Go-Go Goji: They're Berry Good For You
The next hot health item (no. 3271 and counting).
Credit: Rob Forbes
Ready for the next big health food cure-all? If you've been googling around for natural health remedies, chances are you've already come upon it: miraculous Tibetan goji berries. These little vitamin-filled wonders, native to the hills and valleys of Tibet and Inner Mongolia, have exploded into a health hysteria across the Western world (which repeatedly counts on the Eastern world to save it from its own bad habits).
Due in part to the publication Goji: The Himalayan Health Secret, by Earl Mindell (celebrated nutritionist of Vitamin Bible fame) and Rick Handel, goji berries are now extolled as not only one of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet but also an effective antiaging agent. As gojis are heralded on such Web sites as BeYoungNow.com or FountainofYouth-Gojiseed.com, you may well wonder what this is all about.
The story goes that the berries and their juice (selling nowadays for up to $50 per liter) are indeed the "secret" to a longer, healthier life. Gojis (the term is allegedly a colloquial Chinese name for the Tibetan variant of the Chinese wolfberry, also known as Lycium barbarum) have primarily been studied in various universities in China and the Ukraine over the last fifteen years. Allegedly, inhabitants of the Himalayan regions where goji vines grow live to be much older on average than people throughout the rest of the world. (Or could it be that thin air and long, frigid winters just make life seem longer?)
Gojis also score well beyond the highest point on the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) scale developed by U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers. This finding means that the antioxidants found in gojis can blunt the damage to cells due to free radicals produced over time. According to many goji-touting Web sites, the berries also contain at least eighteen amino acids, twenty-one trace minerals, scores of essential vitamins and fatty acids, more iron than spinach, more beta carotene and carotenoids than carrots, and more Vitamin C than oranges. In other words, this may be the most action-packed go-go berry since Chuck himself.
All this information may make gojis sound like the best thing since sliced tofu. Even a friendly skeptic who visits the Goji Health Stories Web site can't help but wonder where all these fervent testimonials are coming from. Surely a mere placebo effect couldn't cure everything from arthritis to acne?
"We don't think in those terms," says Bruno Schuitemaker, owner of Shen Nong Herbs, a Chinese herbal medicine pharmacy in Berkeley, California. Lycium barbarum, according to traditional Chinese medicine, is quite simply, he says, "good for the eyes, and as a tonic for the liver and kidney. It helps with blurry vision." Those benefits don't make gojis the be-all and end-all of berries, it seems, but whether that's because the Chinese-grown variety differs greatly from wild Tibetan gojis, as Gojiberry.com and other goji groupies declare, or because the front line in the war on free radicals has moved further into health food's terra incognita, is for you -- with that pricey jug of goji juice -- to decide.