Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

What are goji berries?

        Lifestyle | Fruits & Vegetables

How Goji Berries Keep You Young

The Ningxia Hui region of Northern China, where goji berries are grown and eaten on a daily basis, has 16 times as many centenarians -- people 100 years old or older -- as the rest of the country. As residents of the region age, they are much more active, healthy and vibrant than their peers in Western cultures. The small, red goji berry, traditionally regarded as the "longevity fruit," is a key ingredient in their healthy diet. Researchers who study medicinal plants have identified a variety of nutrients in the goji berry that may help people enjoy longer and healthier lives. Let's look at the anti-aging properties of these small berries.

Protecting DNA with Antioxidants

Damage to our DNA opens the door to every imaginable disease and accelerates aging. In the course of living, our DNA is damaged by free radicals generated as a byproduct of normal metabolism and by exposure to toxins.

Although our bodies are equipped to continually repair themselves, they can become overwhelmed by too many free radicals, especially as we age. This results in the premature death of healthy cells, which may contribute to a variety of degenerative diseases and mutated cells that can lead to cancer -- unless antioxidants counter the onslaught.

Vitamins, minerals and amino acids may have antioxidant properties. Here are some of the key antioxidant nutrients found in goji berries and vital body functions they support, in addition to fighting free radicals:

Antioxidants in Goji Berries Body Functions Supported
Vitamin C Heart health
Beta-carotene Immunity
Cystine Immunity, healthy stomach lining
B2 (riboflavin) Conversion of carbohydrates into fuel
Manganese Healthy skin, bone, cartilage
Zinc Wound healing, fertility, vision, immunity
Copper Energy, hormonal function, healthy skin
Selenium Healthy liver, thyroid, immunity, cancer protection

Sources: Wolfberry: Nature's Bounty of Nutrition & Health and

Promoting Human Growth Hormone Production

Levels of human growth hormone decline as we age. A 70-year-old produces only one-tenth of the amount generated by a 20-year-old. This decline parallels physical deterioration, such as lower levels of energy, muscle wasting and a tendency to store more body fat. Boosting the natural production of growth hormone helps us feel, look and function like a more youthful person. Goji berries help our bodies do this in two ways:

  • Potassium: Goji is a rich source of the mineral, which is vital for health and longevity. Insufficient potassium interferes with the normal function of the pituitary gland, which produces growth hormone.
  • Amino acids: Certain amino acids promote the production of growth hormone. Goji is a rich source of l-glutamine and l-arginine, two amino acids which may work together to boost growth hormone levels and revitalize youthful appearance and function.

Enhancing Libido and Sexual Function

Diminished sexual function is not an inevitable part of aging. A lower sex drive in both men and women can be associated with decreased production of testosterone. Goji berries can help by increasing its production.

In Asia, goji berries are traditionally regarded as a strong sexual tonic. In addition, goji acts as a general tonic to improve overall stamina, mood and well-being. It can also help to decrease stress. All of these benefits are conducive to a healthy sex life.

Increasing Energy

The goji berry is an "adaptogen," a term used in the world of medicinal plants to describe a substance with a combination of therapeutic actions. An adaptogen invigorates and strengthens the system while helping the body to deal with stress without collapsing. It also supports healthy function of the adrenal glands, which tend to get overworked in times of stress.

Goji berries are considered to be an especially beneficial adaptogen in Asia. The goji is believed to harmonize functions of the entire body, resulting in enhanced stamina, strength and energy.

Improving Vision

The goji berry contains two key nutrients for healthy vision: zeaxanthin and lutein. These are concentrated at the center of the retina and protect the eye from the most common causes of age-related loss of sight, including macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.

Free radicals also attack the eyes, and zeaxanthin and lutein protect against such damage. Animal research in China has shown that eating goji berries can reduce free radical damage of the retina.

Controlling Cholesterol and Blood Pressure

Super Potassium
A 3-ounce serving of dried goji berries contains 1,600 mg of potassium -- four times the potassium in three ounces of banana.

Goji berries have the ability to combat two key factors that promote heart disease: oxidized cholesterol and elevated blood pressure.

Cholesterol becomes especially dangerous when it oxidizes as a result of free radicals, and the oxidized blood fats then attach to artery walls as plaques. Our bodies have a built-in defense system, an enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD). SOD produces antioxidants to prevent cholesterol from oxidizing, but levels of SOD decline as we age.

Chinese research shows that goji berries can increase our production of SOD, reducing oxidization of cholesterol. Goji berries also contain other antioxidants that decrease oxidation of cholesterol and help to control blood pressure.

Keeping Vital Organs Healthy

In addition to helping keep the heart healthy, goji berries help balance blood sugar and enhance the liver, digestive system and skin:

  • Blood sugar: Goji berries have been used in Asia for the treatment of diabetes and to help regulate high blood sugar, which is a precursor to both diabetes and heart disease.
  • Liver: Several types of phytonutrients in the fruit enhance the ability of the liver to detoxify and guard against the organ being damaged by carcinogens and the hepatitis virus.
  • Digestion: Goji berries are helpful for all types of digestive problems and can aid in recovery from digestive illnesses, such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Skin: Goji berries contain fatty acids, which can stimulate collagen production and retain moisture, resulting in younger-looking skin.

Improving Sleep

Goji berries are a rich source of two nutrients that are necessary for healthful sleep:

  • Thiamin (B1): The vitamin is found in the hulls of grains, but it is missing from diets that mostly contain refined grains. Thiamin also improves mood, alleviates depression and increases energy levels.
  • Magnesium: The mineral reduces the time it takes to fall asleep and improves the quality of sleep.

Supporting Brain Health