What Is Forskolin and Does It Really Help with Weight Loss?

Nearly 40 percent of Americans over age 20—that’s 4 in 10—are obese. Another 32 percent are overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (1). With such sobering stats, it’s no surprise that almost half of Americans reported trying to lose weight at some point in the last year, according to a survey conducted between 2013 and 2016 by the Centers for Disease Control (2).

Forskolin, a plant supplement, has shown some promise in helping people battle weight gain. But just how effective is the supplement, and, even more important, is it safe? We tapped a few experts to get their take on the plant’s potential health and weight loss benefits.

What Is Forskolin?

Forskolin is a chemical compound derived from the root of the Coleus forskohlii plant, a member of the mint family. The plant can be found in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Nepal as well as in parts of India. Its teardrop-shaped leaves are green with a bright purple center. The root stock is typically golden brown, thick and fibrous. The roots are harvested in the fall when forskolin is at its most concentrated (3).

The tropical plant has been used since ancient times in both Ayurvedic and Hindu medicine. Locals boiled the root of the coleus, which contains the forskolin. “The root is then ground into a powder and used for medicinal purposes,” explains Bart Wolber, researcher at Nature Builds, who holds dual masters degrees in clinical health science and philosophy of science and technology. “The process is similar to using turmeric, dandelion, or cinnamon for achieving health benefits.”

Forskolin has been used historically to treat a range of heart issues (high blood pressure, chest pain, congestive heart failure and hypertension) as well as eczema, colic, insomnia, asthma, and respiratory disorders (3). More recently, it’s been touted as a dietary supplement for weight loss.

Western scientists discovered the potent root in 1974, and initially referred to it as coleonol. Eventually, the name was changed to forskolin, after the Finnish botanist Forskal (3). Many of the perceived health benefits have not been proven, due to the size of the studies and the fact that many of the experiments take place in a petri dish rather than in humans. That said, “some recent research is promising,” says Wolber.

Forskolin Benefits

When it comes to shedding excess weight, forskolin is thought to help by producing enzymes called lipase and adenylate cyclase, both of which release free fatty acids to be burned as fuel (4). In addition to potentially reducing fat mass, this may also increase lean body mass.

Animal studies involving rats, including this one from 1992 (5), showed how forskolin stimulates the lipolysis, or breakdown of fats and other lipids to release fatty acids, in fat cells.

However, studies on humans have yielded mixed results. In one small study, 23 overweight women were given 250 milligrams of 10 percent forskolin extract in capsule form twice daily (6). “After 12 weeks, no difference in body weight or energy expenditure was observed in the subjects taking forskolin versus those who consumed a placebo,” says Dr. Anthony Dugarte, a medical doctor, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and nutrition expert for DietSpotlight.com. “There’s no conclusive evidence that supports claims that forskolin has an effect on body weight in humans.”

On the plus side, the researchers did conclude that the root may help keep overweight women from gaining (with no clinically significant side effects).

Another study on men showed that forskolin did reduce their body fat (7). But it had little impact on their weight. There was, however, a silver lining for participants: The forskolin increased their testosterone. This is a positive not only because of the increased sex drive, but also because higher levels of testosterone are linked with lower weight and sustained weight loss.

In general, additional research is needed to determine if forskolin can deliver on its weight loss promise.

In other areas, the research bears out that forskolin is good for heart and respiratory conditions. Both animal and clinical studies have demonstrated forskolin’s ability to significantly lower blood pressure by relaxing the vascular smooth muscle. The results of a small study of seven patients with dilated cardiomyopathy suggest that intravenous forskolin significantly reduced diastolic blood pressure and improved ventricular function (8).

When it comes to treating asthma, forskolin in powder form has been shown to significantly relax bronchial muscles, relieving asthma symptoms. In one trial, 16 asthma patients were given either a single inhaled 10 milligram dose of dry forskolin powder and asthma medication or a placebo (9). Both the forskolin and the medication resulted in equivalent bronchodilation. But patients taking the medication experienced side effects such as decreased plasma potassium levels, which were not observed in the forskolin patients.

