What Does Science Really Say About Forskolin Supplements?
Forskolin is one of the most misunderstood dietary supplements in the world today.
If you listen to TV doctors like Dr. Oz, then forskolin was handcrafted by the gods and can cure you of everything from diabetes to obesity.
If you listen to real science, then the story is different.
Today, we’re providing a science-based review of everything you need to know about forskolin supplements.
What is Forskolin?
Forskolin is a chemical compound found in the roots of a plant called the Coleus forskohlii plant, also known as the Indian Coleus plant.
The Indian Coleus plant is a type of herb. The chemical compound forskolin is extracted from the roots of that herb.
When you look at product packaging for forskolin supplements, you’ll see the terms Coleus forskohlii and forskolin used interchangeably.
Today, you can find forskolin extract supplements in virtually any health food store. Dr. Oz singlehandedly created a multimillion dollar forskolin supplement industry when he stumbled upon one small study (we’ll talk about that study below).
Typically, if you see a health supplement on the shelf with a label starting with “Fors”, then it’s a forskolin-based supplement.
History of Forskolin
Forskolin’s history is not well-known. The root extract was used in ancient Indian (Ayurvedic) medicine for hundreds of years.
Like most Ayurvedic treatments, forskolin wasn’t used to treat any specific illness: it was instead used to improve “general health and wellness”.
There is, however, some evidence that forskolin was used to treat certain specific conditions, including cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous system disorders.
How Does Forskolin Work?
Forskolin is thought to work by raising levels of cyclic AMP (cAMP) by activating the enzyme adenylyl cyclase.
Why is raising cAMP levels important? cAMP plays a critical role in cell communications in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland axis, which thereby increase the feedback control of hormones.
When cAMP levels are raised, the body produces more of a specific enzyme called hormone sensitive lipase (and adenosine). This unique enzyme tells the body to burn fat.
At the same time, forskolin is also thought to work by stimulating the release of thyroid hormones, helping to burn fat and calories (see more about the interactions here).
If you don’t have a science degree, then here’s the basic version: forskolin signals your body to start producing more enzymes that burn fat. This, in turn, is thought to burn fat.
That sounds good, right? Read on to see if these results have ever been replicated.
Benefits of Forskolin (According to Dr. Oz)
Forskolin was famously called “lightning in a bottle” by Dr. Oz, who extensively praised the chemical compound for its “remarkable” weight loss properties. He called forskolin a “miracle flower to fight fat”. Although, as many websites clearly state, it is on the “pure forskolin” root extract that carries any real benefit.
As evidence for that claim, Dr. Oz brought a weight loss “expert” on the show who claimed that forskolin had single-handedly doubled weight loss results for her clients. That expert said that forskolin worked because “if your metabolism is sleeping, forskolin is gonna wake it up.”
Nevertheless, that weight loss expert stopped short of calling forskolin a miracle weight loss cure. She claimed it works well to complement an existing healthy diet and exercise routine.
Somewhere in between, there lies the truth about forskolin. Below, you’ll discover what science has to say about the unique herbal compound.
Benefits of Forskolin (According to Science)
Many people are surprised to learn that there have only been two studies on forskolin involving human beings over the years. That’s right: two studies. All of the wild claims made by Dr. Oz and his team are based on two studies (in fact, Dr. Oz only ever references one study when he’s talking about the benefits of forskolin.
2005 Study Shows Forskolin Does Not Lead to Weight Loss
The first major study on forskolin was a small preliminary study that involved just 30 men (15 obese men and 15 overweight men). The study lasted for 12 weeks and was published in Obesity Research in August, 2005.
For this study, participants took a forskolin extract supplement called ForsLean. That formula contains 10% forskohlii. Participants in the forskolin group took 500mg of ForsLean every day (separated into two doses).
Over the course of the randomized, placebo-controlled double blind trial of forskolin, researchers determined that the forskolin group “showed favorable changes in body composition”, including significant decreases in body fat percentage and fat mass. There were no significant changes in bone mass and lean body mass.
The forskolin group also raised its free testosterone levels. However, this is where the study gets weird and controversial: the ForsLean group had higher testosterone levels at the start of the study than the placebo group. This means that forskolin probably didn’t raise testosterone levels. It also throws the other results from the study into question.
