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Forskolin: This Little-Known Herb Might Be The Key To Lasting Weight Loss & Cortisol Control

Nicole Rivera, D.C.
Author: Medical reviewer:
Updated on January 15, 2020
Nicole Rivera, D.C.
Doctor of Chiropractics
By Nicole Rivera, D.C.
Doctor of Chiropractics
Dr. Nicole Rivera helped found Integrative Wellness Group in New Jersey. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and received her Doctorate from Life Chiropractic College West.
Sheeva Talebian, M.D.
Medical review by
Sheeva Talebian, M.D.
Reproductive Endocrinologist
Sheeva Talebian, M.D., is a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist. She graduated from Columbia University and obtained her medical degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Last updated on January 15, 2020

As I continuously keep up with research and integrative medicine trends, I couldn't help but notice the recent talk about forskolin, a root from the mint family that is being categorized as the new weight loss cure. It has been endorsed by well-known nutritionists and doctors as the phenomenon that can instantly burn belly fat. Naturally, I wanted to know more about this herb and whether it has the ability to catalyze weight loss. If so, what is the true mechanism of how it is working to evidently burn fat?

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What is forskolin?

Forskolin is extracted from the plant Coleus Forskohlii. This root is a chemical compound that's been used for centuries in various forms of natural medicine. Historically, forskolin has played an important role in ayurvedic medicine, for the treatment of various health conditions that include heart disease, skin issues, respiratory issues, and more.

As it turns out, the herb is quite fascinating and facilitates various processes in the body that can "indirectly" enhance weight loss while providing other benefits. While using herbs, roots, or other natural supplements, I have found that they tend to affect various pathways in the body, which is why you will experience a variety of changes when introducing them to your daily regimen. Forskolin specifically influences pathways in the body that modulate the inflammatory response, calm the stress response, and detox neurotoxins. All three of these processes will, indirectly, induce weight loss and improve metabolic function.

Why you might want to use forskolin.

Many of us are aware that chronic stress is detrimental to our health, which is why people dealing with chronic stress often struggle with weight loss, appetite, and their energy levels.

Chronic external stress from life events, work, and relationships can increase stress hormones in our body. One specific stress hormone that can elevate is cortisol. Excess cortisol can play a significant role in our ability to lose weight1. Cortisol can also increase when we are overworked. Many people always say, "Yeah, I'm busy—but I can handle it." Despite being able to "handle it" or keep on keeping on, your body will still perceive this as stress, which will continuously create a biochemical change that elevates your stress hormone, cortisol.

The increase in cortisol shoves us into survival mode, which is also known as fight or flight. Fight or flight is only meant to be a short-term response to get you out of dangerous situations. In the days of hunter-gatherers, we would have a fight-or-flight response when we were in the woods and needed to prepare to fight or flee from an animal that wanted to eat us. In this day and age, most of us live in this constant state of fight or flight because of our high-demand jobs and lifestyle. The longer we live in this state of stress, the more we start to feel "tired but wired." If you're tired all day and struggling to concentrate, but when it comes time to sleep you have a million thoughts and worries running through your mind, this might be you. Unfortunately, this scenario is all too relatable for most.

In addition, when your body is in survival mode, it prepares for a famine, which is why we will accumulate fat in the abdomen, intended to protect our vital organs. This is one of the reasons people will struggle with weight loss by strictly changing their diet while not addressing their stress levels.

This stress response and overabundance of cortisol will also disrupt hormone balance, which will affect a variety of systems. We will find dysfunction with the thyroid2, mood imbalances3, constricted breathing4, and elevation in blood pressure5.

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How forskolin can help with detoxification.

The forskolin herb will clear excess cortisol from the blood by improving the function of the cortisol receptor. The cortisol receptor grabs the free-floating cortisol from the blood to utilize it or break it down. An important aspect to keep in mind is to make lifestyle modifications to lower cortisol to improve the effectiveness of forskolin. The forskolin root affects the cortisol receptor in a unique way. It is not that the herb up-regulates the receptor, it actually improves its responsiveness by removing toxins that can block the receptor. The forskolin root specifically removes a group of toxins called neurotoxins from the receptor to allow it to work better. If you're thinking, what the heck is a neurotoxin and why would I be exposed to that? Well, my friends, the category of neurotoxins includes silver fillings in your mouth, other dental materials, fluoride, pesticides, herbicides, aluminum foil, antiperspirant, nonstick cookware, mercury in fish, arsenic on rice and in brown rice syrup, sugar-free gum, sugar-free anything, diet anything, MSG, alcohol, lead in lip balm, and the list goes on.

There are claims that forskolin can raise the blood levels of cortisol, which is partly true. If there is an overabundance of neurotoxins in the body such as mercury, aluminum, or other heavy metals, the detoxification of those substances can increase blood cortisol temporarily as the neurotoxins are being mobilized. When the toxins are eliminated from the body, the cortisol will stabilize.

How forskolin can help with weight loss.

Circling back to weight loss, forskolin is not promoting weight loss through amping up the metabolism but by helping to detox the body in addition to removing excess cortisol from the blood. Toxins and excess cortisol are the top issues that keep the body inflamed and puffy. The inflammation will also be improved by the up-regulation of anti-inflammatory proteins and the repression of pro-inflammatory proteins in the cytosol, which is another benefit provided by forskolin.6

Unfortunately, we are living in a society in which we are all battling some level of inflammation due to our daily exposure to toxins, herbicides, pesticides, bacterias, and viruses. I often discuss with my patients the concept of overloaded filtration systems. We have various filtration systems in our bodies, which include the tonsils, spleen, liver, gut, and lymphatic system. Over a lifetime, we are exposed to many toxins and organisms that cause our filtration systems to become overloaded, which then creates inflammation. You need to understand that everyone's filtration system works differently based on their genetic makeup. All in all, forskolin can assist in reducing circulating cortisol, which can reduce the stress response, reduce inflammation, and ultimately result in weight loss in the abdomen.

