Forskolin is an active compound extracted from the roots of an Indian species of coleus plant (Coleus forskohlii), a member of the mint family. Acclaim for this compound surged after Dr. Oz highlighted forskolin on his popular television show as an inside-out fat burner. Forskolin has been used for centuries as a natural remedy to treat many conditions. However, evidence is mixed on whether it lives up to the hype.
Forskolin is available in capsule form as a standardized extract. It comes in different strengths, but most supplements contain at least 10 percent forskolin. The typical dose is 100 to 250 mg twice daily; however, you should follow manufacturer's or a healthcare practitioner's instructions. Forskolin is also available in powder form and may be added to juice, smoothies, or yogurt.
Some forskolin preparations include additional herbal ingredients, such as green tea extract. Unlike many other herbal remedies, forskolin is not usually consumed as tea.
According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, forskolin is believed to work by stimulating a cell enzyme called adenylate cyclase. This triggers high levels of a molecule in the body that's responsible for:
- Breakdown of fats
- Blood vessel dilation
- Airway dilation
- Preventing blood clotting
- Improving heart function
Historically, forskolin has been used to treat many conditions, such as asthma, heart failure, and high blood pressure. Success stories are mostly anecdotal. There's little scientific evidence to support its use for most conditions.
Forskolin eye drops are used to treat glaucoma. According to a study published in the Saudi Journal of Opthalmology, eye drops containing one percent forskolin may be a safe alternative to beta blockers in people with both glaucoma and asthma. Even so, a sterile preparation of forskolin eye drops is not available in the United States.
An older study showed forskolin applied to mouse skin produced melanin in the absence of ultraviolet light. This has piqued the interest of researchers looking for safe, natural sunless tanning products. Sunless tanning products may help reduce the risk of skin cancer by providing alternative ways to sunbathing to get a healthy glow.
Forskolin for Weight Loss
Only two small studies on humans have explored the effects of forskolin on weight loss. One study on overweight and obese men found forskolin increased lean body mass and improved bone mass. However, it also increased blood testosterone levels. If you're a man and your testosterone is low, increasing your levels may not be a problem. However, if your levels are normal, on the higher end of normal, or high, it can lead to too much testosterone, which may cause:
- Sleep problems
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Enlarged breasts
- Testicle shrinkage
- Increased risk of prostate growths
- Male-pattern baldness or hair thinning
A second study researched the effects of forskolin on a small number of mildly overweight women for 12 weeks. No women lost weight, but results suggested forskolin may help prevent weight gain.
Both studies are encouraging, but they don't support the marketing hype of using forskolin as a short-term, fat burning tool. More research is needed on the effectiveness and long-term safety of forskolin for weight loss.
Side Effects and Precautions
According to WebMD, forskolin is likely safe when given by IV, inhaled, or used in eye drops. Forskolin may cause flushing, low blood pressure, and slow heart rate. When inhaled to treat asthma, it may cause throat irritation and cough. Forskolin eyedrops may cause a stinging sensation.
According to Cleveland Clinic Wellness, women should not take forskolin; however, they don't indicate why on their website. It may have something to do with the potential for forskolin to increase testosterone. High testosterone in women may cause:
- Decreased breast size
- Excess hair growth
- Irregular or absent periods
- Thinning hair
- Fertility problems
Do not use forskolin if you:
- Take medications that lower blood pressure, such as beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, vasodilators, and ACE inhibitors
- Take blood thinners, such as warfarin
- Have polycystic kidney disease
- Take nitrates that increase blood flow to the heart
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Are scheduled to have surgery within two weeks
If you think your testosterone levels may be high, talk to your doctor about having your levels checked before taking forskolin.
Be sure you purchase forskolin from a reputable source. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't regulate supplements as rigorously as over-the-counter and prescription drugs. As a result, there have been reports of herbal products, including forskolin, being contaminated.
More Research Is Needed
In some cases, forskolin may be a good treatment option for people with asthma, high blood pressure, and heart failure. However, it's important to note the intravaneous form of forskolin used to treat heart failure isn't available in the United States. More research is needed before forskolin should be hailed as a fat burning magic bullet. Preliminary research shows it may reduce body weight in men but not women. It may help prevent weight gain in men and women, but its long-term safety is unclear. If you want to try forskolin to treat a medical condition or lose weight, talk to your doctor or a practitioner who specializes in herbal medicine to help you weigh the risks and benefits.