Forskolin has also showed promise for preventing cancer metastasis in mice, but more research is needed on human subjects (10). However, both animal and human studies have demonstrated forskolin’s ability to lower intraocular pressure (IOP) in those with glaucoma. In one study, rabbits, monkeys and humans received a topical forskolin suspension (1 percent forskolin), which significantly decreased IOP for at least five hours after application (11).

Lastly, in terms of boosting skin health, “forskolin almost certainly enhances wound healing and protects skin cells against damage (such as that stemming from excessive ultraviolet light exposure) (12),” says Wolber. “Forskolin achieves that effect by mimicking the effects of melanin, the compound that gives skin that tanned look.” To get the skin-boosting effects, forskolin must be applied topically. However, Wolber adds that there’s currently no standard protocol for applying forskolin topically, so definitely discuss this with your dermatologist if you’re looking to try it.

How to Use Forskolin

Forskolin is available in a variety of forms, including teas, capsules, liquid drops, powder that you can blend into smoothies or mix with yogurt, tinctures and teas.

Most high-quality supplements you’ll come across will list Coleus forskohlii root extract under ingredients. Check the label to see if a forskolin product contains unnecessary additives, such as binders and fillers. Also look for a brand that’s third-party tested for quality, safety, and purity.

Experts suggest taking 250 milligrams once or twice a day on an empty stomach. “Forskolin can be activating,” says Wolbers, “so it’s best to take before breakfast and lunch.” He suggests avoiding the supplement later in the day because it might stimulate wakefulness, which prevents sleep.

If you’re considering forskolin, make sure to check with your physician first, particularly if you are on any other medications.

Forskolin Side Effects

Some negative reactions to forskolin that have been reported include rapid heartbeat and low blood pressure (13). Cough, tremor, and restlessness have been observed when forskolin is inhaled (14) (as in the asthma studies).

In terms of supplementation, the adverse effects are minimal. “The only one that has been reported is more frequent and loose bowel movements,” says Dugarte. “In addition, there are no safety concerns reported at the typical dose of 500 milligrams/day (at 10 percent concentration).” However, he cautions that forskolin has not been evaluated in long-term trials and additional research is needed to determine the safety and contraindications associated with this supplement.

Pregnant or nursing women should also avoid forskolin. There’s currently no relevant information published on the effects of forskolin on the health and well-being of pregnant women, lactating women, fetuses, or breastfed infants.

Additionally, those with heart disease or on any heart-related medication should not take forskolin unless directed by a health care provider, since it can interact with blood pressure medications, calcium channel blockers, nitrates and anticoagulants.

Where to Buy Forskolin

Forskolin supplements are available at health food stores or chains that sell vitamins and supplements. Even mass retailers now sell forskolin products. You can also order products online. In fact, you can buy forskolin right here at LuckyVitamin, where we hand-pick natural products we believe in.

Here’s what LuckyVitamin customers are saying in forskolin reviews:

“With regular exercise (walking) and smarter choice of foods to consume, Forskolin by Futurebiotics has helped me control my appetite, while seeing the pounds shed. Its impact on my appearance has turned me into a loyal customer.” —Beverly, Omaha, NE

Product: Futurebiotics Forskolin

“I started taking Forskolin, 125 mg., once daily about 2 months ago and I have really been shedding the pounds. My blood pressure has always been good but now it’s really good, and I’ve averaged 3 to 4 pounds of weight loss per month and I have not changed my diet AT ALL!”—Diana, Magnolia, TX

Product: Herbal Actives Coleus Forskohlii Forskolinby Natures Plus

“Great for help managing a healthy weight and diet. I love it!”—Latrice, Taylorsville, UT

Product: Diet Support with ForsLean by NOW Foods

 

Have you found any supplements helpful for managing your weight? Let us know in the comments!

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