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Goji (Lycium spp.)

Background | Evidence Table | Traditional Uses | Dosing | Safety | Interactions | Attribution

Synonyms

Barbary wolfberry, betaine, boxthorn, carotenoids, Chinese boxthorn, Chinese matrimony vine, Chinese wolfberry, Digupi, Di Gu Pi, dried wolfberries, fructus Lycii, fructus Lycii berry, fructus Lycium barbarum L., goji berry, goji juice, gou qi (Chinese), gouqi (Chinese), gou qi zi (Chinese), gouqizi (Chinese), Kei Tze, L. exsertum, L. fremontii, lutein, Lycii berries, Lycii chinense, Lycii fructus, Lycii fruit, Lycium, Lycium barbarum, Lycium barbarum polysaccharides (LBP), Lycium californicum, Lycium chilense, Lycium chinense, Lycium europaeum, Lycium halimifolium, Lycium nodosum, Lycium parishii, Lycium ruthenicum, Lycium shawii, Lycium vulgare, matrimony vine, Ning Xia Gou Qi (Chinese), polysaccharides, scopoletin, Solanaceae (family), Tibetan goji berry, wolfberry, wolfberry fruit, zeaxanthin.

Background

The dried ripe fruits of Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense, commonly called goji berry or wolfberry, have been consumed for medicinal purposes and as a functional food in China and throughout Asia for at least 2,000 years. Traditionally, goji berry has been used for its antiaging properties, vision-enhancing and immune system-enhancing effects, and support of kidney and liver function, and as a treatment for respiratory diseases. Goji berries contain significant quantities of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are antioxidant carotenoid pigments. The leaves, roots, and root bark of Lycium species have also been used medicinally.

China is the world's main supplier of commercially grown goji berries. In the 21st Century, goji berries and juice have become increasingly popular "superfoods" in the Western world.

Although not well-studied in humans, Lycium barbarum polysaccharides (LBP) have demonstrated anticancer, antidiabetic, anti-infertility, antioxidant, blood pressure-lowering, cholesterol-lowering, and immune-stimulating properties. More human clinical studies are needed to investigate goji's potential therapeutic effects.

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Evidence Table

Disclaimer: These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

Vision

Goji berries contain high concentrations of antioxidants. Goji-containing dietary supplements are marketed as vision-improving agents. High-quality human clinical studies are required before goji's effect on vision can be evaluated.

Grade: C

Cancer

Polysaccharides from goji may have immune-stimulating effects. In human research, cancer patients receiving goji plus immune system-stimulating biological drugs improved more than patients receiving the drugs only. Additional research is needed before firm conclusions can be made.

Grade: C

Asthma

Preliminary evidence suggests that a traditional Chinese medicine, "Invigorating Kidney," which contains seven herbs, including goji, may improve airway flow in asthmatics. More research is required to determine the effects of goji alone, as well as in combination with other herbs.

Grade: C

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Traditional Uses

Disclaimer: The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

Acne, age-related nerve damage, aging, alcoholism, Alzheimer's disease, anemia, antiaging, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antioxidant (free radical scavenging, hypoxia), antitumor, arthritis, athletic performance, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, chemotherapy adverse effects, chronic fatigue syndrome, cough, depression, diabetes, dizziness, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, fever, food uses, gastrointestinal reflux disease (acid reflux), heart muscle injury, high blood pressure (hypertension), hypoglycemic agent (lowers blood sugar), immune function, immune suppression, immune system enhancement, immune system stimulant, immunomodulation, improving circulation, infertility, irritability, kidney protection, leukemia, lipid-lowering effects, liver protection, liver toxicity (protection), low blood platelets, male infertility, muscle strength, neurodegeneration, neurologic disorders, neuroprotection, nosebleeds, oral hygiene, osteoporosis, ovulation disorders, periodontal disease, radioprotection, radiosensitization, respiratory disease, restless legs syndrome, sexual dysfunction, sweating, thirst, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), tonic, type 2 diabetes, well-being, wheezing.

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Dosing

Children (under 18 years old)

There is no safe or effective dose for goji in children.

