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Is Forskolin Good for Fat Loss?

The best way to approach new supplements is with caution. Until enough evidence shows that they are safe, and that they can improve your ability to reach your targets, you should always be skeptical. But if you choose the right one then you can really accelerate toward your goals.

In this article we take a look at Coleus Forskohlii and why there just isn’t enough research out there to make it a dependable fat burner.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What is forskolin
  • What do the studies say – is it an effective fat burner?
  • Are there any side effects?
  • What else burns fat?

What is Forskolin?

Forskolin is the main bioactive ingredient of the genus Plectranthus barbatus or ‘Coleus Forskohlii’ plant – a distant relative to mint. It is a tall plant characterized by tuberous roots, thick leaves and bluish spires of flowers.

It is a tropical perennial plant grown along mountain slopes in India and Sri Lanka as  well as Thailand and Nepal.

It has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat a number of disorders including cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous system illness [1]. It is still a widely used home remedy in South Africa today and more recently has been touted as a fat burner due to its bioactive compound content.

The plant contains a rich alkaloid profile and due to its chemical makeup, contains enzymes that can activate cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). This secondary chemical messenger is important for a number of biological processes including increasing levels of mitochondria – specialist parts of cells that increase the use of fatty acids.

But does the science back up these claims? Let’s have a look at what the studies say…


Plectranthus-Barbatus

Key Point: Coleus Forskohlii is a tropical plant that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat a number of health disorders.


Can Forskolin Boost Fat Loss?

To date there are only a small number of human studies to draw upon to evidence the effects of this supplement, and the ones that do exist are promising, but not convincing.

There are currently only two studies that directly look at changes to fat mass. In one of these studies [2], researchers recruited 23 female volunteers. Half of them ingested 250mg of the supplement in two daily doses for 12 weeks, and the others took a placebo.

The supplement group reported that they felt less fatigue, hunger and fullness but the results analysis did not back this up – no significant differences were seen between groups in any measure. This included metabolic markers, blood lipids, heart rate and blood pressure.

The second study used overweight and obese male participants [3] who were also dosed 250mg twice per day. This time, the supplement favorably improved lean body mass, as well as free testosterone – although there was a high level of variance seen between participants. Total testosterone concentration wasn’t significantly different between groups.

One thing that is apparent here when breaking these studies down is that positive changes to fat loss were only seen in obese group of people, not normal weight. It has previously been suggested that obese people have lower adenylate cyclase enzyme levels – an important stimulator of cAMP, and this may explain the differences in the two studies.

The decreased fat loss seen in men may also be explained by the transient increase in testosterone – an important hormone for males that can boost muscle levels and burn fat. Although women also have testosterone, their levels are around 1/10th that of men.

Another study of relevance didn’t look at fat mass changes but did look at weight loss [4]. Although at face value the study seemed to point towards the supplement being effective for weight loss, it may have overstated it’s findings.

28 women were placed on a calorie-controlled diet and had one of five creams or injections applied to their thigh, five days a week for four weeks. One of the creams contained forskolin, but also had added extracts too including yohimbine and aminophylline. 

Whilst the women reported a loss of size in their thigh, it is difficult to attribute this to the coleus supplement, as it was only one of a few different ingredients used. The fact that the women were also on a calorie-controlled diet meant that they were due to lose weight anyway. The results of this study need to be taken with caution. 


Forskolii-Benefits

Key Point: Although research is promising for obese people, there just isn’t enough evidence at present to suggest that forskolin is an effective fat burner. 


Are There Any Side Effects?

The most common side effect is that of diarrhea due to the increased levels of cAMP. Other than that, coleus has been shown to cause flushing, low blood pressure and elevated heart rate [5]. Additionally it can cause tremors, restlessness and throat irritation.


Summary

Coleus Forskohlii – otherwise known as forskolin – is a tropical plant used widely in Ayurvedic medicine to treat disorders of the cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems.

At present, the evidence is just too limited to make firm decisions on whether or not this supplement will help you burn fat. Based on the very limited number of human studies, this supplement may work if you are obese, but then so would a calorie-controlled diet. There seems to be little current evidence that normal weight individuals will benefit from taking it.

There are many more fat loss supplements out there that are well-evidenced and use nutrients that have been shown time and time again to have a positive effect. Our advice at this stage is to avoid forskolin products until better research has been conducted.


What Does Work for Fat Loss?


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References

  1. Agarwal KC, Parks RE: Forskolin: a potential antimetastic agent. Int J Cancer. 1983, 32: 801-804
  2. Henderson, S et al. Effects of Coleus Forskohlii Supplementation on Body Composition and Hematological Profiles in Mildly Overweight Women. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2005; 2: 54
  3. Godard, MP et al. Body composition and hormonal adaptations associated with forskolin consumption in overweight and obese men. Obes Res. 2005 Aug; 13(8): 1335-43
  4. Greenway, FL et al. Regional fat loss from the thigh in obese women after adrenergic modulation. Clin Ther. 1987; 9(6): 663-9
  5. Schlepper, M et al. Cardiovascular effects of forskolin and phosphodiesterase-III inhibitors. From Inotropic Stimulation and Myocardial Energetics. 1989; 197-212


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