Forskolin: cAMP-Boosting Powerhouse for Weight Loss Support

Forskolin Illustration OrganicNewsroom

Forskolin popular weight loss supplement that increases cellular energy production and supports healthy testosterone production. Forskolin has a long history of use in traditional Ayurveda medicine for treating digestive issues, hypertension, and maintaining cardiovascular health. There’s some solid evidence to support claims made by forskolin supplements—just not to the extent marketers tend to make them.

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The Basics of Forskolin

Forskolin is the common name given to an extract taken from the roots of a common plant named Coleus forskohlii. Chances are, you’ve seen this plant sitting around in office buildings or department stores. The first written records of this plant date back nearly 3000 years, mostly referenced in the texts of Chinese Medicine or Ayurvedic teachings. The compound common to Forskolin supplements is a 10-20% standardized extract taken from the roots of the Coleus plant. Other common names for forskolin include pashanabhedi, Indian coleus, makandiIndian Plectranthus barbatus, and ForsLean. Each of these names refers to the same compound, though only the ForsLean product guarantees the same concentration.

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Looking at the Science

The most-referenced scientific study on forskolin is the now-infamous 2005 study [1] published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. In this study, researchers supplemented the diets of 23 female participants with a patented form of forskolin called ForsLean, which contained a 10% extract of Coleus Forskohlii. After a 12 week period, researchers made the following conclusions:

  • Reduced weight gain (p=0.10)
  • Reduced fatigue (p=0.07)
  • Reduced hunger (p=0.02)
  • Reduced fullness (p=0.04)

In these types of studies, researchers use the letter p to indicate statistical significance. This is a useful way to identify when a variable, like adding a forskolin supplement, makes a big difference. When the value of p is less than or equal to 0.05% (p<0.05), researchers consider the results to be “statistically significant” and usually start celebrating their find. In this study, the only two statistically significant observations were in forskolin’s ability to reduce hunger and fullness—not lose weight.

Other Studies

Another study published in 2005 [2], often referenced in forskolin discussions, sought to investigate the impact of Coleus forskohlii on overall body mass index (BMI) and hormones of clinically-obese men. After a 12 week period, researchers make the following conclusions of forskolin:

  • Decreased body fat percentage (p<0.05)
  • Decreased overall fat mass (p<0.05)
  • Increased lean body mass (p=0.097)
  • Increased serum free testosterone (p<0.05%)
  • Increased serum total testosterone slightly, but not significantly

This was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study which makes a strong case for the benefits of forskolin to include the lowering of body fat, increasing of lean body mass, and the increase of testosterone. One major drawback of this study is the small number of participants tested. Without a larger sample size it’s difficult to get too excited. Nonetheless, it certainly sounds like forskolin has potential benefits.

How Does Forskolin Work

Forskolin acts on our bodies in several noteworthy ways, including the stimulation of an enzyme called adenyl cyclase. This enzyme is bound to many of the cells in our bodies and helps generate the energy needed to carry our essential intracellular process—like making energy! The most noteworthy role this adenyl cyclase plays in our body is in converting adenosine triphosphate (ATP) into cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). Through a chain reaction of events catalyzed by the stimulation of the adenyl cyclase, forskolin helps stimulate the production of intracellular energy!

Through a chain reaction of events catalyzed by the stimulation of the adenyl cyclase, forskolin helps stimulate the production of intracellular energy!

ATP is a compound used to transfer energy from different parts of our body and cAMP is used within our cells to carry out important tasks. In a sense, ATP is like the crude oil a company might pull from the ground and ship to the refinery and cAMP is like the gasoline that gets put into the car. That first compound, adenyl cyclase, is the compound that turns the crude oil (ATP) into gasoline (cAMP). Forskolin is often used in research settings [3] to increase intracellular levels of cAMP. Considering how well-founded forskolin’s ability to increase intracellular energy is, it’s almost hard to believe most mainstream discussions of this compound are related to weight loss!

Benefits of Forskolin

Forskolin is reported by sources, such as WebMD, as being useful for treating conditions such as high blood pressure, chest pain, allergies, eczema, obesity, IBS, urinary tract infections, ‘advanced’ cancer, and even erectile dysfunction. The thing is, these sources don’t offer a whole lot of credible citations when making these claims. Much of the favorable research related to forskolin is marginalized by small sample sizes and loose control methods. Below is some brief discussion regarding the supporting evidence for such claims related to forskolin.

Weight Loss

As discussed earlier, there isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest forskolin will catalyze a loss of fat. The studies mentioned earlier suggest that there is some evidence to suggest forskolin can help with weight loss. The strongest evidence would suggest it’s best suited to helping to prevent further weight gain. The National Institutes of Healths’ Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss – Fact Sheet for Professionals seems to echo the concern of only a small number of short-term trials available.

Allergies

Another common use of forskolin is in the treatment of allergies, as well as acute allergic reactions. Researchers have found that compounds such as forskolin are able to decrease the number of allergens able to cross into the bloodstream during periods of anaphylaxis. Specifically, forskolin demonstrates the ability to reduce overall vascular permeability [4]. This might make it harder for potential allergens to enter into the bloodstream, thus lowering allergic reactions. The most notable study supporting this claim was in-vitro—a term used to describe a process taking place in test tubes (not inside actual bodies.)

Forskolin makes it harder for potential allergens to enter into the bloodstream, thus lowering allergic reactions

Forskolin’s ability to stimulate the production of cAMP makes it a strong candidate for addressing issues of airway constriction. Bronchoconstriction is a common issue among patients with chronic asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Increased production of cAMP has been shown to be an effective approach for helping address the symptoms of these conditions. One major drawback is that forskolin supplements are given in oral doses and not well-suited for acute applications. In other words, it might help lower chronic bronchial restriction by a significant factor but it won’t offer any immediate relief during an asthma attack.

Heart Health

Forskolin has shown the ability to revitalize failing heart tissues in animal and in-vitro human tissue experimentation. Laboratory testing has shown forskolin is a powerful activator of the myocardial-adenylate cyclase, which helps regulate core cellular activity of our heart. In in-vitro testing with human heart tissue samples, forskolin was 600% more effective [5] than isoproterenol, a common heart medication for treating slow heart rates, at improving left and right ventricular function. WebMD says that forskolin is given intravenously for heart failure, but we couldn’t substantiate that. They also used that same sentence to link to a generic page on healthcare and heart failure. We’d have preferred they had just linked to a source, mostly because it seems plausible.

Depression & Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia and major mood disorders such as depression are often marked by a significant reduction in cAMP production. Again, with forskolin being such an effective cAMP booster, it stands to reason it might be effective in treating such conditions. In one small study [6] four patients with depression and five with schizophrenia were given ~10mg intravenous doses of forskolin. Researchers noted that all of the depressed patients showed positive mood improvements, as did two of the five with schizophrenia. The results were measured via administration of a short questionnaire. All in all, this is pretty flimsy evidence but makes for an interesting consideration.

Increases Testosterone

As mentioned earlier, forskolin has demonstrated the ability to increase testosterone levels in men. Much of the available testosterone in your body is bound to another hormone, referred to as sex hormone binding globulin. Free testosterone is measurable by blood sampling and represents the available amount of testosterone floating around ready to be used. This measure is effective for diagnosing male infertility, erectile dysfunction, low sex drive, and even some symptoms of fatigue. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of research to support this health claim but, as far as dietary supplements go, it’s worth consideration.

Forskolin Side Effects

Forskolin is a safe compound with very few side effects, most of which are mild. There have been some more serious issues that are worth mention here. One such issue reported in a 2015 study, demonstrated that forskolin’s impact on cAMP could cause potentially dangerous genetic mutations, at least in onions [7]. That’s right, onions. There is no evidence that we are aware of to suggest the same issues could present in humans. Some of the other side effects of forskolin that have been observed are as follows:

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • Irritation in the throat when using inhaled forms (for asthma)
  • Slight drops in blood pressure
  • Light-headedness
  • Diarrhea or loose stools

Sensationalist Marketing

Marketers have a field day when advertising the benefits of dietary supplements. No type of supplements is as likely to be sensationalized than weight loss supplements. Forskolin shows some really incredible ability to increase cAMP levels which, in turn, offer many health benefits. One thing that the available research on forskolin has ruled out is its ability to cause any significant loss of weight.

Forskolin is an amazing, powerful, herbal compound, but not a miracle weight loss supplement

Nevertheless, notable health personalities such as Dr. Oz have been subpoenaed before Senate Subcommittee meetings to answer for making outrageous claims to the contrary. The purpose of this article is to help readers understand that forskolin is an amazing, powerful, herbal compound, but not a miracle weight loss supplement.

Forskolin Reviews

With that in mind, we’ve featured forskolin reviews to help introduce some products from brands we know and trust. These companies offer the closest thing to pure forskolin one is likely to find on the consumer market. These products each contain a standardized amount of forskolin, determined by weight, and minimal inactive ingredients. Each of these brands is considered practitioner channel supplements and are trusted by licensed professionals to deliver the most efficacious results. Below you’ll find, in no particular order, a short review of forskolin supplements we feel are the best option for those readers interested in trying this compound themselves.