If you glance over the results above, then you may think that everything is good and forskolin is a proven weight loss supplement. But if you read the results carefully, you’ll realize something: participants in this study did not lose weight!
Yes, participants changed their body composition, which is likely good for their overall health in the long run. But it’s extremely misleading for Dr. Oz and others to claim that forskolin is a miracle weight loss cure because of this study (which only involved 30 men anyway).
2005 Study Examines Forskolin’s Effects on 23 Women
A follow-up study was published later in 2005 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
That double-blind, randomized study involved 23 females. These women were instructed to take ForsLean or a placebo two times per day for 12 weeks. The ForsLean group took the same 500mg daily dosage as the men in the study above.
After 4, 8, and 12 weeks, the women were analyzed based on their body composition, body weight, and blood samples.
After 12 weeks of daily ForsLean supplementation, researchers concluded that ForsLean “does not appear to promote weight loss but may help mitigate weight gain in overweight females” compared to the placebo
Women had no significant differences in body mass, fat mass, or fat free mass. The only real difference was that subjects in the ForsLean group “tended to report less fatigue…hunger…and fullness.”
ForsLean also had no significant effects on metabolic markers, blood lipids, muscle and liver enzymes, electrolytes, red blood cells, white blood cells, hormones, heart rate, blood pressure, or side effects.
In other words, ForsLean basically did the exact same thing as the placebo in this study aside from minor changes in fatigue and hunger.
The above two studies are the only two human studies performed on forskolin thus far.
2014 Study Examines Forskolin’s Effects on Diabetic Rats
Researchers in 2014 decided to examine the weight loss effects of forskolin, this time by using diabetic rats. Results of that study were published in Biotechnic & Histochemistry.
Researchers used 50 female albino Wistar rats that were assigned randomly into five different groups, including:
Group 1) Control group
Group 2) High fat diet group
Group 3) High fat diet plus forskolin group
Group 4) High fat diet plus rolipram group
Group 5) High fat diet plus rolipram plus forskolin group
After 10 weeks, “the animals were sacrificed” (seriously, that’s how the study words it) and the rats were examined.
Researchers discovered that free fatty acid levels were higher in groups 3, 4, and 5 than in group 2. Weight grain in group 5 was also “significantly less” than in groups 3 and 4. Researchers concluded that “both forskolin and rolipram stimulated lipolysis and inhibited body weight increase by increasing cAMP levels….combination therapy using the two agents may be more effective in preventing diet induced obesity than either agent alone.”
Once again, this study was performed on rats.
Forskolin Side Effects
The studies above show mixed results for forskolin. Some participants experienced minor changes in body mass, but few participants ever lost significant amounts of weight.
Nevertheless, the studies all agreed on one thing: forskolin isn’t associated with many dangerous side effects.
In the above studies, participants took forskolin for 12 weeks (3 months) with no reported side effects. In other words, the compound appears safe for healthy people to take.
Nevertheless, you should not assume forskolin is safe if you have a pre-existing medical condition or if you are currently taking medication. The SupplementGeek.com website claims that forskolin may interact with medications that target the P450 enzyme system. If you mention that enzyme system to your doctor or pharmacist, then they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.
Conclusion: Does Forskolin Improve your Health or Help You Lose Weight?
Based on the three major studies listed above, forskolin is associated with the following benefits:
-Forskolin raises levels of cAMP in the body, which can raise levels of a hormone sensitive lipase, which is an enzyme associated with fat burning.
-In one study, forskolin improved body composition. In another study involving the exact same dosage and forskolin formula, participants did not improve body composition. Participants did not lose weight in either study.
-Forskolin has not been linked to weight loss in any studies on humans. In the study on rats linked above, forskolin showed that it could reduce your body’s tendency to store fat when eating a high fat diet (although these effects were relatively minor compared to other treatments used in the study).
Other than that, forskolin has not demonstrated any significant effects in its studies performed thus far. In most studies, forskolin appears to have very similar effects to a placebo – which isn’t good news for Dr. Oz and others who call forskolin a “miracle” obesity cure.