More Than Ornamental
An extract from one coleus species helps promote development of lean body mass.
by Lisa James
The coleus family embraces more than 150 species, many of them showy specimens that grace gardens around the world. One variety, C. forskohlii, is attractive in its own right, with leaves that sport bright purple centers under the right lighting conditions. India’s traditional Ayurvedic medicine values C. forskohlii for more than just its good looks, though, using the plant’s root to treat heart and respiratory problems, eczema, insomnia, convulsions and other ailments.
Modern clinical studies have uncovered evidence to support many of C. forskohlii’s healing properties. But today it is best known as the source of forskolin, an extract that helps promote the development of what’s known as lean mass.
The definition of lean mass is simple—it’s everything that isn’t fat tissue, including bones, muscles and organs. Although some body fat (about 3% in men, 12% in women) is essential, it is lean mass that does most of the body’s crucial work: Bones provide support and protection, and each internal organ performs its own vital function. Most lean mass consists of muscle tissue. In addition to allowing movement, muscles help protect organs and regulate body temperature.
Greater lean mass does give the body a sleek look. But more importantly, increasing lean mass while decreasing fat pays health dividends, especially in older people. Losing fat has been linked with better physical function, while lean mass has been associated with greater retention of knee cartilage (The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 4/13/12 online, International Journal of Obesity 8/21/12 online).
Coleus and Friends
Forskolin has been found to increase cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). This “messenger” molecule assists in a number of biological functions, including the dismantling of body fat for use in theromogenesis, or heat production—and more fat breakdown equals greater lean mass. Study participants who have taken forskolin have reported reductions in both body fat and weight; some reported feeling less fatigued and hungry as well.
Increasing cAMP also helps stimulate activity of the thyroid, a gland in the neck that acts as the body’s master energy controller. Trying to shed pounds with a poorly functioning thyroid is like putting your feet on the gas pedal and the brake at the same time; you simply can’t lose weight no matter how hard you try. In addition, scientists believe forskolin helps regulate the secretion of insulin, a hormone involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Forskolin works best when complemented by other natural weight loss aids. For example, raspberry ketones also encourage fat breakdown by boosting levels of the hormone adiponectin. Sea vegetable-based starch blockers interfere with the conversion of starch into simple sugars, which may undergo conversion into body fat; chromium helps regulate sugar in the bloodstream. An extract from the Chinese herb Cassia nomame blocks fat absorption in the intestines. Green tea increases metabolism. Another Ayurvedic remedy, Garcinia cambogia, yields an extract that helps suppress appetite. Synaptose, an amino acid-based supplement, helps reduce food cravings and encourage feelings of satisfaction by promoting healthy brain chemical balance.
You have your pick of coleus species to brighten your garden. But to build lean mass, look for supplements that contain C. forskohlii.