Lycium

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Lycium

Common Names

  • Gou qi zi
  • Goji
  • Wolfberry
  • Box thorn
  • Matrimony vine

For Patients & Caregivers

Tell your healthcare providers about any dietary supplements you’re taking, such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, and natural or home remedies. This will help them manage your care and keep you safe.


How It Works

The safety and efficacy of lycium for chronic diseases has not been established.

Lycium berries, commonly referred to as goji berries, are used in traditional medicine to treat inflammation, skin irritation, nose bleeds, aches, and pains. Lycium is also used as a sedative. In Chinese medicine, it is commonly used with other botanicals for poor vision, anemia, and cough. As Goji berries, they are marketed as a superfood that are high in antioxidants.

Lab studies have identified polysaccharides from the plant that may improve immune response and effects of radiation therapy. Other experiments suggest Lycium may inhibit the growth of some cancer cells.

In humans, a few small studies suggest potential benefits in helping to lower cholesterol or blood sugar. However, data are limited and it has not been studied for cancer prevention or treatment. Well-designed clinical trials are needed to determine any benefits Lycium may have against chronic diseases.

Purported Uses
  • To treat aches and pains
    Evidence is lacking to support this claim.
  • To prevent or treat cancers
    Clinical studies have not been conducted to evaluate the anticancer potential of lycium.
  • To improve the effects of a specific cancer therapy
    A small observational study showed benefits, but further well designed trials are necessary.
  • To support cardiovascular health
    Limited data suggest potential benefit, but additional studies are needed.
  • As a sedative
    Evidence is lacking to support this claim.
Do Not Take If

You have lipid transfer protein food allergies: Hypersensitivity reactions have been reported in patients at high risk of plant-based food allergies.

You are taking warfarin or other anticoagulants: A few cases of elevated INR were reported in patients on anticoagulant therapy following consumption of Lycium products.

You are taking CYP 3A4, 2C9, or 2C19 substrate drugs: Lycium extract may influence how these drugs are metabolized.

Side Effects

Case reports

Allergic reactions: After eating Lycium berries, in people with plant-based food allergies considered to be at high risk for a reaction.

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For Healthcare Professionals

Scientific Name
Lycium barbarum, Lycium chinense, Lycium europeaum
Clinical Summary

The fruit of Lycium barbarum, commonly known as goji or wolfberry, is used in traditional medicine in several Asian countries to treat inflammation, skin irritation, nose bleeds, aches, and pains and as a sedative (1). Lycium is also used with other botanicals for poor vision, anemia, and cough (9). It is marketed as a superfood that is high in antioxidants.

Preclinical studies suggest that a polysaccharide isolated from lycium has antitumor (2) (10), immune-enhancing (3), neuroprotective (11) (26), and radiosensitizing (4), as well as hepato- and photoprotective (6) (12) effects. In addition, lycium appeared to inhibit growth of ER-positive breast cancer cells (13) and reduce doxorubicin-associated cardiotoxicity (17).

Studies in humans are limited. Preliminary data suggest improved well-being in healthy subjects (14) (15) (16), and hypoglycemic effects in type-2 diabetic patients (27). Other analyses point to the potential that lycium may have for liver disease, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes (28) (29) (37). A small study on lycium added to a healthy diet also suggests it may further improve HDL cholesterol levels (38). Protective effects on macula in elderly subjects have been described (19), and analysis of a lycium-containing formula suggests it might be a helpful adjuvant for dry eye (36), but additional studies are needed.

Data from an observational study suggest that when used with certain cancer treatments, lycium polysaccharides may exert beneficial effects (5). However, despite marketing claims of cancer-preventive potential, the efficacy and safety of lycium products for cancer treatment have yet to be established.

Food Sources

Goji berries

Purported Uses
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Pain
  • Sedation
  • Vision
Mechanism of Action

Lycium is rich in carotenoids and polysaccharides (38). The bark and berries contain betasitosterol, which can prevent cholesterol absorption in the gastrointestinal tract (7). The hepatoprotective effects of lycium polysaccharides (LBP) are in part via modulation of transcription factor NF-κB and MAPK pathways and autophagy (6). In another study, LBP antioxidant effects against insulin resistance were attributed to PI3K/AKT/Nrf2 pathway activation (24). It also exerted protective effects against focal cerebral ischemic injury by attenuating the mitochondrial apoptosis pathway (25). In murine models of acute pancreatitis, LBP reduced inflammation by upregulating NRF2 and HO-1 (30). Protective effects against diabetic peripheral neuropathy is thought to be mediated via autophagy induction (31).

