Forskolin is an extract of coleus forskohlii, a pretty little plant that you see all over the place in pots in people’s houses. In nature, it grows in the mountains of India, Nepal and Thailand. It has a long history with traditional medicine modalities such as Ayurveda. In these modalities, it is used to treat cardiovascular disease, eczema, abdominal colic, respiratory disorders, painful urination, insomnia and convulsions. In fact the supplement forskolin is recommended for these, too.

Wikipedia refers to the various traditional modalities as quackery and “pseudoscience,” but some scientists were clearly interested enough in the plant to do a lot of research. Murray, in his book The HealingPower of Herbs, that Andy Cutler liked so much, lists 34 studies in the footnotes of his article on forskolin.

In a normally functioning body, a stimulatory hormone, such as adrenaline, which is referred to as a “first messenger,” binds to a receptor site on a cell wall and causes the enzyme adenylate cyclase to be produced. Adenylate cyclase then goes on to get the cell to ramp up production of cyclic adenosine monophosphate or cAMP. cAMP is referred to as a “second messenger,” and in this case, the adrenaline would be a “first messenger.” Murray tells us that cAMP “is perhaps the most important cell regulating compound.” Once it is formed, and depending on which cells in which part of the body, it activates many other enzymes that perform other cellular functions.

Forskolin bypasses the need for direct hormone activation of the cell walls to increase adenylate cyclase so the cAMP is produced as though there were higher levels of “first messengers” such as neurotransmitters and hormones kicking around. Forskolin can be helpful to toxic people because mercury interferes with the production of neurotransmitters and hormones and on top of that deactivates adenylate cyclase itself.

There are many conditions that are thought to be caused by low intracellular cAMP levels and for which forskolin may be useful. These include, according to Murray, eczema, asthma, psoriasis, angina and hypertension. Andy notes that forskolin “turns down the ‘allergic type’ part of the immune response in favor of turning up other parts.” I was interested to read about how current treatments for asthma, for instance, use substances like corticosteroids to bind to cell receptors to get them to produce adenylate cyclase and consequently more cAMP. Presumably one could take forskolin to do this instead of the steroids. Forskolin winds up causing the smooth muscles that cause spasms in asthma to relax and Murray suggests using it instead of or in conjunction with standard therapies.

Along with allergic conditions, forskolin has been found useful in treating psoriasis. Two studies found that it was useful in treating glaucoma when applied directly to the eyes. The increased levels of cAMP that is caused in the cells of the cardiovascular system has been shown in studies to improve cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, congestive heart failure and angina.

In Amalgam Illness, Andy Cutler writes that forskolin increases thyroid hormone production, increases nutrient absorption in the small intestine and can be useful for people wishing to lose weight because it stimulates fat burning or lypolisis. He says, “forskolin generally makes you feel more together, less anxious, less volatile, etc.” (I am guessing he is speaking from personal experience here.)