Anyone shopping in a natural food and supplement store can attest to the dizzying array of weight-loss products on the shelves. When choosing one of them, it is important to do your homework and work with products that have nutritional value and are backed by science or tradition. The right supplement can greatly enhance results obtained from a properly balanced diet.
One such supplement is conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA for short. This naturally occurring nutrient belonging to the omega-6 family of fatty acids appears to help reduce body fat and improve muscle tone. First identified by scientists at the University of Wisconsin in 1978, CLA has been frequently cited in scientific literature as a “previously unrecognized nutrient” and one that we no longer get much of in our diet. It is found in dairy products such as whole milk and butter but only if they are organic. Cows that graze in open pasture and eat hay in winter will produce lots of CLA. But mass production cows fed silage and other feed mixtures produce very little of this nutrient.
CLA’s molecular structure is different from linoleic acid, the essential fatty acid found in seeds, nuts and oils. This variation affects its function and gives CLA special properties not attributed to regular linoleic acid.
How Does It Work?
Conjugated linoleic acid may affect the body’s ability to store fat by inhibiting the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL). LPL breaks down fat in the bloodstream, helping cells more readily absorb the fat and store it in the body. LPL inhibition by CLA reduces fat deposits and prompts the body to use stored fats as an energy source for muscles and the liver. In tests with mice, CLA trimmed body fat, curbed appetite, boosted metabolism and spot-reduced the abdominal area.
Weighing The Evidence
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Nutrition (December 2000) shows that CLA reduces body fat while preserving lean muscle mass. Sixty overweight men and women were observed for 12 weeks while taking either CLA or a placebo. A significant reduction in body fat mass was found in those taking at least 3.4 grams of CLA daily (without changing their diet or exercise habits).
Evidence from human trials shows that while CLA doesn’t always decrease body weight, it does something better: it reduces body fat and builds body-firming muscle. In other words, the effect can be seen in the mirror, not necessarily on the scale.
CLA also appears useful in managing weight after people go off their diets. In a clinical trial, 80 obese individuals were placed on a reduced-calorie diet and moderate exercise program. Half the group took one gram of CLA three times a day with each meal while the other half took sunflower oil placebos. Both groups lost weight, but what was most interesting was what happened when some participants stopped dieting and gained back weight. Those taking the CLA supplement were more likely to gain weight as muscle, not fat (American Chemical Society Meeting, August 2000). Unless you are a serious weightlifter, most people who put on pounds after coming off a diet gain about three times more fat than muscle.
These results are very encouraging, and future studies are expected to confirm what has been observed so far with CLA. As far as safety, CLA appears to be well tolerated but may occasionally cause gastrointestinal upset in some individuals.
In addition, the benefits of CLA are not limited to fat loss. Some 200 studies conducted worldwide indicate it to have multiple health benefits. Research shows CLA may help reduce breast cancer, improve asthma, control allergy and diabetes, and limit atherosclerosis (fatty deposits on the arteries linked to heart disease).
CLA appears to be a sensible choice for those wanting to take their fat-burning efforts to the next level. Just be sure to choose a reliable name brand product from your health food store.