Goji berries & eye health
| Educator
15th Feb, 2022Quick read

Goji Berries


Recent research indicates that regular consumption of dried goji berries may help to prevent or delay the development of age-related macular degeneration (1).

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a degenerative disease of the macula, often leading to progressive vision loss (2). AMD accounts for approximately 9% of all blindness worldwide and is the most common cause of blindness in developed countries (3). The cause of AMD is complex and multifactorial, involving demographic, genetic, molecular and environmental risk factors such as smoking, diet and sun exposure. The current treatment for intermediate stages of AMD uses dietary supplements containing vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper, lutein and zeaxanthin. No known therapy has yet been shown to impact the prevention or the development of early stages of AMD (4).

Lutein, zeaxanthin, and the isomer meso-zeaxanthin are macular pigments that provide oxidative defence and filter damaging blue light in the macula. These pigments are found in plants as xanthophylls, and increased dietary intake is proposed to protect against the development and progression of AMD (5). The concentration of xanthophyll carotenoids in the retina can be measured non-invasively and are expressed as macular pigment optical density (MPOD) (6). Low MPOD levels indicate an increased risk of AMD (7).

Dietary lutein and zeaxanthin are found in red, yellow, or orange coloured fruits and vegetables, egg yolk, and in some green leafy vegetables (5,8). Dietary intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin are strongly associated with their serum levels, as well as with MPOD (9,10).

Goji berry (Lycium barbarum L. and L. chinense), also known as wolfberry or Go Chi Zi, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2000 years (11). Goji berry is the highest known dietary source of zeaxanthin, containing a highly bioavailable form (dipalmitate). The intake of zeaxanthin dipalmitate extracts from goji berry increases plasma zeaxanthin to a greater extent than non-esterified zeaxanthin supplements (12,13). Other goji berry components such as taurine, vitamin C, zinc, and L. barbarum polysaccharides are beneficial in lowering oxidative stress and improving eye health (14,15).

The current randomised trial investigated the effects of daily intake of 1 serve (28 g, 1 handful) of dried goji berries on MPOD and skin carotenoid levels, compared to a commercially available supplement (lutein 6 mg; zeaxanthin 4 mg) among healthy middle-aged US adults (mean age 56 years) with no signs of early AMD. The results showed that a daily serve of goji berries, five times a week for 90 days, significantly increased MPOD in healthy adults. In contrast, individuals who consumed the commercial supplement for eye health over the same period did not show an increase  (1).

The berries in the study were USDA-certified organic goji berries from the Ningxia region of northern China. A daily goji berry serving provided 28.8 mg of zeaxanthin, which is substantially higher than the 4 mg present in the supplement. The estimated content of lutein in a goji berry serve is 0.15 mg (See Table 1).

The study results are consistent with data from goji berry consumption in other study populations. A similar amount and intake period in a Chinese population at risk for intermediate AMD showed improved MPOD levels (16). In generally healthy but older individuals (aged 65 – 75 years), zeaxanthin (10 mg/day derived from goji berries) protected against macular hypopigmentation and drusen  development (17). In people with low MPOD baseline levels, lutein and zeaxanthin supplementation improved MPOD (18). A meta-analysis regarding the effects of lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin supplementation found that the MPOD at baseline was inversely associated with macular responses, indicating that individuals with a relatively lower macular pigment status may receive more benefit with higher amounts of lutein or zeaxanthin (19).

This is a small (n=28) preliminary study, nonetheless, the results are promising and warrant further investigation. It is worth noting that participants in the study had a reported dietary intake of lutein plus zeaxanthin (not including the intervention berries or supplement), of 3.1 and 1.9 mg/d in the goji berry and supplement groups, respectively. This might influence the overall macular health of the participants compared to the general public with lower intake, although baseline MPOD measures were similar between the goji berry and supplement groups. Three to five mg/d of lutein and zeaxanthin have been recommended to help support normal macular function. No recommended dietary allowance values are available (8).

Adding a small handful of dried goji berries to the daily diet is an easy and safe way to ensure adequate intake of zeaxanthin and lutein and can improve macular pigments of healthy individuals beyond taking high-dose nutritional supplements.


