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Pure Forskolin is still a relatively new and emerging product within the Western consumer market, but it’s quickly taking its place alongside hyped up ingredients like Garcinia Cambogia and creating some buzz in the weight loss supplement industry. Research has shown that Forskolin offers some weight loss assistance, but as far as living up to its ‘miracle fat melting’ claims, it’s far from effective.
Forskolin is the bioactive ingredient found in the plant Coleus forskolin. This plant is native to southeast Asia and is a member of the mint family. Forskolin is found in highest concentration within the plant's roots. This extract has been used for centuries by Ayurvedic healers as a herbal treatment for many ailments, but today it's used as a modern-day fat burner and weight loss supplement.
While healers throughout history have used Forskolin as a remedy, this herbal supplement is now available on the Western market as an isolated extract. The addition of this extract to the daily diet is said to increase testosterone levels, reduce inflammation and protect against cancer.
Forskolin consumption is also allegedly able to increase the levels of cAMP (cyclic adenosine monophosphate) production within the human body. High concentration of the cAMP compound being present at a cellular level serve to increase the rate at which lipolysis – the breakdown of fat cells – takes place .
If research can prove this science to be true, Forskolin is looking very promising as a weight loss supplement.
Much of Forskolin's popularity as a weight loss supplement stems directly from the wide-spread misinformation that it is some sort of ‘magic’ pill that's capable of allowing you to lose weight ‘no matter what’.
Can you really claim to be surprised that this information isn’t accurate?
Forskolin is said to show a remarkable ability to affect the muscle: fat ratio of the human body, regulating lipid levels and promoting healthier hormone levels. If it’s previously stated influence of cAMP levels are indeed accurate, all these listed effects might well be plausible.
cAMP is a compound involved in the regulation of many vital bodily functions and has also been shown to offer beneficial results in the treatment and prevention of major diseases.
Due to the benefits cAMP can provide, the veer into the weight loss supplement market that Forskolin has taken is a mere side track for the herb. However, the clinical research available to prove Forskolin's effectiveness in any of these incidences of use is sparse. Most of the benefits of the herbal supplement are concluded to take place in an indirect manner: i.e. Forskolin increases cAMP production, and it is the increase in cAMP levels that go on to have various positive impacts.
It is difficult to decide on Forskolin's validity as a weight loss supplement with so little evidence available to us. Authority sites (e.g. WebMD) do claim that it's used as a treatment for blood pressure, chest pain, allergies, eczema, obesity, IBS, urinary tract infections, ‘advanced’ cancers and erectile dysfunction. All of this is stated with few research trials and published papers to back it up though.
Weight loss supplements generally work through one (or more) of three methodologies:
When looking at the research, it seems that Forskolin doesn’t do any of these things.
There have been only two reputable studies regarding Forskolin and its impact on weight loss in humans, and one additional reputable study that was conducted on rats.
The first of these studies was conducted by the University of Kansas in 2005. The study ran over a 12-week period and involved 30 overweight or obese men who each took either a placebo or a 250mg dose of 10% Forskolin extract 2 times a day.
The second study was carried out later in 2005 by Baylor University and was published in the ‘Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition’. The study's participants were 23 mildly overweight women who were given the same dosages of Forskolin extract as the men were in the earlier trial. This research trial also ran over a 12-week period.
The rat study was performed slightly earlier, in 2004. During this trial, scientists administered Forskolin and/or rolipram to 50 female rats over the course of 10 weeks. The rats were split into 5 groups, including a control group. Four different combinations of diet and supplementation were run within the remaining groups.
In all 3 of these studies, it was determined that Forskolin does not seem to promote weight loss in humans, but it may help improve body composition in males.
The first study found that Forskolin indeed had a positive impact on the body composition of the male participants. Body fat percentage and fat mass was reduced in those given the Forskolin extract. There was also a statistically significant increase in bone mass and testosterone levels in the blood in these individuals.
Although these results might make it sound as though Forskolin is working, it must be noted that there was no measured weight loss in any of the trial participants, just a change in fat-to-muscle ratio.
