Health Care Professional Information

Scientific Name
Lycium barbarum, Lycium chinense, Lycium europeaum
Common Name

Gou qi zi, Goji, wolfberry, lycium fruit, bastard jasmine, box thorn, tea tree, matrimony vine

Clinical Summary

The berries of Lycium barbarum are used in traditional medicine to treat inflammation, skin irritation, nose bleeds, aches, pains and as sedatives (1). Lycium is also commonly used with other botanicals in Chinese medicine for poor vision, anemia, and cough (9). A polysaccharide isolated from lycium was shown to have antitumor (2) (10), immune enhancing (3) and neuroprotective (11) properties in vitro. It also showed radiosensitizing (4), hepatoprotective (6) and photoprotective (12) effects in mice.
In addition, lycium inhibited growth of ER positive breast cancer cells (13).
Small studies of lycium reported subjective improvement in well-being in healthy subjects (14) (15) (16), and its protective effects on macula in elderly subjects by preventing hypopigmentation (19).

Data from an observational study done in China suggest that polysaccharides from Lycium barbarum have beneficial effects when used with certain cancer treatments (5). It is unclear if similar effects can be observed with cancer treatments that are currently in use. In another study lycium was shown to reduce cardiotoxicity associated with doxorubicin (17). Well designed clinical trials are needed to determine Lycium's anticancer potential.

Despite many marketing claims of cancer preventive potential, the efficacy and safety of lycium products for cancer treatment have not been established.

Purported Uses
  • Anemia
  • Burns
  • Cough
  • Inflammation
  • Pain
  • Sedation
  • Skin infections
  • Visual acuity
Constituents
Mechanism of Action

The bark and the berry contain betasitosterol which can prevent cholesterol absorption in the gastrointestinal tract (7). The hepatoprotective effects of Lycium barbarum polysaccharide (LBP) are in part, via modulation of the transcription factor NF-κB, MAPK pathways and autophagy (6).
In another study, LBP was shown to act as a novel antioxidant against insulin resistance induced by high-fat diet through activation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/nuclear factor-E2-related factor 2, (PI3K/AKT/Nrf2) pathway (24).
It also exerts protective effects against focal cerebral ischemic injury by attenuating the mitochondrial apoptosis pathway (25).

LBP may have anticancer potential. It was shown to inhibit the growth of leukemia HL-60 cells (2) and increase expression of interleukin-2 and tumor necrosis factor alpha (3). The antiproliferative effects of  LBP are via activation of (extracellular signal-regulated protein kinase) (ERK) (20).

Adverse Reactions
  • Allergic reactions have been reported following consumption of Lycium berries in individuals with food allergies (22).
Herb-Drug Interactions

Warfarin: A few cases of elevated INR in patients on anticoagulant therapy were reported following consumption of concentrated Chinese herbal tea made from lycium (8) (18) (21).
Cytochrome P450 (CYP) 3A4 substrates: Lycium extract induces CYP3A4 by activating pregnane X receptor (PXR). This may increase the clearance of substrate drugs when used concomitantly (23).

Literature Summary and Critique

Lycium and related products have not been studied in large well-designed clinical trials. Research cited in this monograph was not conducted at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Amagase H, Sun B, Nance DM. Immunomodulatory effects of a standardized Lycium barbarum fruit juice in Chinese older healthy human subjects. J Med Food. 2009 Oct;12(5):1159-65.
Sixty healthy adults, aged 55-72 years, were randomized to receive Lycium barbarum fruit juice (120 mL/day) or placebo for 30 days. Individuals who took lycium juice showed a significant increase in immunological responses and subjective well-being compared to those in the placebo group. Adverse reactions were not reported.
Whether lycium products would produce similar effects in people with specific disorders is not known. Further research is warranted.

