Forskolin has been around for thousands of years and was discovered through the the Ayurvedic healing tradition1. It has long been used to treat various ailments ranging from nervous, endocrine, cardiac, renal, skin, gastrointestinal, to lung system disorders. Its most widespread use though is with the treatment of digestive, skin, immune, cardiac, and circulatory system disorders, and arthritis, rheumatism, and fertility disorders.
From the roots of the Indian coleus (Plectranthus barbatus) plant, Forskolin (Coleus forskohlii) takes considerable skill to extract forskolin because you just cannot boil the roots and get it from there. There are often three phases2 involved in obtaining its finely defined partitions: its water-loving content, water-repelling content, and proteins. It can only work best when these three parts are integrated in a balanced manner, for its tetrahydropyran-derived heterocyclic ring is what gives forskolin its unique functional characteristic.
Forskolin is also called mao hou qiao rui hua (in Chinese), NKH477, HL-362, makandi (in Chichewa), Indian coleus, and pashanabhedi (in Telugu).
Today, forskolin is popular as a weight-loss supplement. It has celebrities and models raving, with Dr. Oz even highly recommending it. He refers to forskolin as “lightning in a bottle” and “miracle flower” owing to its many health benefits that promise fast results. As for weight loss, Dr. Oz swears by its ability to help you lose 14 pounds in just 20 days.
II. Science Behind Forskolin
Indian coleus, where Forskolin is found, is from the mint family. And just like any from the mint family, forskolin works by increasing the cycle of Adenosine Monophosphate (AMP). AMP is a nucleotide that helps the body’s cells exchange data efficiently.
Forskolin, as mentioned, increases cyclic adenosine monophosphate3 (also called cyclic AMP, 3’,5’-cyclic adenosine monophosphate, or cAMP). It is an important cycle related to building and maintaining the body’s adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the prime building block for energy transfer. The body cannot function without ATP, for there will be no efficient metabolism and circulation possible if not for ATP.
When cAMP does not work well, this causes inflammation, increased blood pressure, eye disorders, heart disorders, decreased platelet aggregation, and decreased bronchodilation.
Forskolin acts like an “added hand” to improving data transfer among and between cells. It mimics the function of AMP nucleotides, and it is also able to do it without altering the function of other parts of this cycle. It works much like hormonal supplements that mimic the role of natural hormones in the body.
III. Benefits of Forskolin
Forskolin is now best known as a weight loss supplement. Weight loss is attributed to it because of its ability to increase cyclic AMP, thus increasing the body’s digestive and metabolic response. One of these studies conducted by the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology proves that forskolin can help kick off lipolysis, the process of the body that breaks down fat. Its lipolysis initiation is drawn from the fact that Forskolin increases cAMP, the cycle responsible for the body’s proper circulation.
Weight Loss and Maintenance
Aside from weight maintenance, Forskolin is also used to increase the body’s muscle mass by speeding up the recovery process and increasing the body’s capacity to handle aerobic and anaerobic-heavy activities.
And because Forskolin helps cAMP with its role, fats are metabolized more quickly and can assist in decreasing fat levels. It was shown evidently in a study by the University of Kansas, concluding that Forskolin, while it cannot help with weight loss, can contribute to fat loss. The study conducted was for 12 weeks, and a significant decrease in at least 5% body fat was seen in the Forskolin compared to the placebo group.
Respiratory and Musculoskeletal System Protection
Aside from fat loss, increased muscle mass, and weight management, Forskolin is used to relieve asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia4 due to its capacity to clean out blocked pathways in the body. Forskolin helps the body’s circulation by activating pathways that can increase the body’s capacity to handle upped respiration.
Forskolin is also able to strengthen bones and fight off osteoporosis for it enables the production and constant supply of calcium stores. Cyclic AMP activation boosts the body’s immune response and can help you build and repair foundational blocks for the body to thrive on.
