Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Introduction to Wolfberry World (Goji World)

This blog was created 13 Nov 05. With 2 coauthors, I have completed a comprehensive science-based book on the wolfberry (goji berry, Lycium barbarum L.). Using a web-based POD publisher, Booksurge associated with, the book was published in June 2006 -- Wolfberry: Nature's Bounty of Nutrition & Health.

I will be entering information on this blog to establish a foundation for discussion about wolfberries (goji berries). Please join with constructive, critical comments and questions. I will do all possible to provide objective, scientifically-accurate information.


Blogger PMG said...

1. Who runs the wolfberry site?

The site is written by a retired neuroscientist, now a freelance science writer, living on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. I lived for 21 years in the US, graduating from the Ohio State Univ. (BSc), Univ. of Illinois (MSc) and with additional training at UCLA and the Univ. of Iowa. My PhD was in physiology from the Univ. of Glasgow, Scotland. I am a fellowship graduate of the Laboratory of Cerebral Metabolism, NIMH, NIH, Bethesda, MD and held my first faculty position at SUNY-Stony Brook.

I have written and published 85 peer-reviewed scientific reports and book chapters, most of which are publicly listed on PubMed. I also worked at Queen's Univ. in Kingston, Ontario and cofounded two companies, a biotechnology firm and a clinical research company.

With coauthors, Dr. Xiaoping Zhang and Richard Zhang, both Chinese-Americans, I have completed a book entitled, "Wolfberry: Nature's Bounty of Nutrition and Health", to be published in early 2006 by Booksurge Publishing. At present, I am the only writer for this blog.

2. Who pays for the site?

Thus far, this blog is wholly supported by me. Depending on the extent of interest generated by the blog, there may be a fee for this informaiton in the future.

Although some of the articles to be written will have information about nutrition books, research programs and institutes, pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology companies, or functional food manufacturers, none of the information here at the World of the Wolfberry will be bought or commercially motivated. For now, the information is presented solely for the benefit of public visitors to the blog -- I invite everyone serious about this topic to join in.

3. What is the purpose of the site?

There are numerous sources of medical and nutritional information available about wolfberries on the web. Some of these sources are legitimate and credible, while many others are not. Furthermore, many of the articles found on the web are written by individuals with no background in the medical or health sciences. The primary purpose of most public information about wolfberries is to sell juice products in multilevel marketing programs.

The goal of this blog is to provide credible news and objective information about wolfberries written by a PhD scientist with a solid understanding of the nutritional topics being presented. If I don't fully understand something of interest, I'll state this and find the best scientific information to support a discussion.

4. Where does the information come from?

The information on this blog comes from dozens of sources. I review every day various sources of health and nutrition news via e-newsletters to see what new information is being presented to the public. I also subscribe to electronic and paper journals which I review for interesting content. I also gather information from other medical sources, such as PubMed, online food and nutrition journals, texts, medical journals, and subscription services to create my blog postings.

5. What is the basis of the information?

I only take information from legitimate sources such as peer-reviewed articles in PubMed, publications from Chinese horticultural literature on wolfberries (translated by my colleagues), or well-written articles. At any time, I would be happy to provide citations for my source material upon request.

6. How is the information selected?

The topics to be discussed are selected based upon different chapters of the wolfberry book, what is currently appearing in the nutrition or health news, issues that I think readers might find interesting, and requests from our blog visitors.

I then research the topic as needed in the same manner that I would in writing a medical journal article to assure current content or a different interpretation based on science.

There is no one to review my writing, however, so I am always open to feedback from other bloggers if there are any issues regarding accuracy or even new information that has become available.

7. How current is the information?

Topics are selected and reviewed frequently. The wolfberry book was composed during 2005, so we believe the information there is up to date, even though much of it was retrieved from Chinese research published years ago. Some topics on wolfberries may not be time-sensitive, in which case the information is brought up-to-date with any relevant background from credible sources.

More next time.

November 13, 2005 6:49 PM  
Blogger PMG said...

I want to outline briefly how I will organize blog posts, so visitors can anticipate subjects and glimpse contents of the wolfberry book.

I am creating this blog to stimulate discussion, understanding, clarifications and to challenge myths or exaggerations about health benefits provided by consuming wolfberries.

To lay a foundation, my plan is to extract one-two of the most interesting points from each chapter of the book. I will also be examining broadly current news and PubMed citations of new scientific reports on wolfberries.

The order of content in the wolfberry book was planned to present most clearly the nutritional features of the wolfberry. Chapters on traditional Chinese medicine, botany/taxonomy, cultivation and harvesting, geography of wolfberry growing zones in the world, and processing of wolfberry fruit were organized after the discussions on nutrients.

I want to make this blog interesting and reasonably fulfilling so will devote individual blog posts to each of these topics.

First, however, let's get to the hear of the matter and outline content for the first blogs to come, as follows

* is wolfberry Earth's most nutrient dense food? Addressing that question was the motivation for research, thought and writing that went into the book. I'll cover a few of the introductory points.

* what phytochemicals and phytonutrients does wolfberry contain and how do these compare to other nutrient-rich foods?

* a discussion of the richest contents of vitamins and minerals will be provided

* wolfberry has two "signature" phytochemical groups -- carotenoids and polysaccharides -- what do these do in the body?