Forskolin, essentially, can create weight loss as a side effect. The root is working on specific physiological pathways that will reduce inflammation, decrease excess cortisol, and improve detoxification, which will all result in some level of weight loss. Forskolin can be most effective7 with a low glycemic diet like paleo or ketogenic diets. Eliminating excess glucose and carbohydrates will create less blood sugar instability, which will keep cortisol levels more stable. Less stress on the cortisol receptors will enhance the weight loss benefits of forskolin. Most importantly, the management of stress is key in keeping cortisol balanced. Despite forskolin enhancing the cortisol receptor function, if you continue to be stressed and overworked, you will not necessarily see benefits with the use of forskolin.

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The other important benefits of forskolin.

More recently, forskolin has played an important role in scientific research because of its effect on relaxing smooth muscle in the body. It has the ability to do this by activating a messenger called cAMP, also known as cyclic AMP6. What does that mean? Well, cAMP is a "second messenger" that affects various biological processes in the brain, muscle, and metabolism. These second messengers are responsible for signaling specific processes that signal your body to regulate hormones, activate neurological pathways, burn sugar, store sugar, and much more. One of the main benefits of cAMP activation is the relaxation of smooth muscle. Smooth muscle makes up various organs of the body such as the lungs, cardiovascular system, and gastrointestinal system. The relaxation of smooth muscle in each organ system creates different health benefits.

How forskolin benefits the lungs.

The relaxation of the smooth muscles in the respiratory system can dilate the bronchioles and open up air passages. This creates an overall improvement in breathing and lung capacity. Research has also shown that forskolin can reduce asthma attacks in mild to moderate persistent asthma. It is best to rule out if you are living or working in an environmentally toxic location. Toxins from mold, asbestos, and building materials can impede proper lung function.

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How forskolin benefits the heart.

The heart, arteries, and veins are composed of smooth muscle. When the muscle is inflamed or constricted, it can raise blood pressure and create risk for more serious heart conditions. Forskolin's effect on the smooth muscle can ultimately lower blood pressure and improve heart health. If you are taking blood-pressure-lowering medications, it is best to consult with your doctor before taking forskolin. While on blood pressure medication, forskolin could result in abnormally low blood pressure8.

How forskolin benefits the gut.

The gut is a large and complex organ system. There are many components of proper digestion and normal bowel movements. One thing that can restrict bowel movements is abnormal function of the bowel smooth muscle. A relaxed bowel allows for proper motility and a reduction or elimination in constipation. For ideal results, it is best to be evaluated for food sensitivities and allergies to ensure you are not eating foods that are causing a disruption in the gut9.

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action of forskolin have made it an effective solution for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, constipation, and asthma.

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How to use forskolin.

Forskolin is an over-the-counter supplement that is available in various forms. It can be consumed as a powder, supplement, or topical lotion. The key to purchasing supplements is quality. Always review the active and inactive ingredient to make sure they are pure and sourced properly. I always say, "Don't trust cheap supplements." Herbs and roots sourced from their indigenous land, processed, and packaged properly will go for a premium price, so do not be fooled by the marketing of less reputable companies. Look for products that contain organic 100 percent forskolin and coleus forskohlii and contain no additives. If you believe forskolin may be beneficial to you, please see your health care provider to establish a complete regimen with diet and lifestyle recommendations.

Since forskolin has the ability to mobilize neurotoxins from the cortisol receptors, it is best to have supportive binding and detoxification herbs. CGF chlorella—a sophisticated mix of chlorella and chlorella growth factor and cilantro given together with a nonirradiated mucuna bean powder—will properly support the mobilization of neurotoxins to be eliminated through the gastrointestinal tract.

If you choose to explore topical forskolin, the specific studies revealed that a topical product combining tetrahydroxypropyl ethylenediamine, caffeine, carnitine, forskolin, and retinol reduced the circumference of the abdomen and buttocks. The best results 10were seen after 12 weeks of twice-daily application of the product.

Why I choose to incorporate forskolin in my practice.

In my clinical practice, there are many people struggling with the "mystery" of their symptoms. They do not understand why they can't lose weight, get their energy back, or reduce their anxiety and are often not getting answers from conventional lab testing. They want clarity around their symptoms, and most importantly, they want a solution. We use a specific style of testing to verify what supplements and herbs are right for the person to address their root cause. We often find that forskolin is a valuable supplement in a variety of patients that are dealing with inflammatory conditions, respiratory issues, heart palpitations, and obesity. We often pair forskolin with complementary therapies such as infrared sauna, diet recommendations, stress reduction therapies, bio-emotional techniques, and detoxification.

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Nicole Rivera, D.C. author page.
Nicole Rivera, D.C.
Doctor of Chiropractics

Nicole Rivera, D.C., strives to offer a progressive approach to evolve the way healthcare is being done by providing a specific, scientific, and one of a kind approach to each and every one of her patients. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, received her doctorate from Life Chiropractic College West and founded the Integrative Wellness Group in New Jersey. Through their cutting-edge integrative wellness facility, revolutionary physician training programs, and a condition-specific cookbook series she works to help people uncover their mystery symptoms and find the solutions to get well and stay well.