Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Amazing Health Benefits - Ninxgia Red Wolfberry

By Deborah Lindholm

The wolfberry has caused a stir in the world of health foods. Also known as the goji berry, the red wolfberry is grown principally in the Ningxia region of China. It has been hailed as one of the new superfruits and seems set to take its place as one of the most remarkable of newly discovered health foods.

There are two species of wolfberry, Lycium barbarum and L. chinense. Found in Tibet and Mongolia but commercially produced on a large scale in China, the red goji berry has been used in Chinese medicine for millennia. It has been cultivated in the West for several centuries as an exotic plant and was popular in Victorian gardens.

One of the beneficial properties of the goji berry or wolfberry is that, like other superfruits, it is a rich source of antioxidants, in the form of phenols. It is far richer in these elements than other antioxidant-rich fruits, such as prunes. Antioxidants are thought to protect against cancer and slow the ageing process.

Wolfberries are also high in vitamin C, with some measurements of dry goji berries putting vitamin C content as high at almost 150 mg per 100g, way ahead of fruits like oranges. However, lower levels have been measured in dried wolfberries. The berries are also rich in beta carotene, essential for healthy vision, and riboflavin (vitamin B2). They are packed with minerals, including zinc, selenium, calcium, potassium and iron.

Plant sterols, amino and fatty acids, polysaccharides and the carotenoid known as zeaxanthin have also been identified in the goji berry. The health benefits of these and other ingredients of the fruit are still being investigated, although some sellers have claimed them as a cure-all that even prevents breast cancer. This is not yet borne out by research, as food and drug authorities have warned. Buyers should be aware that the health benefits of the wolfberry are still being studied.

Legend has it that a Chinese man who ate goji berries daily lived to the age of 250. In Chinese medicine the fruits (and sometimes the bark) are believed to improve the skin, aid male fertility and vigor, boost liver and kidney function and enhance vision. Some substances found in the red wolfberry have been investigated by western medicine, with evidence that they may assist in a wide range of conditions, from hepatitis B to cervical cancer. Goji berries may have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, lower cholesterol and modulate blood pressure.

Ongoing research may confirm wolfberries as a wonder food. Consumers should be aware that juices labeled as wolfberry or goji juice are often juice blends, and that the quality of the fruit varies, depending on growing conditions, region of origin, and processing methods, amongst other factors.

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