* Chinese research (with some other exceptions) has provided many implications for health benefits and reduction of disease risk. I'll list some of the trends that require more clinical research.

That's a sufficient list to keep me busy for the next few weeks. I expect posts will go up every 2-3 days unless notified otherwise.

See you again soon.

November 15, 2005 10:48 AM  
Blogger PMG said...

Is wolfbery Nature's most nutrient-rich food?

That's a simple but provocative place to begin. Other foods and berries have already claimed this mantle.

Just today, I was reviewing information on the Brazilian palmberry, acai ("ah-sigh-ee") at these two links

where it was stated acai is "considered to be one of the top Superfoods in the world."

and acai is

"...nature's perfect energy fruit. Açai is packed full of antioxidants, amino acids and essential omegas (the good-for-you fatty acids).

Analysis reveals that Acai pulp contains:

A remarkable concentration of antioxidants, to help combat premature aging, with 10-30 times the anthocyanins (purple colored antioxidants) of red wine. A synergy of monounsaturated (healthy) fats, dietary fiber and phytosterols,to help promote cardiovascular system and digestive tract health.

An almost perfect essential amino acid complex in conjunction with valuable trace minerals, vital to proper muscle contraction and regeneration."

Also this site

"In his #1 New York Times best selling book, “The Perricone Promise,” Dr. Perricone names Açaí the #1 Superfood on the planet. He also calls Açaí one of the most nutritious and powerful foods in the world!"

In the book, we selected a few other foods nominated by previous authors as the world's healthiest foods. A good discussion of these can be seen at the World's Healthiest Foods site

We chose spinach, flax seeds, papaya and blueberries to compare with wolfberries, then constructed numerous comparisons based on both the % daily value and individual nutrient classes according to this list

1. macronutrient content (e.g., protein, carbohydrates, fats, dietary fiber and calories)
2. fatty acids (in plants, omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids are of interest due to the "heart health" benefit ascribed to these fats)
3. essential minerals
4. essential vitamins
5. mono- and polysaccharides (dietary fiber and broad associated health benefits)
6. carotenoids, an important antioxidant class
7. phenolics, a class of water-soluble pigments with roles as dietary antioxidants, commonly found in Nature as bright colors in plants and animals
8. amino acids
9. trace minerals

All these nutrients have been described for wolfberries either from Chinese literature or from data provided by contract assay companies.

Sources for the other foods are not always easy to identify. We referred to the World's Healthiest Foods site and to a variety of other sources in credible nutrition or medical literature.

Discussion of these nutrient categories will constitute the next several posts, leading to a conclusion for the question offered at the beginning of this post.

When readers come online to this discussion, I will welcome input for your opinion on the food that qualifies as the world's most nutrient-rich source.

Think about that. What single source fulfills as many of the above categories as possible and has particularly high content of several of these nutrient groups?

That is where we begin assuming that wolfberry fits the description best among other foods.

My challenge here and in the book is to try to prove myself incorrect.

November 18, 2005 5:52 PM  
Blogger PMG said...

Macronutrient content: the macronutrient categories usually mentioned are protein, fiber, carbohydrate, fat, calories and water content.

Using soybeans as the comparator (soybeans, often mentioned as perhaps the world's most versatile nutrient source, were once called the "bean to feed the world"; data from World's Healthiest Foods,, let's look at macronutrients as a % of weight in a standard 100 gram serving.

Through independent contract assays, we've learned that wolfberries have the following (abbreviations, "w" for wolfberries; "s" for soybeans)

1. protein: w = 12%, s = 17%
2. dietary fiber: w =10%, s = 6%
3. carbohydrates: w = 68%, s = 10%
4. fats: w = 10%, s = 9%
5. calories: w = 370, s = 173
6. water: w = 95%, s = 63%

Synopsis of major differences:

Carbohydrates and calories. As we'll discuss later, wolfberries are replete with poly- and monosaccharides comprising both carbohydrate and fermentable fiber components. Known as a sweet fruit (brix of 26), wolfberries have a significantly higher carbohydrate load than soybeans, so may be considered a useful energy (calorie) source, as they have been recognized and used as snacks by Chinese peasants for thousands of years.

Water. a particularly juicy fruit, ripe wolfberries provide a higher water content than soybeans, contributing additional value as a juice or wine source, as increasing commercial applications in China attest.

Concluding our brief review of macronutrients, wolfberries as a fruit compare favorably in nutrition to soybeans, long regarded as one of the world's healthiest whole foods.

We'll continue next time with consideration of wolfberry's unique phytochemicals.

November 20, 2005 9:10 AM  
Blogger PMG said...

Wolfberry Fats

An interesting issue in berry nutrition is the content of poly- or monounsaturated fats in the berry pulp, skin and seeds.

I find the issue remarkable in itself, as few people would think that a fresh juicy or even dried berry would have much fat content.

Within seeds, however, the matter is more obvious and one expects fats to be there (for the regenerative benefit of the plant). But 10% of total berry weight in seeds?

I don't think so, making the consideration extend into other berry anatomical components like the skin for answers.

Wolfberries contain (presumably in their seeds) as much as 5.6 g of linoleic acid per 100 g of fruit weight, an exceptional amount of this heart-healthy omega-6 fatty acid. Other good fats in wolfberries include alpha-linolenic (ALA, omega-3), oleic, palmitic (omega-9) and stearic fatty acids.

