I was at a coffee shop recently and overheard some ladies talking about Forskolin for weight loss. I hadn’t heard of it, so I started looking around on this product.
Is it a brand new supplement to ease your weight loss woes? My gut told me, probably not, but I decided to take a deeper look regardless.
At a quick glance, this reminds me a lot of garcinia cambogia, which I reviewed in late May. My stance is always that these so called “miracle drugs” are generally a load of bogus crap. They may have some mild benefits to metabolism, but nothing that caffeine can’t do. Then again, who knows without any proper study on it?
But I do feel that if there were actual and significant performance benefits from these supplements, you would see them banned left and right by athletic administrations around the world. It’s tough though, because we all want that easy fix solutions, but the real deal is to change your habits, pretty much always.
That all said, what is Forskolin, and what’s with all the hype around it?
What is Forskolin?
Forskolin is also known as Coleonol, which is made from the Indian coleus plant. The coleus plant is categorized in the genus plectranthus, along with various mints and ivies that are generally used as ornamental plants and have a decorative, fuzzy appearance.
Historically, coleus is used in Aryuvedic medicine. For those of you who are not familiar with Aryuveda, it is an old-school Hindu type of complementary alternative medicine. It has roots from Nepal, India, and Thailand. As Americans, these far-off lands make us raise an eyebrow. And that may be what marketers are after. Now that isn’t to say that aryuvedic medicine doesn’t do anything. I’d just have to see the research.
How does Forskolin Work?
One of the main claims of Forskolin is that it helps promote weight loss by burning extra fat. Conceptually this makes sense, as the breakdown of fats, also known as lipolysis, is believed to be mediated by cAMP – the molecule that forskolin stimulates.
How does this happen?
Well at the end of the process, an enzyme called hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL) helps to break down fats. This HSL is stimulated by something called cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA).
The thought is that a higher level of cAMP in the body will result in a higher utilization of PKA, and ultimately a higher activation of HSL. The higher level of HSL would induce a higher about of fat burn.
In essence, the idea is that Forskolin will result in a higher level of the enzyme in our body that burns fat. So this all sounds reasonable. But how does Forskolin fare in studies? Are the results proven? Let’s answer that important question.
Scholarly Research on Weight Loss
This is where things get interesting, or not so interesting, given the massive lack of research around the product.
As far as I can tell, there are only two studies around weight or fat loss using Forskolin supplementation. Both of these studies are single trial, meaning that they were run one time. When you run a study just one time, the chances for error are much higher than if you run a study a bunch of times.
One study posted in the Journal of Obesity Research observed 30 overweight men. Half of the participants received a Forskolin supplement, and half received a placebo. The stated result is that oral ingestion of 10% Forskolin for a 12-week period shows “favorable body composition”. But not so fast – if you take a look at the boring numbers in the results, some weird questions arise:
- Forskolin showed to increase lean body mass, but so did the placebo. Why would the placebo also increase lean body mass? The study states participants didn’t exercise, but I’m not so sure that was well monitored.
- The study states: “No clinically significant interactions were seen in metabolic markers”. Ok so, if increased fat metabolism isn’t the reason for the loss in fat, what is?
It doesn’t seem like the study was that well administered, as far as I can tell. Further, they took 30 subjects and split them into two groups of 15. And a sample of 15 is not what is considered statistically significant. What this means is that at a small sample size, the results may as well be due to random chance.
The second study I found was posted in the Journal of the Internal Society of Sports Nutrition. Longest title ever. Researchers studied the effects of Forskolin supplementation on the body composition of 23 females. Again, not statistically significant. The participants were either administered a similar 10% Forskolin supplement or a placebo. Here though, the result was that there were no significant differences, and that Forskolin doesn’t seem to promote weight loss.
So the two studies contradict each other somewhat, but both seem poorly administered.
The research around Forskolin is either a single study, or observational only. As such, more research is needed to validate any of the above claims. So the claims aren’t very strong.
As PubMed Health says: “One trial is rarely enough to provide definite answers. Later trials sometimes confirm early results—and sometimes come up with conflicting results. So researchers search for, and then analyze, all the trials that have studied particular questions”.
Total of two trials from two studies – not very conclusive if you ask me.
Non-Weight Related Claimed Benefits
As per usual, new-fad health supplement glamour, Forskolin boasts many “health benefits”.
The benefits claimed include the following:
- Asthma – Limited evidence may suggest Forskolin may help with the symptoms of asthma. This is thought to be due to inducing dilation in the bronchioles of the lungs.
- Bone density – One study suggested that over a 12 week period men had an increase in bone mass.
- Energy – One study conducted had reports from participants of feeling less fatigue.
- Blood pressure – While this is a mentioned benefit of Forskolin, studies suggest that Forskolin has no notable effect on blood pressure.
It should be noted that the research for the above, similar to the research around weight loss, isn’t very comprehensive.
Again, limited research here, so take it with a grain of salt. But it appears that Forskolin has limited side effects including the following:
- Pregnancy – May possibly slow or stop the growth of a fetus
- Bleeding disorders – May increase the risk of bleeding in some individuals
- Heart disease – May interfere with treatments for heart or blood vessel issues, and may make these issues worse
- Blood pressure – May lower blood pressure, which would be a concern for those already having low blood pressure
- Surgery – May increase bleeding during and following surgery
The Bottom Line
It’s the media, ladies and gentlemen. The media is what makes us want these products. But from a research standpoint, you just can’t yet say whether Forskolin, or any new fad sexy-time supplement really does anything.
If you pay attention to Doctor Oz, who many would consider a huge proponent of many of these supplements, he will deny that he endorses any of them. Why would he deny endorsing the products after passionately advocating them on his show? That’s a good question! Maybe because he knows they aren’t the answer at all.
And he says that too. When interviewed by the Senate’s consumer production panel, Dr Oz said: “These weight loss products only offer “short-term crutches” and are not intended for long term use. No miracle pill will work without doing proper exercise and diet”.
The point I always come back around to is that supplements aren’t the way to go. Some good ones here and there may give you some slight aid, but nothing game-changing.
The best one? Caffeine, if it fits into your health goals. And like I said above, any substance that can significantly alter your performance would be formally banned by athletic administrations. And at high levels – caffeine is banned too!
So there you have it – there isn’t much research around Forskolin but I’ve done what I can to come to a conclusion. And the conclusion is nope.
Let me know if you’ve tried Forskolin, have friends that are on it, and/or what your thoughts are!
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