Forskolin has been touted as the all-purpose miracle supplement, but can this cousin of the mint plant really do so much?
The well-known TV doctor Dr. Oz once famously called forskolin “lightening in a bottle”.
He was referring to its supposed powers as a weight-loss supplement but in reality, forskolin may have the power to help us in many more ways than just fat burning and looking sexy:
If you take a look at the impressively long and varied list of what forskolin might be able to do for us, the first thing you notice is it seems to do wonderful things for a very diverse set of ailments, which seemingly have nothing to do with each other.
Take a look:
- Effective for certain heart conditions? Check.
- Improves asthma? Check.
- Helps obese people reduce body fat? Check.
- Stops colon cancer? Check.
- Controlling glaucoma? Check.
- Possible treatment for Parkinson’s disease? Check.
- Reduce urinary tract infections? Check.
- Protect the skin from burning? Maybe that’s a check, too.
- It may even aid in recovery after hearing loss.
It seems forskolin shows great promise in the medical world…each medical use listed above is the result of at least some amount of clinical studies (just follow the links). Just how much real science has been applied in a laboratory setting for each application varies from scarcely any at all to substantial amounts.
Below, we’ll take you through the world of forskolin, from the hype to the documented uses, recognized and prescribed by doctors right now. A guide like this is crucial for anyone who’s interested in navigating his or her way through the tricky and slippery world of internet medicine and supplements.
Forskolin has all the definite signs of becoming a huge health trend, fueled by internet “wisdom” which we all know can sometimes be presented without any evidence whatsoever.
This guide is different: everything stated here is backed up by real studies performed in controlled lab environments and published in real scientific journals. You’ll find no slippery truths here…only a well-referenced summary of the current state of forskolin in the medical and scientific world today.
You can’t talk about forskolin without mentioning Dr. Oz.
According to Google Trends, interest in forskolin over the past ten years has skyrocketed:
That spike you see for 2015 is precisely why we need a comprehensive guide to forskolin, approached from a scientific perspective. Most of the current interest in this plant derives from the United States, Australia, and surprisingly Hungary, with Canada and Poland a distant fourth and fifth as far as regional interest goes. According to that same Google Trends report, we’re beginning to see interest from Japan and India as well as a few other European countries.
It seems famed TV celebrity Dr. Oz has a lot to do with the spread of interest forskolin, specifically for weight loss. Just glance at a typical page from Amazon.com showing reviews of a forskolin product…you’ll see mentions of Dr. Oz throughout, cited as the reason people are buying the product.
He’s a medical doctor and people trust him. On the other hand, he’s been at odds with the FDA several times regarding claims made on his show. Just another reason why we need a no-nonsense guide to forskolin based on science and truth.
What is Forskolin?
Drugs.com cites forskolin as “having many sites of action”.
That means it does all kinds of things in different parts of your body and on different levels, including the cellular level. Like a benevolent agent of good works, it has resounding effects on a wide range of problems. That range is far greater than even present-day scientists have discovered, so the future looks promising as far as discovering great things about the full impact of forskolin on various biological functions in the body.
In other words, this is a powerful plant, which scientists suspect as having a bearing on all sorts of ailments. These ailments range from heart problems to hearing loss to cancer. Currently, bodybuilding communities swear by forskolin for the cutting phase of their cycles…which simply means reducing body fat, which in this case is supposedly achieved by increasing free testosterone levels in the body.
What’s the key to the seemingly magical powers of forskolin? Well much of the good that comes from this plant seems to be from the fact that it can raise cyclic AMP levels in the body. Before we get into the science of that, let’s establish what exactly we’re dealing with in forskoklin, first.
Where does forskolin come from and what is the history of this herb in medicinal practice?
While we could cite the use of forskolin in ancient medicinal healing systems, that isn’t going to do much good for anyone who’s interested in facts. Ancient healing systems like Ayurveda existed long before the concept of scientific proof came around so, while it’s interesting to note that traditional medicine has used forskolin for centuries, it’s not the kind of proof that we need in the 21st century.
However, we couldn’t help but show you what it’s been used for, historically, according to drugs.com:
- digestive disorders
- neck stiffness
- oral contraceptive
- insect bites
- circulation conditions
- blood conditions
- heart conditions
The substance forskolin is produced by a plant called Coleus forskohlii, or Coleus for short. There are many different types of coleus plants, but this is Indian Coleus, which may explain forskolin’s prevalence in traditional Indian medicine (Ayurveda).
Why it works is a bit difficult for most people to grasp, and that’s because forskolin works on the cellular level. This is best understood by reading the following descriptions of some of the more documented uses of forskolin.
Forskolin for changes in body composition
Was Dr. Oz basing his infamous description of forskolin on anything scientific? Turns out maybe he was…
There is an oft-cited study, known as the Godard study³, showing that taking forskolin resulted in decreased body fat and fat mass. This study also showed positive changes in bone mass in just 12 weeks, as well as a trend toward increased lean body mass. Not only that, but serum free testosterone levels were significantly increased in participants, after taking forskolin. The men in the study took a 10% forskolin extract (250 mg) twice a day for 12 weeks. They were overweight and obese, so this tells us that coleus (forskolin) may be an effective treatment for obesity.