As a reference to plant omega fatty acids, there's hardly none better than flax seeds which contain 22 g of ALA per 100 g.

Acai (previous blog) presumably has rich content of omega fatty acids. From Sambazon

"Açai is packed full of antioxidants, amino acids and essential omegas (the good-for-you fatty acids)."

Although we have no reason to dispute this claim, there is no scientific or contract lab report I could find on it.

Another native Chinese berry, seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), is also a fatty acid-rich source.

Some information on it comes from this site

which indicates heart-healthy fats both in the berry pulp (from macerated seeds?) and in the seeds themselves.

I'm open to an education from anyone on this topic but already know the partial answer: seeds need to contain fats for the regenerative good of the plant.

For humans to obtain the dietary benefit of plant fats, for the most part, we need to eat the whole food and grind the seeds in chewing to assure good fats are liberated for digestion and absorption.

Flax seeds can be our example for this lesson -- those little hard seeds likely have minimal nutritional benefit unless they are ground into powder before consumption or are well chewed during eating.

November 22, 2005 8:24 AM  
Blogger PMG said...

Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends!

Health Claims & Clinical Research Validation

Wolfberry has such a long history in China as an herbal medicine that traditional practitioners, shamans and Chinese from all walks of life would reaidly accept its acclaimed diversity of health benefits.

The more recent history of wolfberry is from its American branding as a superlative juice product.

I've tasted NingXia Red and Goji Juice -- both excellent products. Acai juice is wonderful and so is... Pom Wonderful, the pomegranate juice now appearing on store shelves across the US and Canada.

All these juices come from great berry sources (conceding that pomegranate really isn't a berry) and provide delicious taste with excellent nutrient qualities.

When one adds up the supposed health claims from these fruits, they're impressive for sure, but a skeptical eye doesn't take long to verify that few if any of the claims have actually been proven in credible research studies.

Whatever the long list of health claims may be from these "superfruits", they're going to have to pass through the ring of fire every scientific claim must earn to obtain approval from a stringent regulatory authority like the FDA or Health Canada.

In 2005, the Institute of Food Technologists

published a review by scientific experts of the functional food industry, outlining requirements for establishing credibility of claims about the health benefits of a food or juice such as wolfberry.

I recommend each visitor to this blog with an interest in marketing any fruit product such as a juice read this report for a perspective on how our industry will be judged for health claims.

Experts must agree that a “claim is valid based on the totality of publicly available scientific evidence, including evidence from well-designed studies conducted in a manner consistent with generally recognized procedures and principles.”

The standard of scientific validity for a health claim includes two components: 1) that the totality of the publicly available evidence supports the substance/disease relationship that is the subject of the claim, and 2) that there is significant scientific agreement among qualified experts that the relationship is valid.

As that chain of proof has not yet been fully established for any of wolfberry’s profile of nutrients, products, or associated health claims, we must remain reserved about what can be stated.

Really, the only way a manufacturer of wolfberry juice or any extract of a nutrient-rich berry could validate a health claim is through the rigors of the clinical trial process.

That is explained here

and here

November 24, 2005 6:05 PM  
Blogger PMG said...


Minerals are inorganic elements found in soil, taken up by plants, and provided to humans through the diet.

Some minerals -- perhaps 12 by nutrient lists -- are called "essential" because they need to be eaten via foods (are not synthesized in the body) and are critical to maintain health and prevent disease.

In recent research, a few minerals -- zinc, magnesium, manganese, selenium -- have become known as "antioxidants" for the roles they play as cofactors of enzymes with antioxidant properties.

During preparation of the book, it was interesting to compare wolfberry's mineral contents against the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of the essential minerals.

The wolfberry data were obtained by independent contract assays and the RDI values published by the US National Academies, Institute of Medicine via this link

Of particular note for wolfberry mineral content are these, with comparisons to RDI and comments to other foods compared in the book

1. zinc - at 2 mg per 100 g fruit, wolfberries provide 25% of the RDI, have 20x the zinc of blueberries and half the amount of flaxx seeds

2. selenium - providing 50 mcg per 100 g, wolfberries fulfill the RDI, have 50x higher than blueberries and 10x higher than flax seeds

3. potassium - completing a day's RDI with 1132 mg in 100 g of fruit, wolfberries have 15x the amount of blueberries and twice the level of flax seeds

4. magnesium - wolfberries complete the RDI in one serving, 109 mg, having 18x more than blueberries and half the amount provided by flax seeds

5. manganese - 1 mg in 100 g of wolfberries is the RDI, an amount 3x higher than blueberries and 1/3 the amount of flax seeds

6. iron - at 9 mg per 100 g, wolfberries meet the low end of the normal RDI range (higher for women), exceeding blueberries by 30x and flax seeds by 30%.

This type of comparison raises the question of what growing factors influence mineral (and other nutrient) content of a plant.

Questions readily coming to mind:

What intrinsic factors in a plant require it to sequester some minerals in such high contents?

What genetic, soil, climate, irrigation, pest, cultivation, etc. factors are important?

An intriguing possible answer to this last question are the soils in upstream regions of China where wolfberries grow along the Yellow River.

A region of the province called Gansu, called the "loess", is multimillion year old glacier dust that gets wind-eroded into the Yellow River, carried downstream as the most silt-laden river water in the world, and deposited over river plains in the autonomous region of Ningxia by annual floods.

