Anybody who’s ever gone on a diet in an attempt to try and shed the extra pounds will know that losing weight can be extremely difficult. Along with the temptation to eat fatty foods or skip exercise, weight loss can also be affected by a range of health factors that we can’t control such as hormone production or a person’s metabolic rate.
In fact, studies show that only around 15% (1) of people actually succeed when it comes to losing weight using conventional weight loss methods such as diet plans, calorie counting, and regular exercise. Those who repeatedly find that conventional weight loss methods aren’t working too well for them are the ones that are most likely to turn to herbal medicines and other dietary supplements to give their weight loss a boost. One such supplement is known as forskolin, a natural plant compound which many claim to be an effective aid for weight loss.
What is Forskolin?
Forskolin is an active compound which can be found in the roots of a tropical plant related to mint known as the Indian coleus. This plant (2) has been commonly used in herbal medicines for centuries, and many claim that it is highly effective in treating a whole range of different diseases and health conditions. Today, modern medicine backs a range of these claims, showing that some of the health benefits of forskolin are definitely true, or at the very least, plausible.
In January 2014, forskolin saw a significant increase in popularity in the USA as a weight loss supplement after it was mentioned on an episode of the Dr. Oz Show. (3)
Forskolin and Weight Loss
So, how does forskolin help with losing weight? Many studies have investigated the effect of this herbal dietary supplement on fat metabolism – but, most of them are animal (4) or test-tube experiments, meaning that they’re not really applicable to humans. Still, many successful dieters are claiming that forskolin is their secret.
Simply put, forskolin works to stimulate fat cells to release fat which is stored in the human body. Basically, it causes the fat cells to mimic the actions which they complete whenever the body uses fat for energy, burning it off.
However, forskolin alone won’t help you to shed the pounds. On its own, the release of fat cells won’t be enough to cause weight loss – it needs to be combined with a calorie deficit. In much the same way as exercising won’t result in much difference if you eat junk food every day, for forskolin to work effectively, energy expenditure must exceed energy intake (5).
In order to ensure that your energy intake is lower than your energy expenditure, you can take a range of weight loss supplements. These work by supressing the appetite, causing you to snack less, reduce the efficiency of digestion to help you feel fuller for longer, and increase your metabolic rate. So far, forskolin is not known to cause any of these things to happen.
However, clinical trials of forskolin in humans have shown some very promising results – studies (6) suggest that taking forskolin as a dietary supplement can help to promote weight loss whilst preserving muscle mass.
So, can forskolin help me lose weight?
As of now, there have only been two small studies (7) which investigated the effect of forskolin for weight loss in humans. Both studies were randomized clinical trials – good news, as this is often seen as the gold standard of human scientific research.
The largest trial was carried out with thirty male participants, all of whom were either overweight or suffering from obesity. There were then randomly divided into two different groups – the forskolin group, and the placebo group. Each group was made up of fifteen participants, however only the forskolin group were given 250mg of Coleus forskohlii extract to take twice per day over a twelve-week period. The second group were given placebo (dummy) pills.
Results: (8) After the twelve weeks were up, the study found that the men in the forskolin group had lost significantly more body fat than those in the placebo group, however, their actual body weight had not changed. Along with this, participants in the forskolin group also experienced a significant increase in free testosterone in the body, a hormone which can stimulate the release of fat from fat cells, possibly explaining the loss of body fat observed in the study. Testosterone increase can also result in increased muscle mass. The forskolin group did have a trend which leaned towards an increase in lean body mass, however this was not statistically significant.
In the second study, a group of twenty-three female participants received the same dosage of Coleus forskohlii extract over the same twelve-week time period. However, the results of the female study differed – in contrast to the male participants, forskolin supplementation did not appear to have any significant effect on body fat loss in women. But, the results did suggest that taking forskolin may be effective for preventing further weight gain.
To conclude, studies suggest that taking forskolin does not actively cause weight loss, however it can encourage loss of body fat and testosterone production in men, and prevent against weight gain in women. More research is, however, needed before a definite conclusion can be drawn.
Further Health Benefits
The Indian coleus plant, which forskolin is derived from, has for centuries played a large part in many aspects of traditional herbal medicine. Historically, it has been used to treat a range of conditions – including heart disease, bronchitis, constipation and asthma. As a dietary supplement for humans, consumption of forskolin may also:
- Lower the risk of osteoporosis by improving bone density
- Promote the formation and maintenance of muscle mass by increasing testosterone production in men
- Help to relieve symptoms of asthma by widening the air passages in the lungs.
Further studies using test-tubes or animals have also suggested further possible benefits of forskolin as a supplement.
Typically, forskolin is taken with a dosage of 100-250mg of Coleus forskohlii (10% forskolin) twice daily. So far, forskolin does not appear to have any negative side effects in humans, however it’s good to bear in mind that full evaluation of its safety profile has not yet been carried out.
It’s only a matter of time before forskolin is offered at pharmacies across the nation.