In the never-ending search for ways to combat overweight and obesity, one substance receiving attention recently is CLA or conjugated linoleic acid. Indeed, obesity is a serious health threat increasing the risk for conditions such as coronary heart disease, stroke, breast and colon cancer, type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis, and while the most effective way to deal with the problem is a combination of healthy diet and exercise, there are times when overweight individuals need some new ideas or another aid to help get them started on the road to good health. Numerous diets and supplements have come and gone, promising quick weight loss and often not delivering. Is CLA another dubious passing fad or is there some truth to the claim that it can help reduce body fat while at the same time increasing muscle strength?
Linoleic acid is a common omega-6 fatty acid, a polyunsaturated fat found in a variety of foods, most notably vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, meats and dairy products. It helps in maintaining bone health and brain function, regulating metabolism, boosting the immune system and keeping cholesterol in check. While it has significant roles in the body, it is important that humans ingest it in balance with omega-3 fatty acids, which is a problem because omega-6 fatty acids are so prevalent in the ubiquitous deep-fried foods and baked products.
Chain of fatty acids
Conjugated linoleic acid is a form of linoleic acid with a different chemical configuration in the ways molecules are arranged and attached in a chain of fatty acids. CLA is technically a trans-fat but when found naturally in foods is very different from industrial trans fats which may be dangerous to cardiovascular health. Being part of the omega-6 family, CLA has roles similar to other members of that family as discussed above.
In the 1980s CLA was isolated as an agent that appeared to have a unique role in reducing fat levels in the body. With obesity increasing around the world, research scientists showed interest in CLA as a potential weight loss treatment. More study revealed that CLA has several anti-obesity mechanisms.
It seems CLA has the ability to increase basal metabolic rates which means food is converted more efficiently into energy. This may, indeed, help to reduce body fat by keeping fat cells from increasing in size (rather than shrinking large fat cells). This has the effect of altering the body's fat-to-muscle ratio. Studies suggest CLA also increases muscle strength which allows for increased and vigorous activity as well as endurance in an exercise program useful in weight loss and management.
Immune system function
Research continues on the benefits CLA has shown in weight loss (along with benefits such as improved immune system function, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and food-induced allergies). Thus far studies on CLA's impact on weight loss have been mixed—some have shown CLA to improve body composition with a reduction in body fat and increases in muscle mass, some have shown actual weight loss, pronounced at first, then plateauing, while others show very little effect at all. One thing that is certain is that CLA from food sources seems more effective than when taken in supplement form.
It has been known for a long time that the main dietary sources of CLA are animal foods from ruminants such as cows and sheep as well as eggs. What has come to light is that CLA content is three to five times higher in beef, eggs and dairy products from grass-fed animals compared to the grain-fed counterpart.
Non-meat or dairy consumers and those who are not careful in purchasing grass-fed animal products may not be getting enough CLA in the diets. In that case or if one wishes to try it for help in weight loss, supplements in the form of softgel capsules are available. Make sure that CLA content in capsules is high (aim for 75 or 80 percent). It appears an adequate daily dose is 3.4 grams (3400 mg). It is wise to consult your physician if planning to take over a long period of time or in larger than recommended dosages.
This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach.