Forskolin is a natural substance said to offer a number of health benefits. Extracted from the Coleus forskohlii plant, forskolin is known to activate adenylate cyclase (an enzyme involved in regulating many cellular functions). Although preliminary research suggests that forskolin may offer beneficial effects, little is known about the health benefits of taking forskolin supplements.
Uses for Forskolin
Proponents claim that forskolin can help prevent or treat a variety of health conditions, including:
Health Benefits of Forskolin
To date, there is very little scientific support for any claims about forskolin's effects on human health. Here's a look at several findings from the available research on forskolin:
1) Forskolin and Weight Loss
Forskolin may help treat obesity, according to a small study published in Obesity Research in 2005. For the study, 30 overweight or obese men were assigned to receive either forskolin or a placebo daily for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, members of the forskolin group showed a greater decrease in body fat and a greater increase in lean body mass (compared to members of the placebo group). Study participants treated with forskolin also experienced a significant increase in bone mass.
2) Forskolin Eye Drops
Early research on animals suggests that eye drops containing forskolin may help protect against glaucoma. For example, two studies on rabbits found that forskolin may help reduce intraocular pressure (a key factor in the development of glaucoma).
3) Forskolin and Tanning
Laboratory experiments on animals indicate that applying forskolin to the skin may cause tanning. In a mouse-based study published in Nature in 2006, for instance, scientists showed that forskolin may help manipulate the skin's pigmentation and induce tanning without exposure to ultraviolet light. However, there's no evidence that forskolin can promote tanning in humans.
4) Forskolin and Asthma
Forskolin may help fend off asthma attacks, a 2006 study from the Journal of International Medical Research suggests. The study found that asthma attacks were significantly less frequent among patients who took forskolin capsules (compared to those who were assigned to treatment with inhalations of sodium cromoglycate, a common asthma treatment). Lasting six months, the study involved 40 children and adults with mildly or moderately persistent asthma.
Forskolin Side Effects
Forskolin may cause a number of side effects, including headache and hypotension (a condition marked by abnormally low blood pressure). In addition, forskolin should be avoided by people with polycystic kidney disease and people using blood pressure medications and/or blood-thinning drugs.
Should You Use Forskolin for Health Purposes?
Given the lack of scientific evidence for its effects, forskolin cannot be recommended in the treatment of any health condition. If you're considering the use of forskolin for a chronic health problem, talk to your doctor before starting your supplement regimen.
D'Orazio JA, Nobuhisa T, Cui R, Arya M, Spry M, Wakamatsu K, Igras V, Kunisada T, Granter SR, Nishimura EK, Ito S, Fisher DE. "Topical drug rescue strategy and skin protection based on the role of Mc1r in UV-induced tanning." Nature. 2006 Sep 21;443(7109):340-4.
Godard MP, Johnson BA, Richmond SR. "Body composition and hormonal adaptations associated with forskolin consumption in overweight and obese men." Obes Res. 2005 Aug;13(8):1335-43.
González-Sánchez R, Trujillo X, Trujillo-Hernández B, Vásquez C, Huerta M, Elizalde A. "Forskolin versus sodium cromoglycate for prevention of asthma attacks: a single-blinded clinical trial." J Int Med Res. 2006 Mar-Apr;34(2):200-7.
Li X, Nie L, Yang W, Chen Z, Wang X, Luo L. "Suppressing effect of isoforskolin and forskolin on ocular hypertension in rabbits." Chinese Journal of Ophthalmology. 2000 Jul;36(4):292-4.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "About Herbs: Forskolin". March 2011.
Zeng S, Shen B, Wen L, Hu B, Peng D, Chen X, Zhou W. "Experimental studies of the effect of Forskolin on the lowering of intraocular pressure." Eye Science. 1995 Sep;11(3):173-6.