The coleus plant, a member of the mint family, is popular for its use in gardening due to its brightly colored leaves of green and purple. But that’s not all it has to offer—the root of Coleus forskohlii has been traditionally used as medicine since ancient times.
The root is rich in forskolin, a compound that increases the activity of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), a messenger molecule that helps regulate the metabolism of glucose, proteins, and lipids, as well as the function of hormones like adrenaline.
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In both laboratory and clinical studies, forskolin from coleus significantly lowers blood pressure by relaxing the muscles found in blood vessel walls. Researchers of one study concluded that if patients are administered this natural treatment as soon as hypertension is detected, “then the unnecessary use of powerful synthetic drugs, causing a number of adverse effects, can be effectively avoided.” Studies have also shown that forskolin inhibits platelet aggregation, which has additional benefits on cardiovascular health.[1,2] (Find more ways to lower blood pressure here.)
By increasing the activity of cAMP, forskolin also promotes the breakdown of human fat cells. cAMP also increases the basal metabolic rate and affects other processes that can influence appetite and energy use in the body. A study in rats with diet-induced obesity found that treatment with coleus extract led to normalization of blood lipid levels, with a decrease in LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as an increase in HDL-cholesterol. These changes in lipid profiles are beneficial in controlling weight and avoiding obesity-related diseases like metabolic syndrome. Other animal studies show that administration of this plant extract significantly reduces food intake. Additionally, while more research is needed in humans, initial trials suggest that coleus is safe and effective for losing weight and body fat.
Glaucoma is caused by an elevated intraocular pressure (pressure in the eye). Forskolin found in the coleus plant can lower intraocular pressure by activation of cAMP and reduction in the flow of liquid into the eye. Human studies have shown that a topical application of coleus to the eye effectively lowers intraocular pressure. More research is needed to determine the effect of oral dosages on eye health.
Coleus also contains many polyphenols, tannins, flavonols, and other biologically active compounds. It can thus act as a powerful antioxidant. Studies in rats have shown that coleus extracts can protect the liver from damage induced by toxins. This protective effect on the liver has many potential therapeutic benefits.
As mentioned above, cAMP helps regulate glucose metabolism. Forskolin also enhances the signal that tells pancreatic cells to release insulin. In a laboratory study, forskolin administered orally for 8 weeks decreased glucose levels in healthy rats and helped to moderate the severity of high blood sugar in diabetic rats. These promising results show forskolin and coleus as potential therapies for diabetes in humans.
Coleus may also be beneficial in protecting against cancer metastasis, raising thyroid levels in hypothyroidisim, reducing symptoms of psoriasis, and helping to treat asthma and allergies.
The recommended oral dosages of coleus extracts (standardized to 10% forskolin) are generally between 100 and 250 mg twice daily. Coleus forskohlii is the most commonly used species of this plant used medicinally, so look for a high quality supplement with this latin name on the label.
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This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.