People are always on the lookout for a weight loss supplement that can simply melt away fat and leave muscle mass unaffected. However, when it comes to quick-fixes in terms of changing your body composition, the facts about weight loss supplements are rarely as positive as the claims may sound. This is no different in the case of forskolin, a compound found in a plant that’s a member of the mint family.
One Google search for “forskolin” yields an unending stream of websites reporting that people have experienced massive weight loss with no side effects when taking forskolin extract supplements. Everyone from TV doctors to nutritionists praise forskolin as the best new weight loss answer, but its real effects may surprise you. While it may not have mythical fat-burning power, forskolin does have several health benefits, both related and unrelated to weight loss/weight management.
Read on to discover the real benefits and truth about forskolin supplementation for weight loss.
What Is Forskolin?
Extracted from the plant Coleus forskohlii (alternatively known as Plectranthus barbatus), forskolin is a chemical compound that’s been used for centuries in various forms of natural medicine. You may hear forskolin referred to by its plant name, or by names including: Indian coleus, borforsin, coleus, forskohlii or coleus barbatus.
Historically, Coleus forskohlii has been used in Brazil, eastern and central Africa, India, and other Asian countries. Coleus forskohlii, or Indian coleus, is often said to be an important part of Ayurvedic medicine, a millennia-old healing science that focuses on wholeness and entire body health.
According to Ayurveda and other traditional systems of medicine, forskolin benefits include its ability to help treat heart problems, digestive disorders, skin damage (such as burns or cuts), skin conditions (like eczema and psoriasis), urinary tract infections (UTI), asthma and various other conditions.
What is forskolin used for today? More recently, it’s played an important role in scientific research because of its ability to activate cAMP accumulation.
CAMP (also known as cyclic adenosine monophosphate or cyclic amp) is a “second messenger” that impacts various biological processes. These second messengers are responsible for helping your cells understand how to process the messages of various “first messengers,” like endorphins and hormones including epinephrine or serotonin. The first messengers begin cellular processes, and then second messengers act as translators in cellular processes within your body. The activation of cAMP is important because cAMP helps regulate blood glucose and fat metabolism levels.
Does Forskolin Work for Weight Loss?
In recent years, forskolin supplements have been used to promote weight loss — a trend that exploded when a popular weight loss television doctor introduced forskolin as “lightning in a bottle” and “a miracle flower.” Forskolin has caught the attention of millions of people due to claims that many nutritionists and people regularly taking forskolin make about its benefits, including how it can apparently help you lose 10 pounds in one week with no other significant changes to your diet or exercise routine.
What does science really say about nutrients like forskolin? Is forskolin good for weight loss, or are the claims about its effects too good to be true? The truth is that forskolin does seem to have various benefits, but its role in weight loss is not quite as “magical” as some have insisted.
Here are the facts about forskolin and weight loss:
1. There have been very few reputable studies regarding forskolin and its impact on weight loss in humans. There have also been limited studies conducted on rats.
The first human research investigating the effects of forskolin on weight loss was conducted in 2005 at the University of Kansas and involved 30 overweight or obese men. This 12-week study involved each man taking either a placebo or 250 milligrams of a 10 percent forskolin extract orally two times each day.
Later that year, a second human study conducted at Baylor University that was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition was conducted with 23 mildly overweight women. They were given the same dosage as the men in the first study, also for a 12-week period.
In the rat study (from 2014), scientists administered forskolin and/or rolipram to 50 female rats over the course of 10 weeks, splitting them into five control groups, including a control group and four combinations of diet plus supplementation.
2. In these studies, scientists determined that forskolin does not seem to promote weight loss, but it may help prevent weight gain.
The first study on obese/overweight men found forskolin to have a positive impact on body composition, decreasing body fat percentage and fat mass. Other significant results included an increase in bone mass and testosterone levels in the blood. Oddly, the group receiving it actually had higher testosterone levels at the beginning of the study than the control group.
Sounds great, right? Here’s where it gets interesting: Although forskolin did seem to impact body composition, the participants in this study did not actually lose weight. They certainly did not see the kind of results that would lead to claiming forskolin to be a miracle “fat-melting” cure.