More on this in another post: silt of Gansu loess origin, dense with minerals from the ancient ages, may be a highly important factor affecting mineral/nutrient density in Ningxia wolfberries.

November 26, 2005 1:00 PM  
Blogger PMG said...


Wolfberries have been famous (at least in Chinese literature) for many years as a rich source of vitamin C. Sometimes references to oranges are given as 2-4x the per gram content, higher in wolfberries. Its value in wolfberries is 29 mg/100 g fruit, about the same level as in spinach.

A whole orange (139 g) contains 69 mg vitamin C ( or about 44 mg per 100 g. So variations in such comparison between wolfberries and oranges exist, but wolfberries nevertheless are a significant vitamin C source.

Also, as with many foods colored red, orange or yellow, the content of beta-carotene is of interest for vitamin A (wolfberries are a bright red, see here

Beta-carotene is a pro-vitamin precursor to synthesis of vitamin A so it is required that the beta-carotene be ingested.

Although there are Chinese references to vitamin E being present in wolfberries, it appears this vitamin is localized in leaves and the stem, so would not normally be ingested by people eating the fruit.

These three vitamins, A-C-E, are the "antioxidant" vitamins having diverse roles in the body. As the vitamin most likely to be ingested in common foods (particularly fresh fruits and vegetables), vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin.

This has significance because ubiquitous water-soluble bioactives would distribute uniformly in body water and so be available nearly everywhere to serve its antioxidant functions.

As an example of this, vitamin C protects vitamin E from oxygen radical attack, even when the vitamin E is dissolved in intricate lipid layers of the body such as cell membranes -- a critical role.

The only independent assays available on wolfberry B vitamins are for B1-3, namely thiamin, riboflavin and niacin, respectively. Both riboflavin and niacin are high in wolfberries (1.3 mg and 4.3 mg, resp.) meeting 100% and 25%, resp. of the RDI for these 2 B vitamins.

In comparison across vitamins from wolfberries with those for other fruits and vegetables in our comparison, the riboflavin (B2) content stands out: no other plant we assessed came close to this level of riboflavin density.

Riboflavin is an essential vitamin that supports energy metabolism and is needed for synthesizing other vitamins. It is a cofactor in numerous enzyme functions.

November 28, 2005 5:55 PM  
Blogger PMG said...

Taxonomy and Carotenoids

Let's have a look at these two categories together. It will become clear quickly that they are related when one considers that wolfberries belong to the family Solanaceae, the same superfamily that includes tomatoes and eggplants.

In shape, wolfberries have characteristics both of the eggplant (overall oblong shape, like a football with round ends) and has the bright red color of the tomato.

Solanaceae is sometimes called the "potato" or nightshade family having immense diversity ranging from peppers to tobacco and petunias. Most of the plants yield a "berry" shaped edible fruit and have a corolla of 5 white, purple or pale green petals.

Briefly, wolfberry's genus is "Lycium" with no specific derivation other than a possibility that plants in this genus were thought to derive from the ancient country of Lydia.

Plants of the Lycium genus are typically boxthorns or matrimony vines of which there are some 100 species worldwide.

Wolfberry's specie or "specific epithet" is barbarum, interpreted as being a foreign plant to where it was discovered or thought to be native.

One often sees the letter "L." following wolfberry's botanical name, i.e., Lycium barbarum L., referring to its derivation in nomenclature established by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus around 1753, still in use today.


This is such an important discussion concerning wolfberry's phytochemical character and potential nutrient value that wee will need to consider it in more than one discussion.

Let's begin by stating simply that wolfberries contain 4 important carotenoids - beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin and lutein.

Note that despite its bright red color at ripeness, the berry does not contain the carotenoid lycopene (as does tomato).

Beta-carotene - the orange pigment that gives carrots their name and carotenoid richness - is called a provitamin because it is converted during metabolism into vitamin A, a critical antioxidant (particularly for the eyes).

Beta-cryptoxanthin is also a vitamin A provitamin.

Zeaxanthin and lutein, usually found together in nature, are somewhat disparate in wolfberries, as zeaxanthin is particularly enriched.

Zeaxanthin is usually found in egg yolks in the typical diet. It is also rich in corn and particularly marigold petals from which nearly all industrial zeaxanthin derives.

Lutein is typically found highest in green and yellow vegetables.

Both zeaxanthin and lutein have a fascinating preferential uptake by the human retinal macula lutea which actually is a yellowish pigmented layer due to this preferred uptake of the 2 carotenoids.

That is no mistake as Nature requires these two pigments to serve the dual role in protecting the retina: 1) as a filter of intense blue light (direct sunlight) and 2) as "resident" antioxidants lying in protective wait to quench free radicals that endanger eye health.

Much more on this category in a future post.

Note that from Dec 3 until after Christmas, I will be traveling and not likely spending much (if any) time at the keyboard.

Happy Holiday Season to all!

December 01, 2005 6:44 PM  
Blogger PMG said...

Sorry for the long layoff. Extended travel in central America and unexpected family matters have deterred thought and effort toward the wolfberry blog.

I've worked on dozens of galley proofs over my years in science but have not experienced anything as tedious as I discovered with the print-on-demand publisher who will print the wolfberry book.

Not a criticism, I just wasn't prepared for the tedium of online proof corrections, especially since there were hundreds of minor formatting and editorial corrections.