Dosage (Inside MSKCC Only)
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References
  1. Dafni A,.Yaniv Z. Solanaceae as medicinal plants in Israel. J Ethnopharmacol. 1994;44:11-8.
  2. Gan L, Wang J, Zhang S. [Inhibition the growth of human leukemia cells by Lycium barbarum polysaccharide]. Wei Sheng Yan.Jiu. 2001;30:333-5.
  3. Gan L, Zhang SH, Liu Q, Xu HB. A polysaccharide-protein complex from Lycium barbarum upregulates cytokine expression in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Eur J Pharmacol. 2003;471:217-22.
  4. Lu CX,.Cheng BQ. [Radiosensitizing effects of Lycium barbarum polysaccharide for Lewis lung cancer]. Zhong.Xi.Yi.Jie.He.Za Zhi. 1991;11:611-2, 582.
  5. Cao GW, Yang WG, Du P. [Observation of the effects of LAK/IL-2 therapy combining with Lycium barbarum polysaccharides in the treatment of 75 cancer patients]. Zhonghua Zhong.Liu Za Zhi. 1994;16:428-31.
  6. Xiao J, Xing F, Huo J, et al. Lycium barbarum polysaccharides therapeutically improve hepatic functions in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis rats and cellular steatosis model. Sci Rep. 2014 Jul 7;4:5587
  7. Law M. Plant sterol and stanol margarines and health. BMJ 2000;320:861-4.
  8. Lam AY, Elmer GW, Mohutsky MA. Possible interaction between warfarin and Lycium barbarum L. Ann.Pharmacother. 2001;35:1199-201.
  9. Bensky D, Gamble A. Chinese Herbal Medicine, Materia Medica, Revised Edition. Seattle (WA): Eastland Press; 1993.
  10. Zhang Z, Liu X, Wu T, et al. Selective suppression of cervical cancer Hela cells by 2-O-beta-D: -glucopyranosyl-L: -ascorbic acid isolated from the fruit of Lycium barbarum L. Cell Biol Toxicol. 2011 Apr;27(2):107-21.
  11. Ho YS, Yu MS, Yang XF, et al. Neuroprotective effects of polysaccharides from wolfberry, the fruits of Lycium barbarum, against homocysteine-induced toxicity in rat cortical neurons. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;19(3):813-27.
  12. Reeve VE, Allanson M, Arun SJ, Domanski D, Painter N. Mice drinking goji berry juice (Lycium barbarum) are protected from UV radiation-induced skin damage via antioxidant pathways. Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2010 Apr;9(4):601-7.
  13. Li G, Sepkovic DW, Bradlow HL, Telang NT, Wong GY. Lycium barbarum inhibits growth of estrogen receptor positive human breast cancer cells by favorably altering estradiol metabolism. Nutr Cancer. 2009;61(3):408-14.
  14. Amagase H, Nance DM. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical study of the general effects of a standardized Lycium barbarum (Goji) Juice, GoChi. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 May;14(4):403-12.
  15. Amagase H, Sun B, Borek C. Lycium barbarum (goji) juice improves in vivo antioxidant biomarkers in serum of healthy adults. Nutr Res. 2009 Jan;29(1):19-25.
  16. Amagase H, Sun B, Nance DM. Immunomodulatory effects of a standardized Lycium barbarum fruit juice in Chinese older healthy human subjects. J Med Food. 2009 Oct;12(5):1159-65.
  17. Xin YF, Zhou GL, Deng ZY, et al. Protective effect of Lycium barbarum on doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity. Phytother Res. 2007 Nov;21(11):1020-4.
  18. Leung H, Hung A, Hui AC, Chan TY. Warfarin overdose due to the possible effects of Lycium barbarum L. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008 May;46(5):1860-2.
  19. Bucheli P, Vidal K, Shen L, et al. Goji berry effects on macular characteristics and plasma antioxidant levels. Optom Vis Sci. 2011 Feb;88(2):257-62.
  20. Shen L, Du G. Lycium barbarum polysaccharide stimulates proliferation of MCF-7 cells by the ERK pathway. Life Sci. 2012 Sep 24;91(9-10):353-7.
  21. Rivera CA, Ferro CL, Bursua AJ, Gerber BS. Probable interaction between Lycium barbarum (goji) and warfarin.Pharmacotherapy. 2012 Mar;32(3):e50-3.
  22. Larramendi CH, García-Abujeta JL, Vicario S, et al. Goji berries Lycium barbarum: risk of allergic reactions in individuals with food allergy. J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol. 2012;22(5):345-50.
  23. Xu Y, Zhang Y, Zhou F, et al. Human pregnane X receptor-mediated transcriptional regulation of CYP3A4 by extracts of 7 traditional Chinese medicines. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2011 Jun;36(11):1524-7.
  24. Yang Y, Li W, Li Y, Wang Q, Gao L, Zhao J. Dietary Lycium barbarum polysaccharide induces Nrf2/ARE pathway and ameliorates insulin resistance induced by high-fat via activation of PI3K/AKT signaling. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2014;2014:145641.
  25. Wang T, Li Y, Wang Y, et al. Lycium barbarum polysaccharide prevents focal cerebral ischemic injury by inhibiting neuronal apoptosis in mice. PLoS One. 2014 Mar 3;9(3):e90780.

Consumer Information

How It Works

Bottom Line: The safety and efficacy of lycium products for cancer prevention and treatment in humans have not been established.

The berries of Lycium barbarum are used in traditional medicine to treat inflammation, skin irritation, nose bleeds, aches, pains and as sedatives. Lycium is also commonly used with other botanicals in Chinese medicine for poor vision, anemia, and cough. Polysaccharides isolated from the plant have been shown to improve immune response, improve the effects of radiation therapy, and inhibit growth of some cancer cells in laboratory and animal studies. An observational study conducted in China showed that lycium may improve the effects of certain therapy in humans. However, more well-designed studies are needed.

Purported Uses
  • To treat aches and pains
    No scientific evidence supports this use.
  • To treat burns
    This use is not backed by research.
  • To prevent and to treat cancers
    No clinical studies have been conducted to show that lycium is effective for cancer treatment.
  • To improve the effects of certain cancer therapy
    A small observational study showed benefits, but further well designed trials are necessary.
  • To reduce inflammation
    No scientific evidence supports this use.
  • To reduce skin irritation
    There are no studies to support this.
  • As a sedative
    This claim is not backed by research.
  • To reduce nose bleeds
    No scientific evidence supports this use.
Research Evidence

Immunomodulation:
Sixty healthy adults, aged 55-72 years, were randomized to receive Lycium barbarum fruit juice (120 mL/day) or placebo for 30 days. Subjects who took lycium juice showed a significant increase in immunological responses and subjective well-being compared to those in the placebo group. Adverse reactions were not reported.
Whether lycium products would produce similar effects in individuals with specific disorders is not known. Further research is warranted.

Do Not Take If

You are taking warfarin or other anticoagulants (A few cases of elevated INR were reported in patients on anticoagulant therapy following consumption of concentrated Chinese herbal tea made from lycium.)

Side Effects
  • Allergic reactions have been reported after eating Lycium berries in people with food allergies.
E-mail your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.