Some studies have been conducted on Forskolin, and research was made on its effects on weight and diabetes management, cancer treatment, and cardiac disorders prevention.
As Backed by Research
Here are some of the researches conducted on Forskolin:
Body Composition and Hormonal Adaptations Associated with Forskolin Consumption in Overweight and Obese Men by the University of Kansas5. A study was made to 30 participants for 12 weeks, where one group was given Forskolin, and another on placebo drug. The result shows that fat loss of at least 5% was seen in the Forskolin group.
Effects of Coleus Forskohlii Supplementation on Body Composition and Hematological Profiles in Mildly Overweight Women by Baylor University6. The study was conducted on 23 females over 12 weeks, where one group was given Forskolin and another on placebo. The result shows that Forskolin did not lead to weight loss, but can help mitigate weight gain in overweight women.
The Effects of Forskolin and Rolipram on cAMP, cGMP and Free Fatty Acid Levels in Diet-Induced Obesity by Necmettin Erbakan University7. The study was conducted on rats for 10 weeks. The study had the rats divided into the following: one is the control group; a second group is fed a high-fat diet; a third group fed a high-fat diet and Forskolin; a fourth group fed a high-fat diet and rolipram; and a fifth group fed a high-fat diet, rolipram, and Forskolin.
Clinical Efficacy of Coleus Forskohlii (Willd.) Briq. (Makandi) in Hypertension of Geriatric Population by College of Ayurveda8. The study was conducted on 49 hypertensive patients where they were grouped into two. One group was given Coleus forskohlii in the form of Ghana vati tablets, while the second group was given Churna tablets. It was found out that the forskohlii group had a 76.19% overall improvement over the course of the treatment.
Effect of Chronic Administration of Forskolin on Glycemia and Oxidative Stress in Rats With and Without Experimental Diabetes by Universidad de Colima9. A study was conducted on 27 healthy mice, and it was learned that Forskolin reduced serum levels of fasting glucose, and decreased the severity of fasting hyperglycemia in diabetic male rats. It was seen that at least in rats, Forskolin helps in reducing the possibility of diabetes and in mitigating pre-diabetes.
Insulin and Glucagon Releasing Activity of Coleonol (Forskolin) and Its Effect on Blood Glucose Level in Normal and Alloxan Diabetic Rats by Central Drug Research Institute10. A study was made on diabetic rats with one group given colenol, a byproduct of Coleus forskohlii, and another as control group. It was found out that after seven days, colenol causes an increase in blood glucose levels. In this study, it was then seen that Coleus Forskolin is unsafe for pre-diabetic and diabetic patients.
As you may have noticed, the studies do not give the whole picture of Forskolin’s benefits for not many pieces of research have been conducted on it. It is either the research experiment is too short, or involves just a few patient and control subjects.
While most studies available have shown that Forskolin can help people lose weight, some studies conclude that it can aggravate one’s predisposition to diabetes, or can worsen diabetes to those who already have it.
IV. Side Effects of Forskolin
Although Forskolin is harvested naturally from Indian coleus, a high degree of caution should be taken. For one, since it can mimic the function of cyclic AMP, it can heighten body functions and its circulation. Therefore, if you have underlying medical conditions, your body’s cells can overreact and can cause more problems. You should get yourself checked before taking Forskolin.
Underlying Medical Conditions
Those with autoimmune diseases are particularly at risk because a heightened cyclic AMP can trick the body into believing that there are more antigens that the body should be fighting against. Forskolin works much like ashwagandha, a traditional Indian herb used for fertility problems. Ashwagandha mimics estrogen and progesterone, two important hormones for conception. It proves useful when a woman’s body is healthy enough to handle it. However, if there already are underlying hormonal conditions such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), ashwagandha ends up adapting to the conditions of PCOS which then heightens the presence of PCOS and can cause more problems.
