Forskolin Is Not What It’s All Cracked Up to Be

Fact Checked

Coleus or Forskolin plant

Story at-a-glance -

  • Forskolin is an extract derived from the roots of the Indian coleus (Coleus forskohlii), a tropical plant related to mint
  • Learn where forskolin comes from, how it works and what your alternatives are for better weight management

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 36.5 percent of American adults are obese, which puts them at high risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer.1 As a result, many are turning to weight loss supplements as a "convenient way" to become slimmer.

One weight loss supplement currently gaining traction is forskolin, which is touted to have fat-burning benefits. However, it is known to produce side effects such as low blood pressure, increased heart rate and restlessness. In light of this information, is forskolin really worth taking despite the risks?

What Is Forskolin and Where Does It Come From?

Forskolin is an extract derived from the roots of the Indian coleus (Coleus forskohlii), a tropical plant related to mint. Historically, coleus has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for more than 3,000 years, and ancient Sanskrit writings indicate that it was used to help promote a healthy heart and lungs.2 Other traditional uses include treating digestive issues such as stomachache, nausea and intestinal spasm, as well as skin infections like ringworm.3

Nowadays, forskolin is known for its purported benefit of promoting weight loss by increasing the cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) in your system. It is believed that increasing cAMP helps release fat from your cells to be used as energy for your body.4 Despite the advertisements, don't let forskolin fool you, because the science cannot back it up.

Clinical Studies Do Not Confirm the Weight Loss Abilities Touted for Forskolin

Since forskolin was released in the market only recently, very few studies have been done regarding its use for weight loss in humans. In one example published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 23 mildly overweight women were given 250 milligrams of 10 percent coleus extract for 12 weeks. By the end of the study, researchers noted that the women didn't appear to have lost weight, and there were no significant interactions in other metabolic markers.5

In another study, 30 overweight and obese men were split into two groups. The first 15 took 250 milligrams of 10 percent forskolin twice a day, while the remaining 15 were given the same dosage, but with a placebo. After 12 weeks, researchers noted that the forskolin group had reduced body fat, but their total body weight did not change.6 Essentially, they were still obese, which can be very harmful to your health if this condition is prolonged.

Potential Side Effects Associated With Forskolin

Due to the minimal number of clinical studies conducted on forskolin, it's still unknown if it produces major side effects. However, it has been reported to produce low blood pressure, flushing and fast heartbeats when taken intravenously. When inhaled, it may induce coughs, tremors, restlessness and even irritation in your upper respiratory tract.7

Since forskolin may affect your blood pressure, it may cause negative reactions when taken with certain medications such as hydralazine, beta-blockers, clonidine and calcium channel blockers. If you're currently taking blood-thinning and antiplatelet drugs, forskolin should be avoided as well.8

Information regarding the use of forskolin during pregnancy is lacking. To err on the side of caution, pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take forskolin under any circumstance.9

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Instead of Relying on Supplements, Weight Loss Should Be Done Through Effective Lifestyle Changes

Please remember that there is no magic bullet, and no single pill, that can help you reach optimal health. It is far better, not to mention also healthier, to lose weight by implementing healthy lifestyle changes.

If you currently have a busy schedule, and cannot immediately fit in a comprehensive workout, you can focus on changing your diet first. Start by taking out processed food, sugars and grains from your meals, then replace them with whole, organic foods such as locally grown vegetables and grass fed meats. Moderate amounts of high-quality protein and high-amounts of healthy fat can help put you on the right track to a slimmer waistline as well.

You should also insert exercise into your daily routine. If you live a busy lifestyle, I recommend taking up high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It only takes around 20 minutes of your time, but it can provide the benefits of an hour-long cardio workout. Here's what a typical HIIT routine looks like:

1. Stretch and warm up for three minutes.

2. Exercise as hard and as fast as you can for 30 seconds. You will begin to sweat profusely and your muscles will feel a "burn" when done correctly.

3. Recover for 90 seconds.

4. Repeat the high-intensity exercise and recovery seven more times.

Incorporating HIIT into your lifestyle can help promote a healthy body and increase longevity. This type of fitness routine is great for those who live busy, fast-paced lives, because it only takes up a small portion of your time, and can be done in the comfort of your home as well.

Frequently Asked Questions About Forskolin

Q: Does forskolin work?

A: Based on current studies, forskolin supplements do not promote weight loss.10 It is better to adopt healthy lifestyle changes to help with weight management and to avoid the risk of side effects associated with weight loss supplements.

Q: Is forskolin safe to use?

A: Forskolin may produce low blood pressure when taken intravenously. If inhaled, it may cause coughs, tremors and irritations in your upper respiratory tract. In other cases, it may cause a headache.11

Forskolin should not be used if you're currently taking blood-thinning or anti-platelet medications, have polycystic kidney disease or are pregnant and/or breastfeeding.12

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