Adults (18 years and older)

A dose of 6-15 grams of Lycium berries taken by mouth daily has been suggested. Three to four ounces of goji juice has been taken by mouth. A typical dose is one or more cups of tea daily, with its strength based on the condition being treated.

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Safety

Disclaimer: Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

Side Effects and Warnings

Anecdotally, high doses of goji berry extract may cause alertness at bedtime and interfere with sleep, as well as cause nausea and vomiting.

Goji may increase the risk of bleeding. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders or those taking drugs, such as warfarin (Coumadin®), that may increase the risk of bleeding. Dosing adjustments may be necessary.

Goji may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may need to be monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.

Use cautiously in patients with low blood pressure or in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that lower blood pressure.

Use caution in combination with radiation therapy, as the Lycium barbarum polysaccharide may enhance the effects of radiation.

Avoid in asthma patients and in patients with sulfite sensitivities. The New York Department of Agriculture detected the presence of undeclared sulfites, a food additive, in two dried goji berry products from China.

Avoid in patients who are allergic or hypersensitive to goji, any of its constituents, or members of the Solanaceae family.

Avoid in pregnant or breastfeeding women as goji may stimulate the uterus.

Allergies

Avoid in those with known allergy or hypersensitivity to goji berries, root bark, roots, leaves, goji components, or members of the Solanaceae family.

Avoid in those with known allergy or hypersensitivity to sulfites or in those with asthma, as undeclared sulfites have been detected in two separate dried goji berry products.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Avoid in pregnant or breastfeeding women. Goji may stimulate the uterus.

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Interactions

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

Goji may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with herbs and supplements that are believed to increase the risk of bleeding. Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, and fewer cases with garlic and saw palmetto. Numerous other agents may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding, although this has not been proven in most cases.

Goji may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that may also lower blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may require monitoring, and doses may need adjustment.

Goji may lower blood pressure. Caution is advised in patients who are taking blood pressuring-lowering herbs or supplements.

Goji may interfere with the way the body processes certain herbs or supplements using the liver's cytochrome P450 enzyme system. As a result, the levels of other herbs or supplements may become too high in the blood. It may also alter the effects that other herbs or supplements possibly have on the P450 system.

Goji may also interact with antibacterials, anticancer agents, antidepressant agents (including monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)), antifungals, antivirals, cholesterol-lowering and triglyceride-lowering agents, herbs affecting the heart, herbs that affect the immune system, herbs toxic to the liver, hormonal herbs and supplements, iron, iron-containing foods, osteoporosis agents, vitamin C, vitamin C-containing foods, zeaxanthin, zinc, and zinc-containing foods.

Interactions with Drugs

Goji may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with drugs that increase the risk of bleeding. Some examples include aspirin, anticoagulants (blood thinners) such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or heparin, antiplatelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix®), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Naprosyn®, Aleve®).

Goji may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using medications that may also lower blood sugar. Patients taking insulin or drugs for diabetes by mouth should be monitored closely by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.

Goji may lower blood pressure. Caution is advised in patients who are taking blood pressuring-lowering drugs.

Goji may interfere with the way the body processes certain drugs using the liver's cytochrome P450 enzyme system. As a result, the levels of these drugs may be increased in the blood, and may cause increased effects or potentially serious adverse reactions. Patients using any medications should check the package insert, and speak with a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist, about possible interactions.

Goji may also interact with antibiotics, anticancer agents, antidepressant agents (including monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)), antifungals, antivirals, cholesterol-lowering and triglyceride-lowering drugs, drugs affecting the heart and blood vessels, drugs that are toxic to the liver, hormonal agents (including male sexual hormones), immunosuppressants, insulin, interleukins, and osteoporosis drugs.

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Attribution

This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature and was peer-reviewed and edited by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com): J. Kathryn Bryan, BA (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Dawn Costa, BA, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Nicole Giese, MS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Richard Isaac (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Margaret Lynch, PhD (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Mary McCarthy, PhD (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Katie Nummy, BS (Northeastern University); Cathleen Rapp, ND (private practice; President: Rapp Research); Erica Seamon, PharmD (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Catherine Ulbricht, PharmD (Massachusetts General Hospital); Wendy Weissner, BA (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Regina C. Windsor, MPH (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Jen Woods, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration).

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