Many people are trying to lose weight and few have success; this means that they often turn to dietary supplements in order to improve their chances and one such supplement is forskolin. Apart from its potential weight loss credentials, forskolin has several other benefits some of which like tanning and increased testosterone make it popular with bodybuilders. But does it work and if so, how.
What is Forskolin?
Forskolin is a naturally occurring compound extracted from the roots of the Coleus forskolin also known as the Indian coleus. This plant which grows in tropical regions is a relative of mint and has been used in India for centuries.
Ayurveda medicine uses Forskolin to treat various medical complaints including respiratory and digestive complaints, nervous disorders and rheumatism. These days it is marketed mainly as a weight loss supplement and has recently gained a fair bit of publicity after it was featured by Dr. Oz on his show in 2014.
Forskolin for Weight Loss
Forskolin is a popular weight loss supplement but does it actually work? Most of the research done into the weight loss effects of forskolin has actually been conducted on animals and whether or not it would have the same effect on humans is open to question.
However according to the research, forskolin is able to stimulate lipolysis or the release of fat stored in the cells. (1) (2) This is basically the same thing that happens when the body uses its fat stores for energy. The process known as thermogenesis sees the body’s internal temperature increase which causes a faster metabolic rate resulting in calories being burned quicker and fat being burned.
Not a Magic Pill
Unfortunately, like most weight loss supplements, simply taking forskolin alone will not help you to lose weight. Releasing the stored body fat alone is insufficient and in order to lose weight you have to create a calorie deficit.
Basically calories out have to exceed calories taken in and weight loss supplements work by creating this calorific deficit by suppressing the appetite, increasing fat burning and reducing the efficiency of digestion. Whether or not forskolin can do any of these things is uncertain.
Can Forskolin Work?
While animal trials have shown that forskolin stimulates fat metabolism, it does not necessarily mean that it will help you to lose weight especially when all things like lifestyle and diet remain equal. There have however been a few small scale human studies only one of which demonstrated any positive effects on the body.
In the larger of the two studies which was published in 2005, 30 overweight and obese males were randomly placed into two groups with the first being given a forskolin supplement and the other given a placebo.
After 12 weeks, the group who took the forskolin had lost significantly more body fat than the placebo group but there was no effect on body weight. Fat mass decreased significantly in the forskolin group while their percentage of lean body mass also improved considerably. (2) This change in body composition may partly be down to an increase in testosterone which will be discussed later.
The only other clinical study which was published in 2005 was conducted on 23 overweight women. Like the other study, forskolin did not promote weight loss but it did conclude that forskolin may prevent weight gain and help you to keep your weight under control. (5)
The bottom line is that the weight loss benefits of forskolin are uncertain though one study did at least demonstrate that it could help men to improve their body composition by shedding fat and increasing their percentage of lean body mass. It certainly does not deserve the amount of attention it has been receiving purely based on the clinical research to date and more trials are necessary before firm conclusions can be drawn.
Forskolin for Tanning
Living in Asia where everybody wants to be whiter than snow, this concept is a bit of an anathema but for those of you fair skinned folk that would love to be several shades darker, forskolin offers hope that you can get a natural and safe tan.
Not only that but research has showed that as well as its tanning abilities, topical forskolin can also act as protection from the sun’s rays while being something of a life changer for those with genetic disorders that force them to remain indoors.
Back in 2006, researchers speculated that there might be natural ways to help the body produce the melanin lacking in fair skinned people who were prone to burning rather than tanning. They found that forskolin extract was able to activate an enzyme known as adenylate cyclase which helped stimulate the skin’s production of darker pigments.
Following a few weeks of treatment with forskolin mice were tanned nearly black compared to those left untreated. They also found that covering mice with a forskolin lotion protected mice from ultraviolet exposure while those untreated quickly developed skin cancer and died. (3)
The use of topical forskolin for tanning purposes still has not been approved though some tanning lotions include forskolin as an ingredient.
Forskolin for Testosterone Levels
The study discussed above which set out to examine the effects of forskolin on weight loss found that it also had a significant effect on testosterone levels. This is one of the reasons that the subject’s given forskolin were able to lose fat mass since testosterone frees fats from the body’s fat cells. The study also showed that those taking forskolin increased their percentage of muscle mass which is another effect of testosterone. (2)
Other Forskolin Benefits
As well as the benefits mentioned above, it is worth remembering that forskolin has been used for many years in Ayurveda medicine for a variety of purposes including asthma, rheumatism, bronchitis and nervous system complaints. It is possible that at least some of these traditional uses were valid and modern research has demonstrated that it can be effective for asthma and osteoporosis.
According to research published in 2006 forskolin can help treat asthma by widening the air passages within the lungs and making breathing more comfortable. The researchers found that patients who received forskolin over a 6 month period were significantly less likely to have an asthma attack than those receiving another form of treatment – sodium cromoglycate. (4)
To Increase Bone density
As well as demonstrating that forskolin increased testosterone levels, the same research showed that it could increase bone strength and density which may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. (2)
How to take it and Precautions
There is not enough evidence to recommend a specific daily dose but the typical dosage is between 100 and 250 mg taken twice a day and you should make sure that you get the pure and natural forskolin extract.
Forskolin is generally considered safe in lower doses and does not have any known serious adverse effects though caution should be exercised in some circumstances.
- It may be unsafe for pregnant women who should avoid it and the same goes for nursing mothers who should stay on the safe side.
- It may increase the risk of bleeding and should not be taken in the 2 weeks prior to surgery.
- It may cause low blood pressure and should not be taken by people with a pre-existing heart condition or hypo-tension.
- It may cause an elevated heart rate resulting in shortness of breath and dizziness.
It might cause nausea, heartburn and indigestion as a result of increased acid in the stomach.
If you are taking any medications, you should consult your doctor to ask whether forskolin might interfere with them. Interactions with some medications are possible.
- Forskolin may increase the risk of bleeding and should not be taken by people taking blood thinners like warfarin.
- Forskolin may reduce blood pressure and should be avoided by people taking blood pressure medications.