LBP inhibited the growth of leukemia HL-60 cells (2) and increased expression of IL-2 and TNF-alpha (3). Antiproliferative effects may occur via activation of extracellular signal-regulated protein kinases (20). In H22 tumor-bearing mice, LBP alleviated immunosuppression and maintained antitumor immune responses (32).

Allergenic potential of goji berries has been attributed to cross-reactivity with lipid transfer protein from other foods (22).

Adverse Reactions

Case reports

Allergic reactions: Following consumption of lycium berries in individuals with food and pollen allergies (22) (33), particularly those with lipid transfer protein food allergies considered to be at high risk for a reaction (22).

Bleeding and elevated INR: In a 65-year-old man on warfarin after drinking goji berry wine. INR values returned to normal after discontinuation of the product (34).

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).
CYP3A4 substrates: Lycium extract induces CYP3A4 by activating pregnane X receptor (PXR). This may increase the clearance of substrate drugs when used concomitantly (23).
CYP 2C9 and 2C19 substrates: Lycium juice, water and ethanol extracts inhibit CYP 2C9 and 2C19 enyzmes, and can affect the metabolism of certain prescription drugs (35). The clinical relevance needs to be determined.

Dosage (OneMSK Only)
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]. Zhonghua Zhong Liu 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.
  26. Shi Z, Zhu L, Li T, et al. Neuroprotective Mechanisms of Lycium barbarum Polysaccharides Against Ischemic Insults by Regulating NR2B and NR2A Containing NMDA Receptor Signaling Pathways. Front Cell Neurosci. 2017 Sep 27;11:288.
  27. Cai H, Liu F, Zuo P, et al. Practical Application of Antidiabetic Efficacy of Lycium barbarum Polysaccharide in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes. Med Chem. 2015;11(4):383-90.
  28. Guo XF, Li ZH, Cai H, Li D. The effects of Lycium barbarum L. (L. barbarum) on cardiometabolic risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Food Funct. 2017 May 24;8(5):1741-1748.
  29. Kwok SS, Bu Y, Lo AC, et al. A Systematic Review of Potential Therapeutic Use of Lycium barbarum Polysaccharides in Disease. Biomed Res Int. 2019 Feb 12;2019:4615745.
  30. Xiong GF, Li DW, Zheng MB, Liu SC. The Effects of Lycium barbarum Polysaccharide (LBP) in a Mouse Model of Cerulein-Induced Acute Pancreatitis. Med Sci Monit. 2019 May 25;25:3880-3886.
  31. Liu SY, Chen L, Li XC, Hu QK, He LJ. Lycium barbarum polysaccharide protects diabetic peripheral neuropathy by enhancing autophagy via mTOR/p70S6K inhibition in Streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. J Chem Neuroanat. 2018 Apr;89:37-42.
  32. Deng X, Luo S, Luo X, et al. Polysaccharides from Chinese Herbal Lycium barbarum Induced Systemic and Local Immune Responses in H22 Tumor-Bearing Mice. J Immunol Res. 2018 Jun 3;2018:3431782.
  33. Zauli D, Mirarchi MG. Anaphylaxis induced by Goji berries. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2015 Jun;114(6):535-6.
  34. Zhang J, Tian L, Xie B. Bleeding due to a probable interaction between warfarin and Gouqizi (Lycium barbarum L.). Toxicol Rep. 2015 Aug 29;2:1209-1212.
  35. Liu R, Tam TW, Mao J, et al. In vitro activity of Lycium barbarum (Goji) against major human phase I metabolism enzymes. J Complement Integr Med. 2016 Sep 1;13(3):257-265.
  36. Lou L, Fu H, Liu H. The clinical efficiency of lycium-rehmannia pills in treating dry eye symptom: A meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). Jul 10 2020;99(28):e20887.
  37. Zhou B, Xia H, Yang L, et al. The effect of Lycium barbarum polysaccharide on the glucose and lipid metabolism: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Coll Nutr. Jul 2 2021:1-9.
  38. Toh DWK, Xia X, Sutanto CN, et al. Enhancing the cardiovascular protective effects of a healthy dietary pattern with wolfberry (Lycium barbarum): A randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. Jul 1 2021;114(1):80-89.
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