A few months later, the second human study was completed, this time on 23 women. Again, these women received the same dosage for the same time period as the first study. Unlike the first study, researchers found “no significant differences in fat mass or fat free mass,” meaning that body composition was not affected. In addition, no significant differences were found in any metabolic markers or blood lipids (such as increased testosterone found in the first study).
They did postulate that forskolin seemed to prevent the development of new fat mass. They found that the subjects taking it reported less fatigue, hunger and fullness. Essentially, the placebo and forskolin had identical effects, exempting mild fatigue and satiety markers.
The rat study concluded that “both forskolin and rolipram stimulated lipolysis and inhibited body weight increase by increasing cAMP levels.” So, forskolin increases levels of cAMP, or cyclic amp, which is a molecule that in elevated levels helps boost fat burning compounds. In layman’s terms, the scientists found that forskolin did prevent weight gain, even on a diet that caused rats in other diet groups to gain significant amounts of weight. This is in line with the second study, finding that supplementation may help manage weight gain.
What am I getting at here? Forskolin, while offering some benefits and potentially helping manage obesity by preventing additional weight gain, does not “melt away belly fat” — at least, according to scientific evidence.
So what’s the bottom line: Should you take forskolin for weight loss?
As always, the most effective way to safely lose weight is to eat a diet of unprocessed, life-giving foods, to exercise regularly, and to use scientifically-supported methods of “extra help” in your weight loss journey, such as essential oils for weight loss or safe supplements. It’s not impossible to lose weight fast, but it usually won’t happen because of one unproven pill.
One important conclusion all of these studies is that forskolin did not seem to have “clinically significant side effects.” Near the end of this article, I’ll discuss the potential drug interactions and side effects of forskolin, but these small-scale studies did not find evidence to support any major issues.
Don’t get totally discouraged just yet when it comes to forskolin benefits. While forskolin may not be the miracle weight loss drug many are looking for, it does have several benefits that are supported by scientific evidence.
1. Helps Manage Weight in Overweight/Obese People
As I mentioned, forskolin does have promising results in its ability to prevent weight gain in already overweight or obese people. Used in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, it can be used to help manage a healthy weight.
Another study supporting forskolin for weight management was conducted in 2011. The study tested the effects of a topical product that contained tetrahydroxypropyl ethylenediamine, caffeine, carnitine, forskolin and retinol. After 12 weeks, circumference of all treated areas (including waist, hips, buttocks and abdomen) had decreased, and the appearance of cellulite decreased significantly by week eight. While this does not directly affect fat mass, it may be worth mentioning for those who are concerned about the physical appearance of body fat.
2. May Be Effective as Part of a Natural Treatment for Cancer
Forskolin activates protein phosphatase 2 (PP2A), an enzyme that causes rapid rates of cell division. A study in 2011 at the University of Madrid found that forskolin’s activation of the PP2A enzyme had anti-tumor effects on rectal cancer tumors, stopping their growth. The results of this study indicate that, depending on the type of rectal cancer a patient has, forskolin may have positive effects on slowing or stopping tumor growth.
Researchers also discovered that forskolin has the ability to cause apoptosis (cell death) in multiple myeloma cancer cells. Additionally, when taken with common (and dangerous) chemotherapy drugs, it reduced the side effects caused by the treatments.
3. Reduces High Blood Pressure
One of forskolin’s most ancient uses is treating heart conditions, such as hypertension. A study done in India found Coleus forskohlii extract to effectively reduce blood pressure in more than 75 percent of the patients tested. This power against high blood pressure probably contributes to forskolin’s accepted use in improving heart health.
It’s possible to naturally reduce high blood pressure symptoms, and forskolin may be one piece of that puzzle. For those suffering from high blood pressure, it’s recommended to reduce intake of foods that make blood pressure higher (such as alcohol, sugar, high-sodium foods and caffeine), start eating foods proven to lower blood pressure (the Mediterranean diet, high-potassium foods, tea, dark chocolate and more), and use other natural blood pressure-lowering methods.
There are several supplements and essential oils that have a positive impact in reducing high blood pressure, and regular exercise and stress reduction also play a large part.
4. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
A 2014 study on glycemia and oxidative stress in rats looked at forskolin’s effectiveness on the two conditions. The study, published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences, indicated that regular administration of forskolin (over the course of eight weeks) decreased fasting blood glucose levels. While this preliminary study shows that this supplement may help diabetic and prediabetic patients, more research must be done in order to prove its level of efficacy.
Interestingly, the study found no antioxidant activity significant enough to mention. Many champions of forskolin claim it to have significant antioxidant content, but this has not been proven. The evidence does, however, suggest its use to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
5. Helps Manage Asthma Attacks
Asthma, a condition in which airways become inflamed and swollen, is another condition historically treated by forskolin. It turns out that these benefits are very real indeed. Traditionally, asthma is treated by steroidal inhalers or cromoglicic acid, a non-steroidal inhaler, as well as various anti-inflammatory drugs and bronchodilators — the latter of which is used for emergency treatment to open airways during an asthma attack.
As I explain above, there are foods to eat and avoid to prevent and reduce the severity of asthma attacks, in addition to some supplements and essential oils that may help. Forskolin is another supplement that has positive effects on asthma patients.
It’s been found to be more effective than cromoglicic acid in at least one study testing forskolin’s ability to prevent asthma attacks, as participants taking it experienced about half of the asthma attacks as those taking cromoglicic acid. Another experiment comparing forskolin to beclomethasone, a common steroidal inhaler treatment for asthma, found “no statistically significant difference between the forskolin and beclomethasone treatment groups,” indicating this may be a natural and relatively safe treatment option for asthma sufferers.
6. Treats Symptoms of Glaucoma
Forskolin has long been believed to effectively and naturally treat symptoms of glaucoma. Commonly, using it for glaucoma involves an injection directly into the eye, although some recent studies have researched the impact of orally administered supplements as well.
One such occasion focused on the control of intraocular pressure, the fluid pressure within the eye. Maintaining stable intraocular pressure is the goal of many common glaucoma treatments for patients with primary open-angle glaucoma, the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world.
An Italian study focused on patients who were already at the maximum tolerated medical therapy levels of medication without improvement to their intraocular pressure. Astoundingly, researchers found that taking forskolin orally (along with another supplement, rutin) had a significant impact on pressure levels and offered an effective treatment for patients who had tried everything else short of surgery.
A normal prescription for glaucoma patients includes beta blockers and/or prostaglandin analogs. Both of these medication classes have dangerous side effects, including fatigue, depression, constipation, erectile dysfunction, itchy or burning eyes, and upper respiratory tract infection. To find a more scrupulous option, scientists in India found that eye drops containing 1 percent forskolin were a safer, effective option to beta blockers and prostaglandin analogs for glaucoma patients.
Another glaucoma-related question is whether or not forskolin can be effective in preventing retinal ganglion cell death, the final step into blindness for glaucoma patients. Forskolin alone had some effect, but researchers discovered that a multi-target approach including two additional natural supplements, homotaurine and L-carnosine, protected the health of the eye best when injected. This study has, so far, only been conducted on rat subjects.
7. May Be a Useful Alzheimer’s Treatment
Like a lot of research on forskolin, the research linking it with a treatment for Alzheimer’s is in its infancy. However, a promising study published in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology performed on rats in July 2016 found administration of forskolin greatly decreased many negative physical components caused by Alzheimer’s disease, including plaque in various areas of the brain and reduced inflammatory activity. This is incredibly encouraging in the area of natural Alzheimer’s treatment.
Forskolin vs. Garcinia Cambogia
The effects of forskolin are often claimed to be similar to that of garcinia cambogia, another natural “miracle” weight loss supplement. However, like most weight loss supplements, its true results are not quite as exciting as the testimonials. Like forskolin, garcinia cambogia gives some minor aid in weight loss but is not effective at “melting belly fat away.”
Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences of these two hyped supplements.