The first round is done, however, and the close scrutiny gave me reason to reconsider what an amazing plant the wolfberry is.

In the past few weeks, I have noticed reports in the functional food industry proclaiming the arrival of exotic fruits into the western (mainly American) markets.

Thankfully and timely for the upcoming publication of the wolfberry book, wolfberries (some call them goji berries) are among this new class of "functional" food sources.

I like it that wolfberries are being elevated to that definition as a "functional food".

Health Canada's Natural Products Directorate

defines functional food as

A functional food is similar in appearance to, or may be, a conventional food, is consumed as part of a usual diet, and is demonstrated to have physiological benefits and/or reduce the risk of chronic disease beyond basic nutritional functions.

With so little western research on wolfberries, and no definitive clinical studies published, it's a compliment to wolfberry's considerable Chinese lore and legend as a health food that it has been elevated to this status.

So be it, alongside with acai, guarana, pomegranate, papaya, mango et al., wolfberries are now among the vanguard of future tastes, pigments (colors and antioxidants), aromas, and uses in different food applications.

It's easy to allow the mind to wander to estimate where functional food applications may take wolfberries when their market becomes established beyond the current popularity as juice products.

Here are a few

* yogurt smoothies
* cereal bars (already exist from Young Living)
* mixed juice powders for a variety of beverage applications
* teas, wines, fortified water

Well.... someone else fill in a few ideas.... this is an area of predicting where healthful food sources and their raw materials can be delivered into the American and European diets either as principal sources or in combination with already established fruits, vegetables and grains.

In the next post, I'm going to get into the issue of how the (famous in China and other countries of SE Asia) wolfberry polysaccarides are a fiber substrate for yielding a class of one of our body's most versatile health groups -- the short-chain fatty acids.

January 23, 2006 6:31 PM  
Blogger PMG said...

Our task today is the polysaccharide (PS; have to invent this abbreviation as I somehow find that word tricky to type!) macronutrient of wolfberries.

Various Chinese literature indicates that PS occupy 25-40% of the weight of wolfberry fruit!, truly a major component with potentially extraordinary health benefits.

It's been fascinating (and amusing) to me during my research for the wolfberry book that previous (unscientific) authors have ascribed unusually significant and non-physiological roles to the PS.

"Master molecules", "commanders of function", etc.....

On the contrary, I think wolfberry PS should be viewed as almost passive (nonetheless important) macronutrients that undergo extensive physiological processing during digestion, yielding very important metabolites.

In normal PS metabolism in the intestines, PS from a variety of food sources (all fruits, grains, vegetables, seeds, fiber sources, etc.) become a preferred substrate for the simple process of fermentation -- yes, the same chemistry involved in making wine from grape juice.

I don't want to minimize the importance of this process in our bodies, however, because fermentation provides one of the most useful classes of metabolites in all of physiology -- the short-chain fatty acids, acetate, butyrate, propionate, valerate and caproate.

These fatty acids have several beneficial physiological effects in the large intestine deserving our closer attention below.

They make up about 90% of the total fatty acid yield from fermentation in the human body.

Insoluble fiber sources from plants, such as cellulose, typically undergo little fermentation so do not contribute new elements that may affect health. They do, however, bind water effectively so are valuable in digestion as stool softening agents with clear benefit promoting laxation and regularity.

For perspective, “probiotic” nutrients are those that add already-active bacteria to the intestinal tract from the diet. Included here are yogurts with live bacterial cultures and some fermented cheeses or milk products.

Dietary fiber in the form of wolfberry constituents does not contribute probiotic value in foods as the bacterial cultures must be live.

Introduced in the book and again here is a new concept for defining wolfberry PS as soluble or fermentable fiber sources, also called resistant starch by some scientists.

The PS or starch molecules are not really digested per se, but rather enter more subtle forms of body metabolism such as fermentation or absorption of water to create a gel mass.

Given this definition, an interpretation about the potential health benefits of wolfberries is gained from how other plant’s PS may contribute health benefits in humans.

For example, beta-glucans (present in oats and Ganoderma mushrooms) are PS that can modulate cell-mediated immune responses.

These agents are known as biological response modifiers. They appear to act by binding to specific receptors on T-cells and macrophages, causing cellular responses that include the production and release of immune-promoting cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukins.

Cytokines are messenger molecules that regulate immune and inflammatory processes. The presence of these receptors on immune cells provides protection against many bacteria and fungi that contain beta-glucans and similar PS in their cell walls.

Accordingly, this is one mechanism for how oats and mushrooms provide potential health benefits, likely also applying to wolfberries and their PSs.

The focus is on the digestion of wolfberries in the large intestine, the most heavily colonized area of the digestive system containing over a billion bacteria for every pea-sized amount of food entering the large intestine.

As the food mass containing wolfberry PS undergo fermentation, PS contribute a prebiotic value to the flora whose end-products include several short-chain fatty acids positively linked to a variety of health benefits.

Given the overall health importance of these fatty acids, we devote the separate section below to their possible actions.

Production of Short-Chain Fatty Acids

Available science supports the hypothesis that wolfberry PS undergo normal fermentation. This information allows us to postulate that all or some of their benefit as a fiber source is fermented to valuable short-chain fatty acids.

