DAVIS, Calif. — Just one ounce of dried goji berries a day can help prevent or at least delay the onset of age-related vision problems, a new study reveals. Researchers from the University of California-Davis found that eating the fruit improves the health of the eyes, protecting against macular degeneration.
“AMD affects your central field of vision and can affect your ability to read or recognize faces,” says study co-author Glenn Yiu in a university release.
Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among older adults. The condition affects the eyesight of more than 11 million Americans and around 170 million people worldwide.
The new study finds middle-aged adults between 45 and 65 who ate 28 grams (a handful or around one ounce) of dried goji berries five times a week saw an increase in the density of protective pigments in their eyes. The 13 healthy participants ate the fruit for 90 days during the experiment.
Conversely, a control group of 14 adults taking commercial supplements for eye health did not see any increase in the density of these important pigments.
Specifically, study authors say goji berry consumption increased the density of two pigments, lutein and zeaxanthin. They filter out harmful blue light and also provide antioxidant protection, two things vital to aging eyes.
“Lutein and zeaxanthin are like sunscreen for your eyes,” adds lead author Xiang Li, a doctoral candidate in the Nutritional Biology Program. “The higher the lutein and zeaxanthin in your retina, the more protection you have. Our study found that even in normal healthy eyes, these optical pigments can be increased with a small daily serving of goji berries.”
What are goji berries?
These berries come from the Lycium chinense and Lycium barbarum plants of northwest China. They’re a common ingredient in Chinese soups and teas. Many people even treat them like raisins, eating the dried fruit as a snack.
In Chinese medicine, researchers say goji berries have a reputation for having “eye brightening” qualities.
“Many types of eye diseases exist, so it is not clear which disease ‘eye brightening’ is targeting,” says Li.
In their review of goji berries, the team found the fruit contains high levels of both lutein and zeaxanthin. The form of zeaxanthin in the berries is also highly bioavailable, meaning the digestive system can easily absorb this substance into the body.
Better than current eye treatments
Macular degeneration stems from many issues, including age, genetics, environmental factors like too much sun exposure, and lifestyle habits such as smoking and poor diet. The early stages of the disease have few symptoms, but doctors are capable of catching it through extensive tests.
Current treatments include special dietary supplements, AREDS, which contain vitamins C, E, zinc, copper, lutein, and zeaxanthin. However, the new study reveals this simple and highly available fruit may do more for your eyes than high-priced supplements.
“Our study shows goji berries, which are a natural food source, can improve macular pigments of healthy participants beyond taking high-dose nutritional supplements,” Yiu concludes. “The next step for our research will be to examine goji berries in patients with early-stage AMD.”
The study is published in the journal Nutrients.