The Great Forskolin Hoax

Pop quiz: What do all these claims have in common?

“Burn fat quicker, without diet or exercise!”

“Breakdown stored fat and lower blood pressure.”

“Rapid belly melt without dieting or exercise!”

“Burn body fat, build lean muscle, and break down fatty tissue.”

They’re all made by manufacturers of forskolin supplements, a relatively recent addition to the long line of “natural” products claimed to help you lose weight and lean up. And because forskolin has been widely featured in popular media, it’s swept the marketplace like wildfire, and is making companies a whole lot of money in the process.

However, because forskolin is so new, it can be difficult to find down-to-earth, actionable information that you can use to make an informed decision about whether or not you should spend your hard-earned money on it. With this in mind, in this article we’ll cover all the basics about forskolin, including what it is, how it’s claimed to help you lose weight, and whether or not there’s any evidence to support these claims. Finally, we’ll talk about some of the ways that forskolin manufacturers convince you to buy their products, and how you can avoid falling into their trap.

Let’s start from the beginning.

What’s the Story Behind Forskolin?

Coleus forskohlii (also known as Plectranthus barbatus) is a member of the mint family, and has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for centuries across India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, and tropical areas of east Africa. Most often used for heart-related problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and angina, forskolin has traditionally been thought to be an effective treatment for asthma, convulsions, and painful urination as well.

Coleus forskohlii
Coleus forskohlii (image credit: mauroguanandi via Wikipedia)

Despite it’s long history of use, it wasn’t until 1974 though that researchers from Hoechst Pharmaceuticals, in conjunction with the Indian Central Drug Research Institute, found that a specific chemical in the Coleus forskohlii was directly responsible for decreased blood pressure and muscle spasms on humans. These researchers decided to name the new chemical forskolin.

Since that time, forskolin has been promoted as possibly effective for a wide variety of conditions, including inflammatory responses such as eczema, psoriasis, and asthma, improving cardiovascular health, relieving symptoms related to hyperthyroidism, and treating glaucoma. More recently though, forskolin has been widely promoted as an effective weight loss supplement, thanks in no small part to the infamous Dr. Oz.

Forskolin Hits the Big Time

We’ve talked a great deal about Dr. Oz in the past, seeing as how he’s (almost) singlehandedly responsible for the current boom within the nutritional supplements industry, especially for products such as raspberry ketone, green coffee bean extract, garcinia cambogia, and several others. And we’ve also discussed how many of Dr. Oz’s overzealous claims and use of “flowery language” have landed him in hot water.

With this in mind, it appears that forskolin is the latest supplement to receive Dr. Oz’s seal of approval, and was featured in his Rapid Belly Melt episode, which originally aired on May 5, 2014. In this episode, the good doctor claimed that forskolin “acts like a furnace” inside of your body to burn the fat surrounding muscle. He even demonstrated this effect by lighting a model of fat on fire, which quickly burned away to reveal muscle underneath.

Dr. Oz’s Rapid Belly Melt episode
Dr. Oz’s Rapid Belly Melt episode

And as with all the other supplements featured on the Dr. Oz show, manufacturers took notice and began stocking shelves and building online storefronts with their forskolin products, which is the result of something known as the “Dr. Oz effect.” In fact, between the five forskolin supplements featured on HighYa, every single website was registered after Dr. Oz’s Rapid Belly Melt episode.

Just because something’s popular and promoted by a celebrity though, does this necessarily mean that it’s effective? Let’s take a look.

How Does Forskolin Claim to Help You Lose Weight?

The technical version: When present in the body, forskolin activates an enzyme known as adenylyl cyclase, which results in an increase in cyclic AMP (cAMP). cAMP works as a messenger between cells and regulates a variety of chemical processes, “including glycogen, sugar, and lipid metabolism” (e.g. lipolysis). In theory, this means that increased levels of cAMP might help individuals break down stored fat and prevent fat from being synthesized by the body.

The non-technical version: Based on manufacturer’s claims, Forskolin may help you get rid of existing fat and prevent you from adding more fat to your body.

Sounds really science-y, right? Let’s see if this is the case.

Is there Any Evidence to Support These Claims?

Here at HighYa, we’ve reviewed hundreds of nutritional supplements over the years, all claiming to provide a wide range of benefits, from weight loss to better hair. But with the exception of probiotics, the story behind them is almost always the same: there might be one or two studies that appear to support the manufacturer’s claims, although they may not be peer reviewed, and in some instances they may have even been performed by the manufacturers themselves.

In a moment, we’ll talk more about how manufacturers get away with making some of these claims, but first, let’s answer the following question: is there any evidence showing that forskolin supplements can reliably help you lose weight? As is often the case, very little.

This is because although forskolin as been “used in more than 18,000 in vitro and in vivo studies” between 1981 and 2008, there have been just two clinical trials completed on this chemical in relation to its potential weight loss benefits—only one of which has been subjected to peer review.

This 2005 forskolin study, completed by the University of Kansas Sport and Exercise Sciences Department, found that “Oral ingestion of forskolin (250 mg of 10% forskolin extract twice a day) for a 12-week period was shown to favorably alter body composition while concurrently increasing bone mass and serum free testosterone levels in overweight and obese men. The results indicate that forskolin is a possible therapeutic agent for the management and treatment of obesity.” However, here’s the kicker: none of these participants lost weight.

