Today we’re taking a look at forskolin, which became more commonly known after Dr. Oz touted it as a “belly-blasting” supplement. Does it really work?
Forskolin is a natural chemical compound that comes from the root of a plant called Plectranthus barbatus (Coleus forskohlii) which is part of the mint family. It is found in subtropical mountainous regions of India, Burma and Thailand. According to the New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center, research on forskolin was first initiated in 1974 as part of a collaboration between Hoechst Pharmaceuticals and the Indian Central Drug Research Institute.
Plecreanthus barbatus, or Coleus foskohlii, has a history of traditional Asian medicinal usage dating back to ancient times. These traditional uses claim the plant is effective for treating rashes, insomnia, epilepsy, asthma, bronchitis, high blood pressure, and chest pain.
Although forskolin is currently marketed heavily by the weight-loss industry, there are many other possible uses that are currently being researched. These uses include treatment of allergies, angina, asthma, blood clots, cancer, convulsions, eczema, erectile dysfunction, glaucoma, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), insomnia, psoriasis, and urinary tract infections.
WebMD and NYU Langone Medical Center
NYU Langone Medical Center states that any medical benefits attributed to Plectranthus barbatus (Coleus forskohlii) are likely derived solely from the forskolin within it. However, they go on to declare that there is weak scientific evidence that it really treats any affliction.
Despite the “belly-blasting” designation, WebMD lists forskolin as “possibly effective” for only idiopathic congestive cardiomyopathy (through intravenous injection) and asthma when inhaled in powder form.
WebMD reports that there is “insufficient evidence” for all other uses of forskolin.
Dosage, Warnings, and Interactions
A statement about forskolin dosage appears on the NYU Langone Medical Center website:
“A common dosage recommendation is 50 mg 2 or 3 times a day of an extract standardized to contain 18% forskolin. However, because such an extract provides significant levels of forskolin, a drug with wide-ranging properties, we recommend that Coleus forskohlii extracts be taken only with a doctor’s supervision.”
As with many substances that are still undergoing research, women who are pregnant and breast-feeding should abstain from using forskolin. In addition, WebMD states that high doses of forskolin may halt fetal growth.
People with low blood pressure, bleeding disorders, and/or heart disease should avoid using forskolin, as it may alter blood pressure and the likelihood of bleeding. For this reason, it may also have major to moderate interactions with blood pressure medications and blood thinners, and should be avoided by individuals taking these kinds of medications.
Side Effects of Forskolin
Please see our complete article on the side effects of forskolin for a more complete discussion.
- When injected – facial flushing and low blood pressure
- When inhaled – throat irritation, cough, tremor, restlessness.
- As Eye Drops – stinging
- Bleeding Disorders – forskolin may increase bleeding for those who have bleeding disorders.
- Heart Problems – forskolin may interact with treatment for cardiovascular disease. It may significantly lower blood pressure or elevate heart rate.
- Stomach problems – forskolin may increase the amount of acid in your stomach, leading to heartburn, indigestion, and/or nausea.
Science Studies on Forskolin
- Two introductory studies have shown that orally ingested forskolin might be effective as an asthma medication. It is thought to work by relaxing smooth muscle tissue while counteracting cells which discharge compounds that cause inflammation. The two studies can be viewed here and here.
- This small study did show an increase in bone mass and testosterone in overweight men over a 12-week period compared with the placebo group. The study concluded that “The results indicate that forskolin is a possible therapeutic agent for the management and treatment of obesity.”
- One study has shown evidence that forskolin eye drops might help in the treatment of glaucoma.
As a side note, some research has suggested that forskolin (as it is currently manufactured) is not water soluble which means it may pass through your system without being absorbed.
Google Trends History
The Google Trends graph below shows search interest in forskolin over time. Interest seems to have peaked in May of 2014. Partial data from January of 2015 shows that curiosity in relation to forskolin remains strong, and it may be in the midst of current resurgence of interest.
Forskolin has a wealth of traditional and potential uses beyond just weight loss. Nevertheless, current scientific evidence is lacking in regards to many claims about forskolin, and more studies are needed. It seems to be relatively safe for most people, but everyone should exercise caution when taking a new supplement (read side effects, warnings, and potential interactions with blood medications). Forskolin is easy to find for a relatively inexpensive price online. For example, we were able to find bottles of it for under $10 on Amazon.
Tip: Avoid buying Forskolin from affiliate marketers, who often add “auto-ship” programs with elevated prices. Stick to an in-person store or a reputable online vendor.
Have you used forskolin? We want to hear from you in the comments below.
Updated January 21, 2015
Originally published February 2013