Another risk factor in taking Forskolin is kidney disease because it is extremely taxing for the kidney to filter this herb. For Forskolin to work well, it should be efficiently synthesized throughout the body. If the kidney cannot filter it out, it can cause problems not only to your circulation but also to the kidneys which will be overloaded with an adaptogen that can further heighten its inefficiency to excrete waste.
Once cleared of underlying medical conditions, common side effects of Forskolin intake include low blood pressure, flushing, increased heart rate, respiratory tract infection, headache, nausea, dizziness, and eye strain. These side effects can last for some hours to a full day. It takes some time to get used to this herb, so do not expect to feel okay after your first dizzy spell. For some people, they may have to take the herb for one full month before they can get used to Forskolin. You should therefore only take it once you have the liberty of time to rest if you need to.
When Taken with Other Drugs
Forskolin should never be taken with blood thinners and blood pressure-lowering drugs. It is because these types of medicines can cause a lot of strain on your blood vessels, and Forskolin, an adaptogen, can also be taxing for your vessels. When taken together, these can result in blood circulatory and vessel rupture risks.
Word of Caution for Pregnant and Nursing Women
Pregnant and nursing women should steer away from Forskolin because no studies have been done yet as to its effects on babies. It is best to stay on the side of caution.
V. Dosages of Forskolin
It is best to start Forskolin with low dosages at first to give your body time to adjust. The lowest dosage available is 25 mg, and you can take it once a day. You can then up the dosage to what you are comfortable with.
But more important than dosage is content. There are a lot of Forskolin supplements available, but you should sift through the best ones. You should get a supplement that is made with pure, natural extract. The supplement should not have any additive. Herbs are highly sensitive elements in nature, and if you take altered Forskolin supplements, you may experience adverse effects that can cause life-threatening consequences.
One study has shown that the lethal dose in rats is more than 2,000 mg/kg. When taking Forskolin in a non-pure and non-natural form, it can be easy to overdose since supplemental dosage is very different from how “dosage” occurs in nature.
VI. Where to Buy Forskolin
Forskolin can be purchased in both brick-and-mortar and online health shops. Online store places include Amazon, Ebay, and Walmart.
It is best, though, to get it from your trusted herbalists as they can recommend the right dosage and can source out this natural herb from reputable suppliers. Forskolin is a herb that contributes to increasing your cyclic AMP, so dosage is not one-size-fits-all. A professional herbalist should assess your condition and your supplement needs.
Forskolin is an adaptive herb that has gained popularity in recent years due to medical practitioners and celebrities touting it as a weight loss miracle. Research is scant on its weight loss efficacy as previous studies provide conflicting results. Get yourself checked for possible underlying medical conditions. Do not quickly dive in and take it with caution.
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Alasbahi R and Melzig M. Forskolin and Derivatives as Tools for Studying the Role of cAMP. Pharmazie. 2012 Jan;67(1):5-13.
Doseyici S, Mehmetoglu I, Toker A, et al. The Effects of Forskolin and Rolipram on cAMP, cGMP and Free Acid Levels in Diet Induced Obesity. Biotechnic & Histochemistry. 2014;89,5.
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Gonzales-Sanchez R, Trujillo X, Trujillo-Hernandez B, et al. Forskolin Versus Sodium Cromoglycate for Prevention of Asthma Attacks: A Single-Blinded Clinical Trial. J Int Med Res. 2006 Mar-Apr;34(2):200-7.
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Inagaki N, et al. Inhibitory Effects of Beta-Adrenergic Stimulants on Increased Vascular Permeability Caused by Passive Cutaneous Anaphylaxis, Allergic Mediators, and Mediator Releasers in Rats. Pharmacology. 1989;39(1),19-27.
Ríos-Silva M, Trujillo X, Trujillo-Hernández B, et al. Effect of Chronic Administration of Forskolin on Glycemia and Oxidative Stress in Rats with and without Experimental Diabetes. International Journal of Medical Sciences. 2014;11(5):448-452. doi:10.7150/ijms.8034.