CLA Effectiveness In Weight Loss

Conjugated Linoleic Acid - Essential Aid In Weight Loss Or Dangerous For Your Health?

CLA for weightloss

What Is Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a polyunsaturated fatty acid which occurs naturally in meat and dairy products. There are actually 28 different types of CLA however only two are of interest which provide numerous health benefits. CLA is also available in supplemental form however it should be noted that this is made from chemically adjusting linoleic acid obtained from safflower and sunflower oils. This results in conjugated linoleic acid which has a different composition as well as the health benefits which it delivers. [1][2]

The mechanisms by which CLA works are by increasing fat burning capabilities, by stimulating the breakdown of fats as well as inhibiting the production of it. It has been used for the treatment of various diseases and conditions namely high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, cancer, asthma as well as for building muscle mass. The US Food and Drug Administration has rated CLA as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and has approved it as a food additive in milk products, meal replacement beverages and bars as well as fruit juices. [3][4]

The average daily intake of CLA is approximately 151mg for women and 212mg for men. Rich sources of CLA include dairy and beef from grass fed cows. Research conducted by the USDA and Clemson University found that beef from grass-fed cows possess 10 characteristics which make it better than beef from grain fed cows, inclusive of higher amounts of CLA between 300 – 500% more. It is also lower in total fat and saturated fat which has potential benefits in heart health and disease prevention. Furthermore, it is also higher in vitamins and minerals such as beta-carotene, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Additionally, grass-fed beef is also higher in total omega-3 fatty acids as well as there is a healthier omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids ratio. Finally, beef from grass-fed cows are higher in vaccenic acid than that found in beef from grain-fed cows; vaccenic acid can be also be converted into CLA  which further increases the content found in beef from grass-fed cows. [1][5]

Facts About Conjugated Linoleic Acid

  • When CLA is fed to mice their body fat is reduced by 60 percent.
  • CLA is a mixture of over 28 isomers of linoleic acid.
  • CLA was first discovered in 1987 by Dr. Pariza of the University of Wisconsin
  • CLA is considered to be a “good fat”.
  • Conjugated linoleic acid was first isolated from a fried hamburger.
  • The best source of conjugated linoleic acid is beef and dairy obtained grass-fed cows.
  • CLA is the first substance that has been discovered by a University which has been approved by US FDA as a GRAS substance. [21] [5][6][7][9]

Foods Containing Conjugated Linoleic Acid

Conjugated linoleic acid may be obtained from foods such as butter from grass fed cows, eggs, dairy products such as cream, milk, cheese or yoghurt obtained from sheep, goats and cows, grass fed beef as well as grass fed lamb and veal. Additionally, CLA may also be obtained from supplements in various forms capsules, powder or tablets. [2][3]

Conjugated Linoleic Acid: Is It Bad For You?

Conjugated linoleic acid is safe when obtained from food sources and when taken as supplement it is also safe to otherwise healthy individuals when taken as recommended. There are however some concerns for persons in a specific class and those suffering from certain diseases and disorders. For persons with bleeding disorders taking CLA may worsen this condition as it slows down the clotting process. Additionally, persons with diabetes or metabolic syndrome should also avoid CLA as it may worsen the symptoms of the former and increases the risk of developing diabetes in the latter. Furthermore, if you have or had surgery it is recommended that you avoid CLA as it may delay healing. For children and pregnant or nursing women CLA should also be avoided so as to prevent complications. [10]

Benefits Of Conjugated Linoleic Acid

The benefits of Conjugated linoleic acid include weight loss, increased muscle mass, lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, boost the immune system, high blood pressure, cancer and arthritis. CLA plays an integral role in weight management in that it increases the basal metabolic rate or index (BMI), that is, it increases the rate which food is converted to energy therefore giving the resultant effect of increasing one’s energy as well as fat that the body stores [22].  It should be noted that CLA does not actually make one loses weight what it does is that it quickly converts fat into energy and as fats are consumed they are also burned up therefore CLA inhibits any excess fat stores from forming. [3][6]

CLA also has functionality in bodybuilding as it increases muscle building capabilities as well as repairs damaged muscle tissues. CLA also provides a protective effect as it relates to muscle building due to the fact that whenever muscle is built, CLA prevents these muscles from being broken back down. [7]

CLA plays a role in cholesterol and blood sugar regulation which may also reduce the risk of heart disease and enhances overall heart health. Additionally, it helps in the treatment of diabetes as it lowers blood glucose levels and improves insulin sensitivity. [11][12]