The second study, which was performed using only female participants, found that there was “no significant differences in fat mass or free fat mass” because of Forskolin extract supplementation. Body composition was not changed in these women, and no significant differences were found in any metabolic markers or blood lipids. Notably, there was no increase in testosterone levels.
Forskolin supplementation does appear to have a markedly different effect in animal models. The 2004 trial found that “both Forskolin and rolipram stimulated lipolysis and inhibited body weight increase through increased cAMP levels” in female rats. In this case, Forskolin extract did prevent weight gain, even on a diet that caused the control group to gain significant amounts of weight.
Great! But are you a rat? No, didn’t think so.
Forskolin extract supplementation does have many other reported uses other than weight loss. Many reputable online sources claim it to be useful for allergies and heart health among other things.
What is interesting however is Forskolin's impact on testosterone levels. If the extract can increase blood testosterone levels as described, it could be a useful supplement in testosterone deficiencies in men, and good for aiding the development of lean muscle mass.
Multiple trials have concluded that Forskolin does indeed impact blood testosterone levels.
“Forskolin, like LH, is capable of stimulating testicular cAMP generation as well as androgen biosynthesis and that a functionally inert low dose of Forskolin can significantly amplify LH hormonal action. Inasmuch as Forskolin‐stimulated and Forskolin‐amplified hormonal action are acceptable as novel criteria of cAMP dependence, our observations provide new evidence in keeping with the notion that cAMP may be in the intracellular second messenger of LH.”
It is important to note that due to the route of action Forskolin takes to produce increased levels of testosterone in the body, the supplement only exhibits an effect in males[5,6].
Typical of many herbal supplements, Forskolin has very few reported side effects and is generally considered safe for use by everyone. The one great thing about the 3 studies mentioned previously is that they were all able to confirm the presence of little to no side effects during Forskolin supplementation.
Forskolin is an excellent example of animal research and product marketing blown out of proportion.
While results of supplementation in animal models have shown remarkable results when it comes to prevention of weight gain (regardless of diet), the results are nowhere near the same when the extract is taken by humans.
By looking more closely at the research, it appears that Forskolin extract might be useful as a supplement in males with testosterone deficiency or in males looking to build more lean muscle mass. The supplement does not seem to prevent any body composition advantages in the female population.
 Niedziela, M., and A. Lukaszyk. “Melatonin inhibits forskolin stimulated testosterone secretion by hamster Leydig cells in primary culture.” EXCERPTA MEDICA INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS SERIES. Vol. 1017. No. 1. Elsevier, 1993.
 Badmaev, V. L. A. D. I. M. I. R., et al. “Diterpene forskolin (Coleus forskohlii Benth.): a possible new compound for reduction of body weight by increasing lean body mass.” NutraCos 1.2 (2002): 6-7.
 Godard, Michael P., Brad A. Johnson, and Scott R. Richmond. “Body composition and hormonal adaptations associated with forskolin consumption in overweight and obese men.” Obesity13.8 (2005): 1335-1343.
 XU, XUEFAN, GIOVANNI DE PERGOLA, and PER BJÖRNTORP. “Testosterone increases lipolysis and the number of β-adrenoceptors in male rat adipocytes.” Endocrinology 128.1 (1991): 379-382.
 Lin, Tu. “Adenosine 3′, 5′-monophosphate and testosterone responses of normal and desensitized Leydig cells to forskolin.” Life sciences 33.25 (1983): 2465-2471.
 Kolehmainen, M., et al. “Hormone sensitive lipase expression and adipose tissue metabolism show gender difference in obese subjects after weight loss.” International journal of obesity 26.1 (2002): 6.
Emily has spent the last 8 years comparing, reviewing and analyzing ingredients in the supplements industry. She has worked extensively with dieticians, nutritionists and personal trainers to separate fact from fiction and help people achieve their fitness goals. In her free time she works and enjoys the outdoors with her husband and 2 children. You can contact her via the "About Us" page.