What is Forskolin? Will It Help You Lose Weight?

by Dr. Ahmed Zayed on January 29, 2019

Weight loss is a demanding, but incredibly rewarding endeavor. The whole process from day one to the moment you reach your target weight is a significant experience that strengthens your willpower, motivates you, and helps you become more mindful. Besides conventional methods involving dietary modifications and exercise, it’s practical to involve some additional help to boost your weight loss. This is where weight loss products step in, but it’s important to choose only those that are safe and effective.

Forskolin is a common ingredient in weight loss products, and if you’re anything like me, you probably want to know whether it can help you slim down or not. Read on to find out.

What is forskolin?

Forskolin is a popular dietary supplement and the main active ingredient in the root of the plant Indian coleus (Coleus forskohlii or Plectranthus barbatus), a member of the peppermint family. The herb is present in Nepal, Thailand, and India. In fact, practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine used Indian coleus to treat a number of health conditions for centuries.

Peter Forsskal, a Finnish explorer and naturalist, is considered to be the father of forskolin. Forsskal spent years on expeditions in Asia exploring plants. He discovered Coleus forskoholii and the main “culprit” we have today, which is forskolin.

Although the plant has been used in Ayurveda for centuries, modern science still has a long way to go in order to explore the health benefits of its active compound, forskolin. The compound is used in drugs and supplements for various conditions, but the most common use is for weight loss purposes.

How can forskolin help you lose weight?

The popularity of forskolin in the weight loss industry keeps growing and your curiosity just as well. You’re probably wondering whether its benefits are real or the popularity is just a result of good marketing. While evidence on this subject is still limited as many studies are still ongoing, it still speaks in favor of forskolin, but there are some scientific works which negate the benefits of forskolin.

Although we need more studies exploring the effects of forskolin on weight loss, the compound works by helping create enzymes called lipase and adenylate. These two enzymes work to free fatty acids from cells in your body. Why? When fatty acids are free, your body can burn them as fuel. As a result, it decreases fat mass without affecting your lean muscle mass. This is a great thing, especially if we bear in mind that many people want to slim down but to maintain their muscle mass.

Bear in mind that although forskolin increases fat burning capabilities, you shouldn’t ignore the importance of well-balanced diet and exercise. A supplement is just an additional tool that can boost your weight loss chances, and it’s a mistake to rely only on forskolin and nothing else.

Below, you can see some mechanisms of action of forskolin.

Fat loss

Journal Obesity Research published a study which inspected the effect of forskolin on body composition, testosterone and other parameters in obese men. Scientists enrolled 30 participants; 15 to forskolin and 15 to the placebo group. Findings revealed that forskolin successfully exhibited favorable changes in body composition by decreasing body fat percentage and fat mass.

It’s also important to mention that forskolin intake had a positive effect on subjects’ bone mass. Scientists concluded that oral ingestion of forskolin for 12 weeks could, indeed, influence body composition positively as well as bone mass and testosterone levels (1).

The ability of forskolin to improve bone mass alongside decreasing fat percentage is particularly useful for overweight or obese individuals. Decreased bone mass is associated with osteoporosis, and contrary to popular belief, being a bigger individual doesn’t protect you from this disease. Both underweight and overweight/obesity is associated with an impaired optimization of bone strength (2). Multiple studies have confirmed a negative correlation between fat mass and bone mass, both genetically and environmentally (3).

In other words, only healthy weight range can protect your bones from osteoporosis. Being overweight can be bad news for the bones just as being underweight. Not only does forskolin help you lose weight through decreased fat mass, but it also improves bone health which is definitely a good thing.

A study from the Pharmacology and Toxicology revealed that forskolin, together with isoprenaline, improves blood flow and promotes lipolysis (4). Isoprenaline is a synthetic sympathomimetic amine that is structurally related to adrenaline, and it is also used as a medication to treat slow heart rate and, in rare cases, asthma. On the other hand, lipolysis is the breakdown of lipids or fats. Basically, a combination of isoprenaline and forskolin can destroy or break down fats which can also benefit weight loss or prevent weight gain.

Metabolism benefits

Accelerating metabolism is a strategy that a vast majority of overweight or obese persons use in order to lose weight. The truth is that the direct impact of forskolin on metabolism isn’t studied thoroughly, although it should be.

A study from the journal Nutrients found forskolin supplementation has the potential to reduce the risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome in overweight or obese subjects. Forskolin was associated with significant reductions in waist and hip circumference after 12 weeks, and the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol also increased. In addition, supplementation with forskolin also improved insulin sensitivity (5).