Vital Nutrients Coleus Forskohlii

vital nutrients coleus forskohlii pure forskolin
Coleus Forskohlii (Forskolin) from Vital Nutrients

The Vital Nutrients Coleus Forskohlii is a 10% standardization of forskolin delivered in a 90mg capsule—effectively offering 9mg of pure forskolin per dose. This product has a recommended dosage of one capsule per day. Vital Nutrients is an excellent source of doctor-trusted supplements and they specialize in offering harder-to-find compounds and minimizing inactive ingredients.

Pure Forskolin Extract from Integrative Therapeutics

integrative therapeutics pure forskolin extract
Pure Forskolin Extract from Integrative Therapeutics

Integrative Therapeutics’ Forskolin Extract is a provides an 18% forskolin product from the root of Coleus Forskohlii, delivering approximately 9mg of forskolin per 50mg capsule. The recommended dosage for this product is one capsule per day. Integrative Therapeutics has been around for more than two decades and has a large catalog of supplements that are trusted by licensed professionals to deliver clinical results.

Coleus Extract from Douglas Laboratories

douglas laboratories coleus extract
Coleus Extract (Pure Forskolin) From Douglas Laboratories

The Douglas Laboratories Coleus Extract supplement provides a 10% standardized extract of forskolin per 250mg capsule. The recommended dosage for this product is one capsule per day. Douglas Laboratories is one of the most trusted supplement manufacturers on the market today and have a strong reputation among professionals for providing pure products at reasonable prices.

Final Thoughts

Forskolin is one of the more efficacious herbal compounds we’ve reviewed. It’s almost a shame that so much of the mainstream awareness for this product revolves around sensational weight loss claims by the likes of Dr. Oz. Forskolin’s ability to increase the production of cAMP means it stands to offer a wide range of health benefits, specifically in areas such as respiration, metabolic processes, and muscular function. This compound is readily available online from most supplement retailers and is most commonly found in a standardized herbal extractive form, ranging anywhere from 10% to 25% forskolin by weight. We’d suggest reading our list of the world’s most trusted supplement brands before you go shopping for this product. There are a lot of low-quality varieties out there trying to make a quick buck from the “lost weight fast” market.

Forskolin
5
Overall Rating
Powerful Herbal Supplement
Forskolin is an incredibly-powerful herbal compound proven to supercharge the production of cAMP. It's shown the ability to help maintain a healthy weight but falls short of being a miracle weight loss supplement.
Available at Amazon

References

  1. Henderson, S., Magu, B., Rasmussen, C., Lancaster, et. al. (2005). Effects of Coleus Forskohlii Supplementation on Body Composition and Hematological Profiles in Mildly Overweight Women. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition,2(2), 54. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-2-2-54
  2. Godard, M. P., Johnson, B. A., & Richmond, S. R. (2005). Body Composition and Hormonal Adaptations Associated with Forskolin Consumption in Overweight and Obese Men. Obesity Research, 13(8), 1335-1343. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2005.162
  3. Daly, J. W., Padgett, W., & Seamon, K. B. (1982). Activation of Cyclic AMP-Generating Systems in Brain Membranes and Slices by the Diterpene Forskolin: Augmentation of Receptor-Mediated Responses. Journal of Neurochemistry, 38(2), 532-544. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-4159.1982.tb08660.x
  4. Fukuhara, S., Sakurai, A., & Sano, H., et. al. (2005). Cyclic AMP Potentiates Vascular Endothelial Cadherin-Mediated Cell-Cell Contact To Enhance Endothelial Barrier Function through an Epac-Rap1 Signaling Pathway. Molecular and Cellular Biology,25(1), 136-146. https://doi.org/10.1128/MCB.25.1.136-146.2005
  5. Bristow, M., Ginsburg, R., Strosberg, A., Montgomery, W., and Minobe, W. Pharmacology and Inotropic Potential of Forskolin in Human Heart. (1984). Journal of Clinical Investigation, 74(5), 1895-1895. https://doi.org/10.1172/jci111404c1
  6. Bersudsky, Y., Kotler, M., Shifrin, M., & Belmaker, R. H. (1996). A preliminary study of possible psychoactive effects of intravenous forskolin in depressed and schizophrenic patients. Journal of Neural Transmission, 103(12), 1463-1467. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf01271261
  7. Mohammed, K. P., Aarey, A., Tamkeen, S., & Jahan, P. (2015). Forskolin: Genotoxicity assessment in Allium cepa. Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis, 777, 29-32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mrgentox.2014.11.005

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