Lycium (Lycium barbarum)
ALSO KNOWN AS: Gou qi zi, goji, gochi, wolfberry, lycium fruit, bastard jasmine, box thorn, tea tree, matrimony vine.
SUMMARY: The berries of Lycium barbarum, a perennial plant native to Asia and southeastern Europe, have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to treat poor vision, anemia, inflammation, and cough. They are also consumed as food and used in soup recipes.
Lycium has gained immense popularity in the United States over the past decade because of its antioxidant properties. It is available in health food stores and is marketed via the Internet in juice form, typically blended with the juices of other berries and fruits. A wide range of health benefits, including cancer prevention and treatment, have been claimed for lycium.
RESEARCH: The bulk of the data on lycium is from in vitro and animal studies. Human data are limited to observational studies. No clinical trials to validate lycium as a cancer treatment have been conducted.
In vitro studies show that a polysaccharide isolated from lycium has antitumor, immune enhancing, hepatoprotective, and neuroprotective properties. It also had radiosensitizing and photoprotective effects in mice, and lycium reduced cardiotoxicity associated with doxorubicin in an animal model.
In addition, lycium inhibited the growth of estrogen receptor–positive breast cancer cells. Small studies of lycium reported subjective improvement in well-being in healthy subjects.[9-11] Data from an observational study of 75 patients conducted in China showed that polysaccharides from lycium taken orally resulted in cancer regression when used with lymphokine-activated killer cells/interleukin 2 (LAK/IL2), an experimental treatment. Lycium’s anticancer potential, however, remains unknown.
HERB-DRUG INTERACTIONS: Warfarin. Two cases of an elevated international normalized ratio following consumption of concentrated Chinese herbal tea made from lycium have been reported in patients receiving anticoagulant therapy.[13,14]
COMMENTS: Lycium has not been subjected to rigorous clinical trials. Despite the lack of substantial scientific evidence, lycium-containing juices are marketed as cancer cures. Many brands do not indicate the amount of lycium present in the products.
1. 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. 2010 Aug 19. [Epub ahead of print]
2. 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.
3. Kim SY, Lee EJ, Kim HP, Lee HS, Kim YC. LCC, a cerebroside from Lycium chinense, protects primary cultured rat hepatocytes exposed to galactosamine. Phytother Res 2000;14:448-51.
4. 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;19:813-27.
5. 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.
6. 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;9:601-7.
7. 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.
8. 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;61:408-14.
9. 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;14:403-12.
10. Amagase H, Sun B, Borek C. Lycium barbarum (goji) juice improves in vivo antioxidant biomarkers in serum of healthy adults. Nutr Res. 2009;29:19-25.
11. 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;12:1159-65.
12. Xin YF, Zhou GL, Deng ZY, et al. Protective effect of Lycium barbarum on doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity. Phytother Res. 2007;21:1020-4.
13. Lam AY, Elmer GW, Mohutsky MA. Possible interaction between warfarin and Lycium barbarum L. Ann.Pharmacother. 2001;35:1199-201.
14. Leung H, Hung A, Hui AC, Chan TY. Warfarin overdose due to the possible effects of Lycium barbarum L. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008;46:1860-2.