Metabolic syndrome is not a single disease, but a cluster of conditions that occur together and increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. A person with metabolic syndrome has hypertension (high blood pressure), high blood sugar, excess body fat around the hip and waist, and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Studies show that slow metabolic rate is also linked to metabolic syndrome (6).

Due to its beneficial impact on risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome (including waist and hip circumference), forskolin could also contribute to faster metabolism that allows you to lose weight more effectively.

Weight management

Even though forskolin is primarily used to promote weight loss, the compound can also help users maintain weight in a healthy range. For instance, a study from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that although forskolin didn’t appear to promote weight loss, it did help mitigate weight gain (7). Forskolin supported weight management without exhibiting side effects.

If you’re prone to weight gain, forskolin supplementation can help you keep your weight in a healthy range. This is also useful for persons who lost weight and don’t want to go through the unfortunate yo-yo effect again.

Of course, we need more studies on the efficacy of forskolin and all its mechanisms of action in order to understand how it works and what it can do for us.

Side effects of forskolin

Forskolin is an active compound obtained from the plant, and natural ingredients tend to have a low risk of adverse reactions, but it doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent. Side effects associated with the use of forskolin include (8):

  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Fast heart rate
  • Bleeding
  • Headache
  • Irritation of the upper respiratory tract, tremor, cough, and restlessness when inhaled
  • Increased stomach acid levels

While forskolin is safe for general consumption to make sure you stick to the adequate dosage and doctor’s instructions or the dose info provided by the brand on the product’s label. Taking excessive dosages of forskolin increases your risk of side effects.

Drug interactions

Forskolin has some strong drug interactions. That’s why it’s recommended to consult a doctor or pharmacist before you start taking forskolin, in case you’re using drugs to manage some condition. Forskolin has moderate interactions with 73 different drugs and mild interactions with at least 88 different medications.

Forskolin has a major interaction with:

  • Nitrates (medications that increase blood flow to the heart)
  • Calcium channel blockers (medications for high blood pressure)

You should never take forskolin in combination with the above-mentioned drugs as it can cause low blood pressure, dizziness, lightheadedness and other similar problems.

As far as moderate drug interactions are concerned, one example is anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs which are used to slow blood clotting. Taking forskolin with these medications could increase the risk of bleeding and bruising.

Forskolin dosage

When it comes to obesity, weight loss, and metabolic syndrome, the most frequently studied dose as 250mg of a 10% forskolin extract twice a day for 12 weeks (9). Of course, more research is needed to find an optimal dose which is why you should never increase or decrease the dosage on your own.

When to avoid taking forskolin?

While forskolin is generally safe for consumption, there are some situations when you should avoid it, unless the healthcare provider or pharmacist says it’s okay.

You should avoid forskolin if you’re pregnant and breastfeeding and if you have polycystic kidney disease. Additionally, you need to be cautious if you have high blood pressure or problems with blood clotting. Since forskolin may increase the risk of bleeding after surgery, you may want to avoid taking the supplement two weeks before your surgical procedure.

Can I get forskolin from the plant or other foods?

No, you can’t get forskolin from some foods in your diet because it’s an active compound found in a specific plant. Since forskolin comes from the plant in the mint family, it’s easy to assume you can use the plant itself instead of dietary supplements. That being said, studies involving forskolin relied on the use of extracts only and not the whole plant. Basically, it’s not very clear whether you could achieve the same effects by using the coleus plant as you would with a supplement. It’s needless to mention coleus only grows in areas of Thailand, India, and Nepal.

Other health benefits of forskolin

Forskolin is most frequently used to support weight loss, but it has many other health benefits too. Some of these health benefits include:

  • Asthma relief
  • Lower risk of osteoporosis
  • Increased testosterone levels
  • Glaucoma management
  • Positive impact on nerve cells
  • Positive influence on reproductive cells in men and women
  • Improves wound healing
  • Relaxes muscles in blood vessels
  • Improves heart health
  • Strengthens immune system
  • Supports diabetes management

Conclusion

Forskolin is an ingredient found in an increasing number of dietary supplements for weight loss and other products created for that purpose. It’s an active compound found in a plant that belongs to the mint family. Although various studies evaluated the impact of forskolin on weight loss, it’s crucial to carry out further research. The same thing happened when people started using turmeric for weight loss. While some studies confirmed forskolin could support fat loss, alter body composition and promote weight management, stronger piece of evidence is needed to explore mechanisms of action that lead to weight loss. Forskolin is generally safe, but make sure you stick to the recommended dose.

References

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16129715
(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4980254/
(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1868430/
(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9396086
(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4663611/
(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17936441
(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2129145/
(8) https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/forskolin-uses-and-risks#2-4
(9) https://www.drugs.com/npp/forskolin.html

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