As for lean and fit men (and women) taking it in order to increase lean body mass and decrease body fat, there does not yet exist a clinical study as conclusive as this famous Godard study. We can draw connections and hope that in all likelihood that since this worked for obese men it would also work for women. It’s perfectly plausible and probably true.
But if it’s scientific proof you want, we’re not quite there. As with all things scientific, we shouldn’t be making assumptions, even though our common sense tells us that if it works on the obese men, it should work on everyone else. Science needs it explicitly spelled out in a controlled laboratory setting in order for it to proclaimed “scientifically proven” or “evidence-based”. Sorry Dr. Oz, but that’s how it goes, but having strict standards in this regard is what’s kept our scientific community on the right side of the safety line.
Forskolin for Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
Some of the most promising science on forskolin comes in the area of treating urinary tract infections². Here’s why Forskolin may help cure UTIs when antibiotics alone don’t get it all. This study was done on mice but it shows great promise for humans too.
Turns out that UTIs, which are commonly treated with antibiotics to kill bacteria in the urinary tract, have a nasty habit of recurring. In one third of women who get UTIs, the infection comes back even when they undergo a full round of antibiotics.
The problem is how the bacteria behaves…specifically with how it interacts with cells in the bladder, where the infection occurs. Turns out E. coli, the bacteria in question, has the ability to adhere to receptors in bladder cells which, when triggered, release little sacs. These sacs act to help the bladder expand when it gets full. The problem is, when the bladder is emptied and no longer needs to be expanded, these sacs go back into their “host” cells.
That’s when E. coli gets a free ride into the center of the bladder’s cells, where it’s sheltered from any antibiotics a woman might take. They can come back out any time, alive and well, causing the UTI to recur.
What’s that got to do with forskolin? Plenty, because what triggers those little empty sacs to come out is cyclic AMP. When c-AMP levels rise, the sacs come out and help the bladder expand.
Forskolin has been found by researchers to dramatically increase levels of cyclic AMP within cells (that’s also why bodybuilders like it, since this is what triggers free testosterone to be produced). Therefore, when the mice in the study were injected with forskolin extract, they witnessed an 80% reduction in the amount of E. Coli in those mice. That means forskolin may have a huge impact on how effective antibiotics will have in treatment of UTIs.
Forskolin may help with hearing loss
It’s a known fact that birds, fish, and amphibians recover from hearing damage much more effectively than mammals. In fact, what many birds (and fish etc) are able to recover from, results in permanent hearing damage for mammals.
Research performed at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA showed that forskolin was able to increase mammals’ ability to recover from damage that normally would have led to permanent damage in the ears.
Specifically, what causes hearing loss in organisms is loss of hair cells. It’s already been established that birds, when continuously exposed to forskolin, experience a significant increase in regeneration of these hair cells.
The study aimed to find out if the same thing happened in mammals (rats). What they found was promising: although prolonged exposure to forskolin didn’t do much to regrow hair cells, brief exposure did. Rats who had under one hour of exposure to forskolin saw increased cAMP levels, which was brought on by that forskolin. The increased cAMP levels trigger something scientists call “S-phase entry”…to you and me it means more hair cells being produced, hence recovery from hearing loss.
Not only that, but further research has been performed¹, which is exactly what we like to see in the field of medicine, supplements, and our health.
There’s one thing that’s consistent throughout all the forskolin studies, and that’s that it increases cAMP levels. These levels form the trigger for a multitude of cellular activity, and if we can control it, we may have the ability to do amazing things, medically.
So, while the list at the beginning of this article may seem far-fetched at first, knowing what you now know about forskolin and cAMP levels, accompanied by the example of scientific research you’ve just seen, maybe it’s not so far-fetched after all.
Dr. Oz may have been guilty of jumping the gun and exaggerating, but science and time may prove him right, after all.
- Dhasakumar S. Navaratnam, Henry S. Su, Sean-Patrick Scott & J. Carl Oberholtzer. Proliferation in the auditory receptor epithelium mediated by a cyclic AMP−dependent signaling pathway. Nature Medicine 2, 1136 – 1139 (1996) doi:10.1038/nm1096-1136. Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v2/n10/abs/nm1096-1136.html on June 1y, 20155
- Brian L Bishop, Mathew J Duncan, Jeongmin Song, Guojie Li, David Zaas, Soman N Abraham. Cyclic AMP–regulated exocytosis ofEscherichia coli from infected bladder epithelial cells. Nature Medicine 13, 625 – 630 (2007)
Published online: 8 April 2007 | doi:10.1038/nm1572. Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v13/n5/full/nm1572.html on June 17, 2015.
- 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. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16129715 on June 17, 2015.