Coleus forskohlii, also known as Indian coleus, is a plant native to Southeast Asia. Its roots contain a chemical called forskolin, which is thought to be beneficial in treating a number of conditions such as asthma, hypertension, menstrual and bladder cramping, heart disease, and lung disease, as well as skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Coleus forskohlii is also used increasingly by athletes, because it is believed to increase metabolism and aid delivery of protein and carbohydrates to the muscles during a workout. The chemical compound forskolin has undergone scientific study by pharmaceutical manufacturers in India and the United States. It is proven to be effective in treating heart and lung conditions; ongoing studies may provide additional proof of its effectiveness for other conditions.
A member of the mint family of plants, Coleus forskohlii has a long history as a medicinal herb. It has been used for centuries in Southeast Asia to treat heart and lung conditions, convulsions, digestive complaints, and skin conditions. Traditionally, the roots of the plant were dried and processed into a powdered form to be added to foods, and Coleus powder is still widely available. Modern pharmaceutical processing involves isolating and extracting the forskolin from the roots, which provides a more concentrated preparation that is often available in capsules.
Forskolin is thought to work by stimulating an enzyme that increases levels of cyclic adenosine monophosphate, or cAMP, which is produced naturally by the body. Scientists know a great deal about cAMP and its beneficial effects on many of the systems in the human body. cAMP lowers blood pressure by relaxing smooth muscles of the arteries, and it exerts the same muscle relaxing effect on the bronchial muscles of those suffering with the symptoms of asthma. Prescription asthma medications work by indirectly increasing levels of cAMP in the body, and forskolin is believed to work by the same mechanism.
For most conditions, Coleus forskohlii is taken orally, either in powder or pill form. For treatment of glaucoma, a preparation containing forskolin is applied directly to the eye. Studies are ongoing, and this treatment should only be used under the supervision of a physician or medical practitioner.
Coleus forskohlii is commonly available in health food stores, nutrition centers, and online retail outlets. Although it has been used for centuries with few side effects, forskolin may interfere with the effects of prescription hypertensive medications and blood thinners, so caution should be exercised. People with diabetes should also be cautious when taking Coleus forskohlii since it can affect insulin and glucagon levels in the blood stream. As with any medical herb, users should consult with a physician before adding Coleus forskohlii to any treatment plan.