Coleus (Coleus forskohlii)

This attractive, perennial member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family originated in the lower elevations of India. It is now grown around the world as an ornamental plant. The root is used medicinally.


As recorded in ancient Sanskrit texts, coleus was used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat heart and lung diseases, intestinal spasms, insomnia and convulsions.

Active Ingredients

Forskolin, a chemical found in coleus, activates the enzyme adenylate cyclase. This enzyme is a turnkey compound that initiates a cascade of critical events within every cell of the body. Adenylate cyclase and the chemicals it activates comprise a “second messenger” system that is responsible for carrying out the complex and powerful effects of hormones in the body. Stimulation of the second messenger system by forskolin leads to blood vessel dilation Stroke[/glossary] 1986;17: pp.1299-303], inhibition of allergic reactions and an increase in thyroid hormone secretion. Forskolin has other properties as well, including inhibition of the pro-inflammatory substance known as platelet-activating factor (PAF) and inhibition of the spread of cancer cells.


Coleus extracts standardized to 10 to 18% forskolin are available. While some doctors expert in herbal medicine recommend 50-100mg two to three times per day of standardized coleus extract, these amounts are extrapolations and have yet to be confirmed by direct clinical research. Most studies have used injected forskolin, so it is unclear if oral ingestion of coleus extracts will provide similar benefits in the amounts recommended above. Until ophthalmic preparations of coleus or forskolin are available, people with glaucoma should consult with a skilled healthcare practitioner to obtain a sterile fluid extract for use in the eyes.


Few adverse effects of coleus have been reported. It should be avoided in people with ulcers, because it may increase stomach acid levels. Direct application to the eyes may cause transitory tearing, burning, and itching. The safety of coleus in pregnancy and breast-feeding is unknown.

Certain medications may interact with coleus:

Albuterol – Supportive interaction

Aspirin – Adverse interaction

Epinephrine – Supportive interaction

Salmeterol – Supportive interaction


Coleus (Coleus forskohlii) can help with the following



Forskolin, found in coleus, may help dilate blood vessels and improve the forcefulness with which the heart pumps blood. A preliminary trial found that intravenous forskolin reduced blood pressure and improved heart function in people with cardiomyopathy. [Arzneim Forsch 1987;37: pp.364-7] It is unknown if oral coleus extracts would have the same effect, but some herbalists suggest taking 200-600mg orally per day of a 10% forskolin extract.

Organ Health  


Studies in healthy humans, including at least one double-blind trial, have shown that direct application of an ophthalmic preparation of forskolin to the eyes lowers eye pressure, thus reducing the risk of glaucoma. [Lancet 1983;1: pp.958-60, Klin Monatsbl Augenheilkd 1984;185: pp.522-6] Direct application of the whole herb to the eyes has not been studied and is not recommended.



A small double-blind trial found that inhaled forskolin could decrease lung spasms in asthmatics. [Clin Pharmacol Ther 1993;43: pp.76-83] It is unclear if oral ingestion of coleus extracts will provide similar benefits.


May do some good



Type of alternative medicine in which diet and therapies, such as herbal inhalation and massage, are dictated by individual's body type; 4,000 year-old traditional Indian system believed to be helpful to those suffering insomnia, hypertension and digestive problems.


Specific protein catalysts produced by the cells that are crucial in chemical reactions and in building up or synthesizing most compounds in the body. Each enzyme performs a specific function without itself being consumed. For example, the digestive enzyme amylase acts on carbohydrates in foods to break them down.


Chemical substances secreted by a variety of body organs that are carried by the bloodstream and usually influence cells some distance from the source of production. Hormones signal certain enzymes to perform their functions and, in this way, regulate such body functions as blood sugar levels, insulin levels, the menstrual cycle, and growth. These can be prescription, over-the-counter, synthetic or natural agents. Examples include adrenal hormones such as corticosteroids and aldosterone; glucagon, growth hormone, insulin, testosterone, estrogens, progestins, progesterone, DHEA, melatonin, and thyroid hormones such as thyroxine and calcitonin.


Thyroid Gland: An organ with many veins. It is at the front of the neck. It is essential to normal body growth in infancy and childhood. It releases thyroid hormones - iodine-containing compounds that increase the rate of metabolism, affect body temperature, regulate protein, fat, and carbohydrate catabolism in all cells. They keep up growth hormone release, skeletal maturation, and heart rate, force, and output. They promote central nervous system growth, stimulate the making of many enzymes, and are necessary for muscle tone and vigor.


Often PAF antagonist: Platelet activating factor inhibitor. PAF activates platelets to secrete serotonin and other mediators to cause smooth-muscle contraction and vascular permeability, involved in asthma; a PAF antagonist counters these effects.


Refers to the various types of malignant neoplasms that contain cells growing out of control and invading adjacent tissues, which may metastasize to distant tissues.


Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, teas should be made with one teaspoon herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Tinctures may be used singly or in combination as noted. The high doses of single herbs suggested may be best taken as dried extracts (in capsules), although tinctures (60 drops four times per day) and teas (4 to 6 cups per day) may also be used.


(mg): 1/1,000 of a gram by weight.


A disease of the eye characterized by vision loss due to an increase in the pressure of fluid within the eye. This rise in pressure results from a build-up of aqueous fluid and leads to progressive damage to the optic nerve that transmits visual signals to the brain. Over time, glaucoma can lead to a gradual loss in peripheral vision. There are usually no signs that you're developing glaucoma until vision loss occurs.


Lesion on the skin or mucous membrane.


A hollow, muscular, J-shaped pouch located in the upper part of the abdomen to the left of the midline. The upper end (fundus) is large and dome-shaped; the area just below the fundus is called the body of the stomach. The fundus and the body are often referred to as the cardiac portion of the stomach. The lower (pyloric) portion curves downward and to the right and includes the antrum and the pylorus. The function of the stomach is to begin digestion by physically breaking down food received from the esophagus. The tissues of the stomach wall are composed of three types of muscle fibers: circular, longitudinal and oblique. These fibers create structural elasticity and contractibility, both of which are needed for digestion. The stomach mucosa contains cells which secrete hydrochloric acid and this in turn activates the other gastric enzymes pepsin and rennin. To protect itself from being destroyed by its own enzymes, the stomach’s mucous lining must constantly regenerate itself.

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