoglycemic medicine compared to patients taking hypoglycemic medicines (7).

4. Anti-aging properties of Goji berry

It is a powerful pack of bioactive compounds (polysaccharides, betaine, phenolics, carotenoids, and cerebroside). It also contains ascorbic acid, β-sitosterol, flavonoids and vitamins (in particular, riboflavin, thiamine, and ascorbic acid). These nutrients have antioxidant, immunoregulatory, anti-apoptotic activities and reducing DNA damage properties. Thus, the intake of goji berry helps to reduce age-related oxidative stress and enhance the activity of antioxidant enzymes (8)

Goji berry can protect neurons from damage by various agents that cause diseases (9).  Thus, treats age-associated neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (10).

5. Anti-inflammatory properties of Goji berry

The high amount of phenolic compounds (quercetin, rutin) helps to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress (11).

6. Anticancer properties

Goji berry (10 mg/kg) is loaded with polysaccharide and protein helps to inhibit cancer cells like breast cancer, induce apoptosis and improves the immune system (12)(13)

7. Goji berry treat sexual dysfunction

The polysaccharide is an active component of goji berry used in traditional Chinese medicine. It helps to increase sex hormone levels, improve sperm quantity and quality and treat penis erection dysfunction. Therefore, these berries are beneficial for the treatment of infertility and sexual dysfunction and improve the reproductive system (14).

8. Improve overall health

Oral consumption of goji berry juice (120 ml/day) for 14 days increases energy level, quality of sleep and ease of awakening.  It also improves the ability to focus on activities, mental acuity, calmness, and feelings of health, contentment, and happiness.  Moreover, these berries also reduce fatigue and stress, improved athletic performance as well as gastrointestinal function (15).

9. Treat Metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a complex of diseases which includes cardiovascular disease, abdominal obesity, dyslipidemia, and type 2 diabetes mellitus. 14 g of goji berry for 45 days increases the antioxidant protection of plasma and whole blood, thereby lowering the oxidative stress. 

This berry also helps to decrease the concentration of total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and triglycerides and increased concentration of HDL-cholesterol levels (16)

Long-term ingestion of these berries is also effective for the reduction of abdominal fat (waist circumference) and lipid peroxidation (17).  Thus goji berry increases metabolic rate and protects against the development of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and related complications (18).

10. Boost immunity

A research study suggested that 150 g of fresh goji berry, for 30 days by older healthy adults (55-72 years old) improves the immune system. Daily consumption of goji berry increases general feelings of well-being, such as fatigue and sleep, and boosts short term memory. It also increases in the number of lymphocytes and improves focus without any adverse effect on the elderly (19)

Side effect of Goji berry

1. Risk of food allergy

The person who is allergic to peach peel and a protein called panallergen nonspecific lipid transfer protein should avoid goji berry.  It may cause allergy with symptoms like hives, nausea, dizziness, or wheezing (20).

2. Goji berry may cause drug interaction

The individual who is already under medication like warfarin, blood sugar, and blood pressure drug should avoid consumption of goji berry. It may cause serious health problems. 

Goji and drug interaction result in bleeding from the nose (epistaxis), under the skin (bruising) and rectal bleeding. However, these symptoms are resolved with goji berry discontinuation and other medicine but precaution should be needed before consumption (21)

Moreover, goji tea contains the same interaction with this drug (warfarin) because goji may enhance the anticoagulant action of warfarin.  So people should avoid all herbal drinks, which contain Goji berry while they are taking warfarin (22).

3. Risks of Anaphylaxis

Ingestion of goji berry also causes anaphylaxis, a serious, life-threatening allergic condition. The symptoms of anaphylaxis include skin rash, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, gastrointestinal issues, and shock. Therefore, precaution should be needed before consumption (23).

4. Risks of pollen allergy with other fruits

Anyone with an allergy to tomatoes, tobacco, and nuts should consult the doctor before consuming goji berry (24). It may cause sensitization and show strong cross-reactivity of goji berry with tomato, tobacco, nuts and Artemisia pollen (25).

5. Goji berry may cause liver injury

A research study reported that consumption of goji berry tea 3 times a day may cause inflammation in the liver, mild jaundice.  This goji berry may affect the liver with symptoms like non-bloody diarrhea, weakness (asthenia) and colic abdominal pain. Therefore, the individuals with gastrointestinal conditions should avoid consumption of goji berries which may cause autoimmune hepatitis.

6. Risk of skin problem

A person who has already skin conditions may develop redness of the skin caused by dilatation and congestion of the capillaries (generalized erythematous).  It also causes flat and raised lesions on the skin (pruriginous maculopapular rash) after intake of goji berries (26).

7. Presence of Atropine

Atropine, a toxic alkaloid, is naturally found in goji berry however this content is far below toxic levels.

Q&A

What are the side effects of goji berries?

  • An excessive amount of goji berries may cause food allergy, including skin problems, anaphylaxis, nausea, and vomiting as well as a pollen allergy.  
  • Goji berry acts as a natural anticoagulant agent and can interact with warfarin (blood thinner drug).
  • When used in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia and those taking drugs, goji berry may affect blood sugar. Goji berry consumption is the main imbalance or too much low blood sugar level.
  • If you are taking blood pressure drugs, you should avoid herbs or supplements like goji berry which may decrease blood pressure very low.
  • The patients who are undergoing radiation therapy should avoid the ingestion of goji berries. The polysaccharide of this berry may combine with radiation and may show a radiosensitizing effect. 
  • The person who is suffering from the gastrointestinal disease should stay away from these berries. Because it may cause autoimmune hepatitis (liver swelling and jaundice). 
  • There is no research available to prove the safety of these berries in pregnancy and breastfeed women. Goji may stimulate the uterus, thus you should keep away from this berry because no one knows its long term effect (27).  

How many goji berries should you eat a day?

The optimum dosage of the goji berry is not standardizing worldwide because it may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. A well-known standardization for goji is lacking.

A research study suggested that 120 milliliters of goji berry juice containing polysaccharides that were equivalent to those found in 150 g of fresh fruit goji berry (15).

On average 6–15 g daily of goji berries (dried) can be used for adults but children there is no data available. Although it may vary when incorporated into herb formulas for treating diseases

  • For the treatment of atrophic gastritis- 10 g of goji berry twice daily recommended.
  • To supply adequate zeaxanthin (Form of vitamin A) for eye health – 15 g of goji berries per day is beneficial.

However, these dosage ranges of goji berry may alter to 15-30 grams (2- to 5-fold increases) when it is used as a single herb remedy (28)

Why are goji berries bad for you?

Nope, generally goji berries in moderate amounts are not bad for you. However, people who are under medication should consult a doctor before use.  

How do you eat goji berries?

  • Goji berries are available in various forms like fresh or dried, in tablet or powder, superfood mixes, or as a juice or liquid extract forms
  • People can buy goji berries online from various sites, also available in health food stores and markets. 
  • Earlier people usually cooked before consumption but now you can add fresh and dry goji berries to various dishes like fruit smoothies or as a tart ingredient in savory dishes.
  • Goji berry may be used as a snack and also be made into wine.
  • If you want to make goji berry soup or tea it may soak in hot water for 5–10 minutes. It makes them soft and plump then boils, add lemon and consume while warm.

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