Goji: Health Elixir or Pricey Juice?

It has been almost 500 years since Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León went in search of the mythical Fountain of Youth.

Although Ponce de León never found what he was looking for, the human quest for longevity continued.

Now nutritionist Earl Mindell, author of the bestselling book "The New Vitamin Bible," believes he has discovered an anti-aging secret in the juice of a tiny, red berry called goji.

"I have never seen anything like this," Mindell said.

Despite the fact that goji has only been tested on humans in one published study, a simple Internet search reveals hundreds of websites selling goji juice, dried goji berries and even goji plants.

Goji is now available in products on your supermarket shelves and has recently become the subject of some experimental cancer treatments. But does it work?

'We Are A Sick Nation'

Mindell said he learned about the medicinal properties of goji, also known as Lycium Barbarum, from an Asian healer he met on a visit to the Himalayan Mountains in 1996.

For more than 6,000 years, herbalists in China, Tibet and India have used goji because they believe it helps them regulate their blood pressure, prevent cancer, balance blood sugar levels and protect their body from premature aging, he said.

"In that part of the world it is not unusual for people to live to be 100 years old," Mindell said.

In Bapan Village, a remote town in Bama County of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China, seven of its 515 residents are centenarians, according to China's 2000 census -- that's 1.4 percent of the population. As comparison, only about two-hundredths of a percent of Americans become centenarians, according to Census figures.

"We're not dying of old age in this country, we're dying of degenerative diseases," Mindell said. "Wake up America: We are a sick nation."

Costs $50 a Bottle

In an effort to help Americans "look and feel 20 years younger," Mindell said he teamed up with nutrition supplement company Freelife International to produce his own Himalayan Goji Juice.

And even though the company makes no medical claims about it's goji juice, chief operating officer Peter Reilly said tens of thousands of people purchase the company's juice on a monthly basis.

"These are repeat customers," Reilly said. "And they take it because they like it, they like the benefits they get from it."

Freelife's juice is so popular that it is has become their lead product -- even at $50 per bottle. According to the company's April 2006 CEO Update, sales quadrupled between the first quarter of 2005 and the first quarter of 2006.

In an effort to bring the goji berry to mainstream America, Celestial Seasonings, the tea company, has added the fruit to their Pomegranate Green Tea, which sells in most major grocery stores, said Joe Beauprez, senior director of marketing.

"I can tell you the stores are really excited about getting ahead of a trend like this," Beauprez said. "And this is definitely a trend, not a fad. It's a trend that's on its way up."

Doctor: It's No Health Elixir

But until there is more scientific research on goji, Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine and an ABC News Medical Contributor, said he wouldn't spend his money on the supplement.

"If you're drinking this as a health elixir I would say it's a huge leap of faith," Katz said.

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