Goji berry, Lycium barbarum, has been widely used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), but its properties have not been studied until recently, said Dr Lily Choi, a certified acupuncturist using Chinese traditional medicine and healing therapy in New York City.
Taking to Instagram, Dr Choi added that goji berries have been used to treat liver disease in traditional Chinese medicine for a very long time.
“I recommend it to anyone suffering from liver imbalances and eye problems because of it containing taurine. Taurine is an amino acid, which is a building block of human proteins found in the brain, spinal cord, heart and muscle cells, skeletal muscle tissue, and retinas. Taurine is also present in leukocytes or white blood cells that reside in the immune system and play an essential role in protecting cells from damage. Taurine has anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory and immuno-modulating properties which can protect the retina,” she elaborated.
According to Dr Choi, research on animal models indicates goji berries can help with managing liver health and preventing the progression of alcohol-induced fatty liver disease.
Considering the economic burden of liver diseases such as chronic hepatitis B virus, liver cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma which “remain incurable”, development of more effective pharmacological drugs is warranted. Studies have shown the hepatoprotective, antifibrotic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiapoptotic, antitumor, and chemopreventive properties of zeaxanthin dipalmitate (ZD), a xanthophyll carotenoid shown to benefit the liver. Goji berries are a “major source of ZD,” she said.
What role does the liver play?
“The liver is responsible for manufacturing blood proteins. It also recycles iron from red blood cells and detoxifies chemicals in the body for removing waste. If an excessive amount of toxins tend to build up in the liver, it can affect its functioning,” Dr Jinal Patel, dietitian, Apollo Spectra Hospital, Mumbai said.
How can goji berries help?
Goji berries (also called wolfberries) have many health benefits — from stabilising blood sugar levels to promoting healthy skin to improving anxiety and depression. They can also help one to combat liver problems, said Dr Patel.
“According to studies, goji berries are loaded with antioxidants that support cells that enable the liver to perform detoxification. These berries can help cleanse the liver. If you are having any liver problems, try to include goji berries in your diet. But, consume as per your doctor’s recommendation only. Anything in excess can do more harm than good,” Dr Patel said.
Calling it a “superfood“, chef Ashish Singh said fresh goji berries “can be used as a garnish in dishes like rice pudding, and pulao.”
Mostly found in Asia, particularly in northwest regions of China, dried goji berries are cooked before they are consumed, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). “They are commonly used in Chinese soups and as herbal tea. Moreover, goji berries are used for the production of tincture, wine, and juice. Goji berries are high antioxidant potential fruits which alleviate oxidative stress to confer many health protective benefits such as preventing free radicals from damaging DNA, lipids, and proteins,” the 2019-review reads.
However, with present evidence, they cannot be recommended as prescription medicine for liver disease, said Dr Shanti Swaroop Dhar, associate director – gastroenterology, hepatology and endoscopy, Max Hospital, Gurugram. “They are increasingly being sold as food supplements. However, studies evaluating adequate dosage regimens, adverse reactions, and the long-term safety of goji berries and their products are scarce,” Dr Swaroop Dhar said.
Dr Swaroop Dhar added that there are “further concerns regarding hypersensitivity, allergic reactions and potential toxicity of some alkaloids present in these berries”.