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What are goji berries?

Scientific Experiments

Goji berry fruit drink.

Because of its long history in Chinese culture, medicine and food, many studies involving goji berries have been performed at Chinese universities. A search on PubMed, a repository of millions of medical and scientific papers, produces 50 articles on Lycium barbarum, the scientific name for goji berries. Only one of these studies tested goji berries’ effects on cancer. The information available about the experiment is vague; an English-language abstract is available, but the full article is in Chinese. The study reports a significant improvement in patients who took cancer drugs and a goji berry extract versus patients who just took cancer drugs. However, the cancer therapy used was a once popular therapy that is now rarely administered [ref]. There are also numerous unanswered questions about the standards employed in the study. Among them are the following:
  • What is considered significant improvement?
  • How many people are involved in the study, and can it be replicated?
  • Were there any side effects?
  • Did the results diminish over time, and were any follow-up studies conducted?

Unfortunately, this study is far from definitive. The antioxidant capacity of goji berries is indisputable, and antioxidants are widely believed to help prevent cancer. More tests will have to be conducted, though, before goji berries can be considered part of a viable cancer treatment.

Let’s look at some more studies involving Lycium barbarum.

Goji Berries and Diabetes

A 2004 study at the College of Public Health at Wuhan University tested the effects of goji berry extract on diabetic rabbits. The scientists found an increase in HDL, or “good,” cholesterol in the rabbits and a reduction in blood glucose level.

Anti-aging Effects

In 2006, scientists at the School of Food Science and Technology of the XingJiang Agriculture University tested the anti-oxidant effects of Lycium barbarum versus vitamin C on older mice. The polysaccharides from the Lycium barbarum helped to compensate for “the decline in [total antioxidant capacity], immune function and antioxidant enzymes” [ref]. The polysaccharides were also found to fight free radicals.

These studies, while encouraging, cannot be considered definitive until they are attempted on humans and the results are published and reviewed by the scientific community.

Lycium barbarum experiments
Photo courtesy Scott Bauer, United States Department of Agriculture
Lycium barbarum has been the object of many scientific experiments, but they have yet to confirm its medicinal value.


Past investigations of Barbary wolfberries from India had expressed concern about levels of atropine, a toxic substance, in the berries. In September 2006, scientists at the University of Graz in Austria took eight samples from wolfberries grown in China and Thailand. Once analyzed, the samples showed levels of atropine, but they were far below toxic levels.