When produced by fermentation in the colon, short-chain fatty acids - primarily butyric acid, acetic acid and propionic acid - can increase absorption of minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium), inhibit growth of pathogens on the intestinal wall by increasing the acidic content (in science, this is called a decreased pH) of the lower large intestine - the colon - and by providing energy substances as food for the mucosal layers of the intestine. It is likely that an increased acidic environment in the colon promotes solubility of minerals and so enhances their availability for absorption.

Should these fatty acids be transported into intestinal venous blood or absorbed via lymph channels, they reach the systemic circulation and can be deposited in the liver and kidneys where they have useful roles in the functions of those organs.

From studies done on isolated liver cells or liver enzymes, for example, some authors have speculated that wolfberry consumption has a specific benefit for liver health.

Fatty acids also inhibit cholesterol synthesis and lipid deposition, stabilize circulating glucose levels (helpful in management of diabetes and weight control) and reduce uric acid levels (and so may relieve gout).

All these factors promote health of the cardiovascular and skeletal systems.

In conclusion for this blog -- wolfberry PS are substrates for fermentation -- an important digestive function that yields numerous short-chain fatty acids having a diversity of health benefits in humans.

January 24, 2006 6:31 PM  
Blogger PMG said...

Polysaccharides from Ganoderma (Reishi) mushrooms

Ganoderma lucidum is a native Chinese mushroom with thousands of years of use in herbal medical practices.

More fortunately for our consideration of wolfberry nutrient and health benefits, Ganoderma mushrooms have been extensively studied and published in peer-reviewed western journals.

Specifically, the polysaccharide (PS) component of these mushrooms offers a considerable research background pertinent to health effects of all PSs, including those of wolfberries.

Probably the most often-cited health effect of PS are their immune-stimulating properties.

In the Oct 2005 issue of the J Pharmacol Sci, Dr. ZB Lin of Peking University wrote (my highlighting and numerating)

... reports have demonstrated that G. lucidum polysaccharides modulate immune function both in vivo and in vitro. The immuno-modulating effects of G. lucidum polysaccharides were extensive, including 1) promoting the function of antigen-presenting cells, 2) mononuclear phygocyte system, 3) humoral immunity, and 4) cellular immunity. Cellular and molecular mechanisms, possible receptors involved, and triggered signaling cascades have also been studied in vitro. However, whole animal experiments are still needed to further establish the mechanism of the immuno-modulating effects by G. lucidum. Evidence-based clinical trials are also needed.

More than 100 different polysaccharides have been isolated from Ganoderma lucidum, the most active of which are in the form of beta-D-glucans.

The polysaccharide effect may be mediated through a cell receptor that binds with the beta-glucan polysaccharide.

The effects involve

1. inhibiting the growth and cell-division process of leukemia cells

2. inducing apoptosis (natural cell death) of cancer cells

3. stimulating interleukin production (an immune protein), inhibiting tumor activity

4. stimulating phagocytosis that engulfs tumor cells and neutralizes them

5. creating an antioxidant effect that absorbs and neutralizes radical oxygen species

6. inhibiting viral species, such as herpes simplex

7. inhibiting enzymes called polymerases needed for cells to replicate and so may stop cancer cells from forming and metastasizing (spreading randomly via the blood throughout the body)

Several important mechanisms are mentioned there. Summarizing,

1-4. represent an anti-tumor effect

5. antioxidant effect

6. anti-viral effect

7. anti-proliferative effect

Indeed, PS have great potential for health benefits from mushroom consumption, although we must wait for more conclusive studies in humans to confirm this.

As such studies have not been done to date for wolfberry, we can only speculate about whether wolfberry PS provide similar benefits.

But the information for mushroom PS gives valuable insights about such immune-enhancing properties and their mechanisms of action, at least for now in vitro.

January 28, 2006 7:46 PM  
Blogger PMG said...

Natural roles of biological oxidation and antioxidant pigments

A potentially long and complex subject, this post is intended to introduce a few of the antioxidant hypotheses for how a carotenoid-rich plant like the wolfberry could provide antioxidant protection.

First, we need to set in our minds that the plant has pigments like the carotenoids to mainly serve reproductive and environmentally protective roles.

Reproductive roles mainly would be to protect seeds from environmental stressors like ultraviolet radiation, intense sunlight, pests, diseases, and even oxygen during the process of photosynthesis and respiration.

Also, due to the rich color of pigments (carotenoids) in colorful berries like the wolfberry, another "reproductive" role of pigments is to attract pollinators (birds, insects, even animals) to consume the fruit, digest seeds intact, and spread them through droppings and transport to distant locations, helping to disperse the plant's genetic characteristics.

So the simple message about carotenoids is that they are pigments. A 2nd value of them is that they offer protection defined by Nature to be comprehensive against a variety of environmental stresses.

These same protective values are conferred to animals that consume the plant's pigments.

Next blog topic: the particular value of carotenoid pigments as antioxidants.

February 09, 2006 4:23 AM  
Blogger PMG said...

Plant pigments as human antioxidants

That title may be enough to convince anyone to eat color-rich and -varied fruits and vegetables to gain the antioxidant benefit from our diets.

Blueberries are famous for their antioxidant richness, provided mainly through a class of water-soluble phytochemicals called "phenolics", "polyphenols", "phenolic acids" and "flavonoids".

All those highlighted terms are from the same family of phytochemicals generally collapsed into the one term "phenolics" of which there are thought to be many thousands (perhaps 7000) in the plant world.

