Most people may not know what a goji berry is even if they ran face-first into a bunch of them. Maybe that is to be expected of these smallish red sweet fruits that have been used in Chinese herbal medicine for centuries. But these berries, mostly produced in China and sold in dry form in the U.S., are increasingly popular and now hailed as one of the world’s superfoods.
Treasured by a growing legion of advocates who claim the goji berry in various forms can cure and or prevent an impressive range of maladies and health challenges that include stabilizing blood sugar to boosting immune systems, fighting cancer, detoxifying livers, boosting energy, promoting skin health and battling obesity. If that’s enough, these berries can also help people sleep better.
Now, however, research out of the University of California, Davis reports that just eating a small serving of dried goji berries regularly may help prevent or delay the development of age-related macular degeneration or AMD. Fighting back on AMD is not a small matter as it is the leading cause of vision loss in older people, affecting an estimated 11 million people in the U.S. and another 170 million globally. “AMD affects your central field of vision and can affect your ability to read or recognize faces,” Yiu explained.
The impact of goji berries is particularly impressive because so little goes a long way. UC, Davis researchers, in fact, reported that their study of 13 healthy participants aged 45 to 65 discovered that eating just 28 grams of berries—about a handful—five times a week for 90 days significantly increased the density of protective pigments in their eyes. In contrast, study participants who consumed only a commercial supplement for eye health over the same period didn’t show a boost in pigment.
The pigment increase is particularly beneficial because it helps filter out harmful blue light and provides antioxidant protection, both of which help protect the eyes during aging. “The higher the lutein and zeaxanthin in your retina, the more protection you have. Our study found that even in normal healthy eyes, these optical pigments can be increased with a small daily serving of goji berries,” said lead author Xiang Li, a doctoral candidate at the university.
A common ingredient in various Chinese treatments for “eye brightening,” goji berries are similar to raisins in China and eaten as a snack. Current treatments for later-stage AMD include special dietary supplements, called AREDS, which contain vitamins C, E, zinc, copper and lutein and zeaxanthin. Unfortunately, there is no known therapy for early-stage AMD. “Our study shows goji berries, which are a natural food source, can improve macular pigments of healthy participants beyond taking high-dose nutritional supplements,” reported Yiu. “The next step for our research will be to examine goji berries in patients with early-stage AMD.”
There is a caveat for all their benefits. WebMD warns that goji berries may adversely interact with some drugs such as warfarin (a blood thinner). They may also interact with diabetes and blood pressure drugs, all of which make to consult a physician before going on a berry-intensive diet.