What? That’s right. While this study showed that some participants altered their body composition by decreasing body fat percentage, changed bone mass, and increased serum free testosterone, none of them lost any weight. On top of this, another forskolin study completed that same year concluded, “Results suggest that CF [Coleus forskohlii] does not appear to promote weight loss but may help mitigate weight gain in overweight females with apparently no clinically significant side effects.”

Bottom Line: Is Forskolin Beneficial for Weight Loss?

If we break all of this down, here’s what we’re left with: Based on just 2 clinical studies performed on this chemical, forskolin may help improve your body composition and could potentially help prevent you from gaining weight, but there is zero clinical evidence showing that it can actually help you lose weight. This is a small, albeit extremely important, difference.

In fact, taking a look at HighYa reader reviews for forskolin supplements, as well as elsewhere online, the number one complaint is failure to work. Why? Because, by and large, it doesn’t.

How Can Supplements Manufacturers Make These Claims?

If this is your first dive into the shark-infested waters of the nutritional supplements industry, you’re probably wondering how manufacturers can make these blatantly unreliable claims. While we’ve covered this in great detail in our Nutritional Supplements Buyer’s Guide, suffice it to say that the supplements industry is basically the wild west of consumerism, as manufacturers are free to make essentially any claim they want since they’re not regulated by the FDA—until enough consumer complaints pile up, that is.

However, by the time the FDA has taken action against a company, these manufacturers are often on to their next big thing, and the process starts all over again. In other words, when it comes to nutritional supplements:

  • There’s a huge amount of money to be made.
  • There is only the slightest amount of governmental oversight.
  • The process of taking action against a manufacturer is painfully slow.
  • Even if a manufacturer is caught red-handed, the ramifications are often extraordinarily minor compared to the potential profits.

So how can you learn to identify the sneaky marketing and sales practices that many forskolin supplements manufacturers use in order to convince you to buy?

Marketing Tactics Used by Forskolin Supplements Manufacturers

As we described in our How Weight Loss Ads Convince You To Buy article, believing that you’re overweight and that you need to lose a few pounds can be an emotional experience. Often times, you wonder how you let yourself get in this shape in the first place, and you’re probably overwhelmed thinking about all the work it’ll take to shed the extra pounds, as well as the sacrifices you’ll have to make along the way. And supplements manufacturers play on this psychology to convince you to buy their product.

Large pictures of pretty models on a Forskolin website
​A typical Forskolin supplement website

This often entails large pictures of pretty models on their websites, with (what the manufacturers think are) “ideal” bodies, creating a sense of urgency by making you believe the product is so popular that there’s a limited supply, and then creating relief from this urgency by showing you how to get your very own supply (e.g. filling out a short order form). Many forskolin supplement manufacturers will even go so far as to create a series of fake review and news websites that are intended to lead you to believe you’re making an informed decision, when it’s actually just more unsubstantiated marketing hype.

On top of this—at least in the case of forskolin supplements—these manufacturers will generally only sell their products through “free trials,” which are intended to make you think that you’ll have plenty of time to give it a shot before committing to a purchase.

However, these trials almost always involve sending you a full-size bottle of the supplement for S&H costs (usually $4.95). Then, after a period of 14 days or so (beginning from the date your order is placed), you’ll be charged the full price, often nearing $100. In these instances, the free trial period isn’t long enough for you to experience any benefits from the supplement, and in fact, is often barely enough time to cancel your trial before being charged full price.

And once you’ve been charged this amount; one that’s almost certainly far out of line with any benefits you can realistically expect to achieve, you’ll be signed up for an autoship program, which goes hand-in-hand with a free trial. In an autoship program, you’ll be automatically sent a new supply of the forskolin supplement on a regular basis (generally every 30 days), and your credit card will be charged each time until you call to cancel.

As if this weren’t enough, some manufacturers might attempt to make cancelling your trial/autoship enrollment as difficult as possible, including not answering calls or emails, long hold times with frequent disconnections, claiming that your return package was never received, and charging extremely high restocking fees. And when you consider that some of these companies market identical supplements under different brand names, this can add up to a whole lot of money for the company in recurring charges.

But here’s the truth: The vast majority of supplements manufacturers know full well that their products don’t work as advertised, and that most customers will attempt to process a refund. So to prevent this from occurring, less-than-stellar companies will attempt to frustrate customers to the point of giving up on their request.

Still Thinking About Purchasing a Forskolin Supplement?

Despite the lack of clinical evidence showing that forskolin can help you lose weight, and the less-than-stellar marketing tactics used by numerous manufacturers, if you’re still thinking about purchasing the supplement, the first thing you should do is speak with your physician. Next, be sure to find out what other customers are saying about specific brands, and thoroughly research them using HighYa and other consumer advocacy websites.

And finally, be sure to spread the word about your experience with forskolin supplements. This is because, as a fellow consumer, your opinion holds a lot of weight with others, and HighYa is the perfect place to voice you opinions and for them to be heard around the world. So go ahead, leave a comment below!


Derek Lakin

Senior Editor at HighYa. With more than a decade of experience as a copywriter, Derek takes a detail-oriented, step-by-step approach to helping you shop smarter. Whether it’s nutritional supplements or new scams, he believes an informed consumer is a happy customer. Connect with him on Twitter: @DALwrites


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