Yes, many thousands of phenolics in color-rich plants that humans can eat, gaining the same diversity and comprehensive "protection" that plants have devised through millenia of survival and regeneration in nature.

The phenolics are a different class of pigment antioxidant from carotenoids. The chemistry is different and the preferred location in solution is different.

Phenolics are "water-preferring", giving them wide dispersion in body fluids, i.e., wherever water is. That means intracellular water, extracellular water, and blood are the avenues used for dispersion of phenolics.

This further means that phenolic antioxidants have almost universal location in the human body. They would be dispersed everywhere, a benefit to us that provides a protective guard all through our bodies via the water compartments in and outside our cells.

Carotenoids, by fortunate contrast, prefer to locate in lipids or fat layers where they "reside" in wait to play their roles in and nearby cell membranes and other sensitive fat components.

What a fortunate set of circumstances for animals (humans) to gain this thorough antioxidant protection by eating a mixture of foods containing both phenolics and carotenoids (i.e., both water-soluble and lipid-soluble antioxidants.

By its design, wolfberry may offer both sets of antioxidants in its nutrient structure.

We know wolfberries are perhaps the world's most carotenoid-rich food, containing beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein and mainly zeaxanthin.

Above, I said phenolics numbered in the thousands whereas carotenoids are known to number about 600, still a sizeable category of potential antioxidants from food.

There are also preliminary (but not scientifically-validated) reports that wolfberries contain phenolics, such as ellagic acid, resveratrol and anthocyanins.

Future research will zero in on these antioxidant constituents, as this is an important and challenging area of food science.

One fascinating theory is that water-soluble antioxidants - by virtue of their greater ability to disperse and their greater numbers in nature - are the "front-guard" against most oxidizing factors. If an oxidant penetrates to cell (fat) layers, the carotenoids are there to protect those delicate structures.

Another interesting theory is that water-soluble phenolics protect the fat-soluble ("last resort") carotenoid (lipid-soluble) antioxidants.

This idea may be more than theory, as it is generally well-accepted in science that vitamin C, the universal, water-soluble antioxidant, has a main role of protecting vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant that is crucial for protecting cell membranes and their intricate fat components.

February 09, 2006 4:58 AM  
Blogger PMG said...

Not entirely facile with blogging, I have entered a discussion about Gary Young's new wolfberry book, Discovery of the Ultimate Superfood as a "comment" to the original post, as opposed to continuing this thread.

Please have a look at that, since it contains a discussion related to all those above this one.

May 07, 2006 11:56 AM  
Blogger PMG said...

Wolfberry book is now published, June, 2006

P.M. Gross, PhD, X. Zhang, MD and R. Zhang. Wolfberry: Nature's Bounty of Nutrition and Health, Booksurge Publishing, ISBN 1419620487, URL

June 30, 2006 12:16 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

I have seen Lycium sp. and I believe it to be (L. barbarum ) in Truckee, California.... Ridgway, Colorado and in the oldest areas of a few small towns in between -associated with Harrison's yellow rose and Saponaria officinalis as well as Humulus lupulus - Which led me to believe it was a plant that early pioneers brought with them across the west after reading more about L. barbarum, I'm inclinded to think maybe that it was brought to Truckee by Chinese railroad laborers - I see no information on the web relating to it's introduction into the US. I realize that there are 12+ native species but L. barbarum seems pretty distinctive.

I have tried to figure out what this plant is -for years. I've asked nurserymen, botanists and the historical society peoples -and none can identify it.

I ate a few berries today and they are bland -like very mild cherry tomatoes but I'm happy to know that I'm healthier for it.

Have you any information on this plants historical introduction to the US - 1800's or perhaps it is from European families,

I saw a picture from england of the plant (Duke or Argyl's..) with a big patch of Saponaria in the background.

August 27, 2006 5:57 PM  
Blogger PMG said...

Hello Eric -- thanks for visiting, good to have your input.

Other than attempts by Young Living to grow wolfberries near their headquarters in Utah, yours is the first personal reference I've had to US-grown wolfberries.

Interesting that you mentioned a tomato taste, as I and others detect that too -- which makes a very interesting flavor for a berry, sometimes offsetting to a few who try it.

The idea that Chinese laborers may have planted it is intriguing. There are similar stories of plantings by Chinese-Canadians in the Toronto area and in British Columbia.

The plant is "cosmopolitan", meaning that it grows readily in any temperate climate, but there is also evidence from the US Dept. of Agriculture that Lycium barbarum varietals can be found in most US states in soils that are bog-like (L. andersonii, the "water jacket") or even in the desert (L. californicum, "desert-thorn"), and all soil types in between.

21 varietals/cultivars are listed by USDA. Here's a link

There's reference to wolfberries planted within hedgerow projects in the UK, discussed in the wolfberry article on Wikipedia

August 30, 2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger mikeyctr6 said...

I am tring to find the difference between wolfberry and goji or lycium barbarum and lycium elagnus barbarum

March 25, 2007 7:13 AM  
Blogger PMG said...

Blogger Mikey has asked two questions both of which are most easily answered by referring him and all readers to the excellent collaborative article established and still, in fact, always, under construction on Wikipedia,

* are goji and wolfberry the same?

Yes, absolutely. See the etymology (word origin) description on Wikipedia.

