Goji berries have a long history of medicinal use in China, where they are eaten regularly and also enjoyed in tea form. A small study in Nutrients supports these brightly colored berries for the prevention of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in aging populations. Estimates show that 11 million Americans suffer from some form of AMD, and even more have risk factors for the disease, including smoking, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
Researchers studied 13 healthy people between the ages of 45 and 65 who ate 28 grams (roughly 1 oz or a handful) of dried goji berries five times per week for 90 days. A separate group of participants (14 total) were given an eye health supplement for the same period of time. Those in the goji berry group experienced an increase in the density of protective pigments in their eyes, called Macular Pigment Optical Density (MPOD). Those in the supplement group had no increase in MPOD, which is an optical biomarker for AMD.
Researchers credit the positive results to goji berries’ high concentration of lutein and zeaxanthin, bioactive compounds that have been clinically shown to decrease the risk of eye diseases associated with AMD. Interestingly, goji berries offer an extremely bioavailable form of zeaxanthin, which can otherwise be hard to absorb in the digestive system.
“These results suggest that even in a healthy population with no evidence of small drusen [yellow deposits under the retina associated with an increased risk of AMD] or early AMD, goji berry intake can improve eye health. Our results are consistent with data of improved MPOD after a similar amount and intake period of goji berry in a Chinese population at risk for intermediate AMD. Moreover, our trial is consistent with reports of protection against macular hypopigmentation and drusen development in a population of generally healthy and older (65 to 75 years of age) individuals who were provided Z at approximately a third of the amount of Z provided in the current trial (i.e., 10 mg/d of Z derived from goji berries). Our findings suggest that a higher intake of Z relative to L may be useful in reducing the risk of AMD.”
“This study shows that 90 days of goji berry consumption was associated with an increase in MPOD in healthy, middle-aged adults. In addition to L and Z, other bioactive compounds in goji berries may be involved in the increase in MPOD. Further research on goji berries is warranted as both a dietary strategy to reduce the risk of AMD and to serve as part of an integrative approach to mitigate the consequences of this disorder.”