Forskolin and garcinia cambogia have the following in common:
- Have been named as groundbreaking weight loss drugs in some popular media outlets
- Help manage or aid in weight loss to a small degree (with garcinia cambogia having slightly more impact on the weight loss side)
- Lower blood sugar
- Are natural, unregulated supplements originating from plants
- Have been used in ancient natural medicine (especially in India) to cure various diseases
- Do not have agreed upon “normal” dosage levels
- Have potentially dangerous medicinal interactions
- Should not be taken by women who are pregnant
Forskolin and garcinia cambogia differ in these ways:
- Forskolin has minimal side effects, while garcinia cambogia has been linked with many dangerous side effects, including fatigue, brain fog and several more.
- Garcinia cambogia has been proven to help curb cravings and suppress appetite, while no significant evidence exists that forskolin does so.
- The benefits of garcinia cambogia that can be proven (in conditions unrelated to weight loss) are limited to lowering cholesterol. Forskolin, however, has been effectively proven to be a powerful catalyst in the treatment of various disorders, such as certain cancers, glaucoma, high blood pressure and more.
How to Use
You can buy forskolin in various forms. Over-the-counter (OTC) forskolin powder is available in supplement form. It may also be prescribed in powder form via inhaler (for asthma), or injected directly into the eye as part of a glaucoma treatment regimen.
Like many supplements that are commonly used for weight loss, there are many disreputable companies selling what they claim to be forskolin extract that are dangerous and contain unnamed ingredients. If you buy forskolin, it’s best to go with pure forskolin extract. For safety reasons, it’s important to only purchase supplements from trusted companies. Regarding forskolin dosage, always follow dosing instructions carefully. If you take medications or have concerns then be sure to take these supplements under the supervision of your doctor.
Only doctors can prescribe inhaled or intravenous forskolin. If you believe these treatments may be beneficial to you, please see your healthcare provider for advice on the appropriate forskolin dosage that you should take.
Risks and Side Effects
What are the dangers of taking forskolin? While there are no noted forskolin side effects in some weight loss studies, it’s important to be aware of the few potential issues and interactions you could experience.
One lab study observed the effects of forskolin on genetic material and found evidence of genotoxicity, the destruction of DNA that can potentially lead to mutations and cancer. Taking forskolin may also cause rapid or irregular heartbeat in some people, so if you experience these symptoms while taking it, you should discontinue use and see your doctor immediately.
Is forskolin safe if you have high blood pressure? Forskolin appears to be safe and beneficial at managing high blood pressure, however it’s best to work with a healthcare provider in this case. Because of the way it lowers blood pressure, those with low blood pressure already should avoid taking forskolin.
Does forskolin interact with any medications? Anyone currently taking beta blockers or nitrates for chest pain should also steer clear of taking this supplement. People who are pregnant, nursing, have blood disorders, are about to have or just had surgery (within two weeks), or are suffering from heart disease should not take forskolin.
Some reports indicate inhaling it for asthma can cause throat irritation, cough, tremor and restlessness. Intravenous eye injections may cause stinging.
There are also preliminary indications that forskolin may increase cyst size in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome, so you should not take it if you have been diagnosed with PCOS.
- Forskolin is a plant-based molecular compound extracted from the Coleus forskohlii plant in the mint family. Natural health practitioners have prescribed forskolin extract for centuries to treat various diseases and health conditions.
- It is a common “natural weight loss supplement” promoted by countless companies and media personalities, but its benefits are not as extreme as they’re claimed to be by many.
- There is no scientific evidence to support that forskolin causes weight loss or burns fat, although it may prevent weight gain without changing your diet.
- That being said, there is evidence of forskolin benefits, such as helping with blood pressure regulation and offering protection against diabetes, gluacoma and Alzheimer’s.
- You can purchase it in supplement form, but be cautious of the manufacturer and reseller, as many so-called “pure forskolin” supplements are dangerous and contain unnamed ingredients.
- Doctors may prescribe it in inhaler form or inject it intravenously into the eye, depending on the condition being treated.
- There are various drug interactions and potential forskolin side effects, so you should consult with your health care provider before starting forskolin and self-monitor for common side effects.
- If you have PCOS, heart conditions, low blood pressure, bleeding conditions, or are pregnant or nursing, you should avoid taking forskolin.