Hay fever also known as allergic rhinitis occurs when the immune system reacts to some kind of allergen in the atmosphere, be it from trees or flowers. It is characterized by nasal congestion, runny nose with clear mucus, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes. Taking CLA for 12 weeks alleviates these symptoms and improves this condition.  Asthma is a life threatening respiratory condition which is characterized by coughing, wheezing, chest tightening and shortness of breath. This condition may be treated using CLA when taken for 12 weeks. CLA renders this treatment by inhibiting the enzyme 5-lipoxygenase which breaks done arachidonic acid, the causative agent in asthma attacks. Conjugated linoleic acid is converted into Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) both of which exert anti-inflammatory effects on the respiratory system thereby alleviating these symptoms. [13][14]

CLA may also be used to treat Rheumatoid arthritis, a condition in which the immune system does not function normally in that, instead of providing protection the joints of the body are adversely affected. Symptoms of this condition include swelling and pain in the joints, damage to the tissues and cartilage in the joints as well as decreased mobility. [15]

Negative Impact Of CLA On The Body

Conjugated linoleic acid obtained from food sources are safe for otherwise healthy individuals however when obtained from supplements it may pose some problems or cause complications in individuals who are suffering from certain conditions. Side effects which may be encountered are fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, loose stools, heartburn, throat irritation, insulin resistance and acid indigestion. The fatigue experienced due to the supplement may affect one’s sleep patterns as more sleep is required in order to feel rested. If diarrhea occurs as a result of CLA there is also the risk of additional complications such cramping, bloating and dehydration which further compounds the problem as dehydration may also cause dizziness, dry skin or headache. [3][16][17]

At very high doses, CLA may cause more severe side effects such as rash, limb swelling,  difficulty breathing, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), increased C-reactive protein which is indicative of inflammation associated with other underlying conditions. Another side effect of high doses of CLA is decreased amounts of low density lipoproteins which may lead to other health conditions. [10][18]

How To Minimize Exposure

CLA obtained from foods has no side effects associated with it however there are some mild to moderate side effects which may occur when it is obtained in supplemental form. Therefore in order to minimize one’s exposure it is recommended that all supplemental forms of CLA be avoided.

Should You Worry About Conjugated Linoleic Acid?

There is no need to worry about CLA when it is obtained from consuming CLA-rich foods and supplemental CLA has been rated as a GRAS (generally recommended as safe) ingredient by the US FDA to be added to various food products. Conjugated linoleic acid is generally safe to otherwise healthy individuals however for persons suffering from certain diseases care and due diligence should be exercised [20]. In general, the reviews on CLA supplemental use has been relatively good with an overall rating of 3.03 out of 5 for effectiveness, 3.91 out of 5 for ease of use and 3.31 out of 5 for satisfaction for those individuals who took it for weight loss. A total of 32 participants submitted reviews with a total of 21 participants giving excellent scores for all three parameters.  The remaining 11 participants gave the supplement just below average review. A total of 17 participants gave feedback who took supplemental CLA for overweight; an overall score of 3.47 out of 5 was received for effectiveness, 4.06 out of 5 for ease of use and 3.47 out of 5 for satisfaction. There was also good reviews from participants who took CLA for overweight, 13 out of 17 gave almost perfect scores while 4 participants gave under average reviews. Conjugated linoleic acid was also taken for health and wellness with it receiving 4.30 out of 5 for effectiveness, 4.50 out of 5 for ease of use and 4.20 out of 5 for satisfaction. A total of 10 individuals took CLA for health and wellness and 8 out of 10 participants gave it great reviews, the remaining 2 gave it just under average reviews. Another group of individuals also took CLA to help in the treatment of obesity; this group gave relatively good reviews with it receiving 3.13 out of 5 for effectiveness, 3.88 out of 5 for ease of use and 3.00 out of 5 for satisfaction. A total of 6 out of 8 persons who participated in the review gave CLA great ratings with only 2 persons giving it below average. [19]

Final Thoughts

Conjugated linoleic acid is a fatty acid which may be very beneficial in the area of weight loss management, heart health, treatment of diabetes, cancer prevention, treatment of respiratory conditions and overall immune health. CLA obtained from food sources has no adverse side effects associated with it however that obtained from supplements tend to have mild to moderate side effects when the recommended dosage is exceeded. For otherwise healthy individuals CLA is generally safe however for persons with certain conditions or disorders care should be exercised. Pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid taking conjugated linoleic acid as the risk associated with taking it by this group is unknown therefore it is recommended not to take it. Additionally, it is also highly recommended that before one begins taking supplemental CLA one should consult their health care provider.








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Upon receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism in college, and competing at a Division 1 level for tennis Lauren has loved writing for many years. She specializes in health and nutritional topics, which has come from the decades of high level education from her competitive tennis days where she worked with nutritionists, strength coaches, and mental coaches full time. After graduation she went onto compete at a professional level for tennis, in which injury sidelined her career. She then jumped straight into the health and wellness space working for a nutritional company, as well as writing for multiple health organizations to date.


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