* is Lycium barbarum L. the botanical name of wolfberry and is it the same as Lycium elaeagnus barbarum?

Simply, yes and no.

Yes, Lycium barbarum L. is the official botanical designation for wolfberry and goji berry as defined by the botanical databases referenced for the Wikipedia article.

No, Lycium elaeagnus barbarum is a fabricated name with no official recognition. "Lycium" and "Elaeagnus" are two distinct, unrelated species whose genetic distinctions are sufficiently disparate that they could never be cross-bred.

This is also discussed on the Wikipedia wolfberry site under "Importance of cultivar".

Thanks for the inquiries, Mikey. Good luck.


March 25, 2007 10:35 AM  
Blogger brendasue said...

does goji juice help with hot flashes and menopauseal symtoms?

February 25, 2008 6:10 PM  
Blogger PMG said...

Brendasue asks: does goji juice help with hot flashes and menopausal symptoms?

Menopause discomfort results from loss of female hormones that have been present over life, so significant body changes occur as a result.

There is nothing in goji fruit or its juice that could change these major physiological events or reduce their discomfort.

Likewise, there really have been no successful drug developments to help with menopause discomfort, each one in use having negative side-effects.

There is a good comprehensive article on all these issues at Wikipedia,

Best of luck!

February 25, 2008 7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is your feeling about the benzoic acid added to some of the commercial Lyceum Barbarum drinks like Ninjxia Wolfberry. Do you believe their could be adverse affects over a long period of time. Some believe benzoic acid in the presence of vitamin C additives can be converted to benzene.

March 03, 2008 3:18 PM  
Blogger PMG said...

Although benzoic acid is common as a preservative and has a negative image in the public, it is a natural phenolic acid synthesized by plants as a chemical defense against infections, pests and oxygen radicals formed during photosynthesis.

In consumer products, it is usually added in small amounts to inhibit fermentation -- 0.05 to 0.1% -- so serves a beneficial purpose and is not dangerous at these low levels.

There is a good article on it at Wikipedia,
which also discusses the benzene issue.

March 03, 2008 10:19 PM  
Anonymous kelly said...

the gou qi zi does help to blood lipid level to drop

November 10, 2008 7:57 PM  
Blogger PMG said...

There is no direct scientific evidence that wolfberry has this property but indirectly one could interpret a possible effect. Briefly, here's why.

Soluble dietary fibers like those in oat, barley and psyllium are approved by the FDA as cholesterol-lowering agents.

In gou qi zi are polysaccharides which are an excellent source of soluble fiber. Once consumed, these polysaccharides can be fermented in the colon in the same way as soluble fibers from the grains mentioned above.

Read this as background,

So by this indirect reasoning, it is quite possible that regular consumption of gou qi zi and its polysaccharides would provide a cholesterol-lowering effect.

Proof of such an effect, however, would have to come from scientific research including clinical trials in human subjects.

November 11, 2008 3:47 AM  
Anonymous said...

The description of the polysaccharides in Goji, specifically their fermentation in the intestine, seem similar to the fermentation of Fructooligosaccharides and inulin from plants like Yacon and Jerusalem Artichoke.
Are the Goji polysaccharides likewise built from fructose compounds? Are they in fact processed the same way, being hterefore useful as a pre-biotic?

March 21, 2010 4:29 PM  
Blogger PMG said...

Concerning wolfberry polysaccharides: Chinese research has focused extensively on polysaccharides which, by their and independent analyses in the US and Canada, are a principal constituent of wolfberry pulp.

Polysaccharide fermentation is similar to the same kind of fermentation of inulin and other kinds of long-chained sugars -- polysaccharides are extremely diverse in nature and perhaps one of the most common chemical forms of stored energy in plants.

From Wikipedia, here is a good explanation (1) --

(2) the role of polysaccharides as fermentable prebiotic (soluble) fiber --

and (3) the importance of prebiotic fibers (polysaccharides) for several positive health effects confirmed by science and acknowledged by the FDA for health claim statements on food product labels --

The benefit of polysaccharide fermentation derives through the production of short-chain fatty acids, the end-product suspected from fermenting wolfberry polysaccharides (not yet proven from eating wolfberries) --

March 21, 2010 6:47 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I have read on several occasionsthat wolfberry is supposed to grow wild in UK hedgerows. I am an avid walker and wild crafter and have never come across them myself... I am wondering however if people confuse Lycium barbarum with the Solanum dulcamara, which does grow abundantly in hedgerows.

Any thoughts?

September 09, 2010 12:03 PM  
Blogger PMG said...

I lived in the UK for 3 years, hiked the countrysides often in northern England and Scotland, and have never seen Lycium barbarum.

However, there seems other discussion and evidence that wolfberry has been present in the UK for at least 300 years --

The Scottish botanist, Philip Miller (1691-1771) -- /wiki/Philip_Miller -- was apparently one of the discoverers of natural Lycium barbarum in England or possibly imported it for planting and research at the time he was devising a binomial naming system similar to the one developed by Linnaeus and still used. One of the wolfberry species, Lycium chinense Miller, is attributed to him.

September 10, 2010 7:57 AM  
Anonymous Rinus said...

Nice blog about the goji berry! I'm a big fan of the berry and use it myself. I have an informational site about the goji berry and want to thank you for the information.

Best regards,


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