Table 1

Nutritional and carotenoid properties in 1 serve (28 g) of goji berries (1)

Nutritional Content



95.1 Kcal

   Total Carbohydrate

21.4 g


0.4 g


2.8 g


2.7 g

   Total sugars

15.1 g




28.8 mg


225 μg

   Trans β-carotene

110 μg


13.8 μg


< 5.6 μg


0.15 mg



1Li X, Holt RR, Keen CL, Morse LS, Yiu G, Hackman RM. Goji Berry Intake Increases Macular Pigment Optical Density in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Pilot Trial. Nutrients. 2021 Dec 9;13(12):4409.
2Heesterbeek TJ, Lorés-Motta L, Hoyng CB, Lechanteur YTE, den Hollander AI. Risk factors for progression of age-related macular degeneration. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2020 Mar;40(2):140–70.
3Wong WL, Su X, Li X, Cheung CMG, Klein R, Cheng C-Y, et al. Global prevalence of age-related macular degeneration and disease burden projection for 2020 and 2040: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Glob Health. 2014 Feb;2(2):e106-116.
4Hernández-Zimbrón LF, Zamora-Alvarado R, Ochoa-De la Paz L, Velez-Montoya R, Zenteno E, Gulias-Cañizo R, et al. Age-Related Macular Degeneration: New Paradigms for Treatment and Management of AMD. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2018;2018:8374647.
5Eisenhauer B, Natoli S, Liew G, Flood VM. Lutein and Zeaxanthin-Food Sources, Bioavailability and Dietary Variety in Age-Related Macular Degeneration Protection. Nutrients. 2017 Feb 9;9(2):E120.
6Howells O, Eperjesi F, Bartlett H. Measuring macular pigment optical density in vivo: a review of techniques. Graefes Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol. 2011 Mar;249(3):315–47.
7Arunkumar R, Calvo CM, Conrady CD, Bernstein PS. What do we know about the macular pigment in AMD: the past, the present, and the future. Eye (Lond). 2018 May;32(5):992–1004.
8Ranard KM, Jeon S, Mohn ES, Griffiths JC, Johnson EJ, Erdman JW. Dietary guidance for lutein: consideration for intake recommendations is scientifically supported. Eur J Nutr. 2017 Dec;56(Suppl 3):37–42.
9Carpentier S, Knaus M, Suh M. Associations between lutein, zeaxanthin, and age-related macular degeneration: an overview. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009 Apr;49(4):313–26.
10Mares JA, LaRowe TL, Snodderly DM, Moeller SM, Gruber MJ, Klein ML, et al. Predictors of optical density of lutein and zeaxanthin in retinas of older women in the Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Disease Study, an ancillary study of the Women’s Health Initiative. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Nov;84(5):1107–22.
11Potterat O. Goji (Lycium barbarum and L. chinense): Phytochemistry, pharmacology and safety in the perspective of traditional uses and recent popularity. Planta Med. 2010 Jan;76(1):7–19.
12Breithaupt DE, Weller P, Wolters M, Hahn A. Comparison of plasma responses in human subjects after the ingestion of 3R,3R’-zeaxanthin dipalmitate from wolfberry (Lycium barbarum) and non-esterified 3R,3R’-zeaxanthin using chiral high-performance liquid chromatography. Br J Nutr. 2004 May;91(5):707–13.
13Karioti A, Bergonzi MC, Vincieri FF, Bilia AR. Validated method for the analysis of goji berry, a rich source of zeaxanthin dipalmitate. J Agric Food Chem. 2014 Dec 31;62(52):12529–35.
14Bungau S, Abdel-Daim MM, Tit DM, Ghanem E, Sato S, Maruyama-Inoue M, et al. Health Benefits of Polyphenols and Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Diseases. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2019;2019:9783429.
15Yossa Nzeuwa IB, Guo B, Zhang T, Wang L, Ji Q, Xia H, et al. Comparative Metabolic Profiling of Lycium Fruits (Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense) from Different Areas in China and from Nepal. Journal of Food Quality. 2019 Feb 17;2019:e4396027.
16Li S, Liu N, Lin L, Sun E-D, Li J-D, Li P-K. Macular pigment and serum zeaxanthin levels with Goji berry supplement in early age-related macular degeneration. Int J Ophthalmol. 2018;11(6):970–5.
17Bucheli P, Vidal K, Shen L, Gu Z, Zhang C, Miller LE, et al. Goji berry effects on macular characteristics and plasma antioxidant levels. Optom Vis Sci. 2011 Feb;88(2):257–62.
18Trieschmann M, Beatty S, Nolan JM, Hense HW, Heimes B, Austermann U, et al. Changes in macular pigment optical density and serum concentrations of its constituent carotenoids following supplemental lutein and zeaxanthin: the LUNA study. Exp Eye Res. 2007 Apr;84(4):718–28.
19Ma L, Dou H-L, Wu Y-Q, Huang Y-M, Huang Y-B, Xu X-R, et al. Lutein and zeaxanthin intake and the risk of age-related macular degeneration: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr. 2012 Feb;107(3):350–9.