Whether you are an active participant in the world of fitness or an ardent couch potato with high aspirations of achieving the body you have always dreamed of (someday!) there is no question that you have heard about all kinds of supplements.
Health and fitness supplements are an over $120 billion yearly enterprise. It seems that each and every day, a new one hits the market and is touted to be THE answer to your fat loss and fitness needs. It can be downright impossible to keep up on every new product released and the potential benefits of each. Many, as you might assume, are junk and aren’t worth a fraction of the price charged. But there are some that do offer help to those looking to speed up their fat loss and fitness goals and are backed by solid science and solid testimonials as well. One of these supplements that is showing some promise is Conjugated Linoleic Acid, or CLA.
In short, CLA is a family of fatty acids found in various types of meat and dairy and is purported to have a variety of health benefits that include fat loss, anti-inflammatory properties, strengthening the immune system and more. It is technically a polyunsaturated Omega-6 fatty acid…you know, a TRANS FAT (the bad kind!) BUT, because it is found naturally in the foods we eat, it actually may be more healthful than harmful. It is the man-made trans fats found in fast foods that are the real enemy.
As far as ingesting CLA, you can receive a good dosage of the fatty acid from consuming milk, beef and lamb, eggs fortified with CLA and even plant-based sources such as portobello mushrooms and acorn mushrooms.
While CLA is found in animals and dairy products (in more concentrated amounts in the grass-fed versions) it is also synthesized in the lab and used to create supplements that include CLA to achieve a host of positive benefits. The list of what CLA is supposed to be good for is long, so let’s take a look at some of the claims of this fatty acid to discover if it truly is worth adding to your daily regimen or not.
CLA for weight loss – The clamour for the production and sale of CLA as a fat loss aid began when a study in mice who were given CLA found that their overall body fat was decreased by a full 70% over those that were given a placebo. The results stemmed from the fact that CLA was shown to increase an enzyme that mice produce that aids in the metabolization of fat.
An additional study in pigs showed similar results and as more CLA was introduced, more fat loss was realized and all this led to human studies. While the human study trials did yield positive results, they weren’t nearly as significant as those in the animal studies. For the study group, use of CLA for weight loss amounted to roughly half a pound of fat per month.
CLA for anti-inflammation – Another interesting study on mice related to administering CLA for anti-inflammation resulted in some promising results. Mice who were fed CLA were found to have had a noticeable reduction in a protein called COX-2, which has shown to play a role in increasing inflammation in patients diagnosed with arthritis and some forms of cancer. CLA appears to have blocked the pathway of COX-2 in the body, which could aid in treating inflammation and various diseases where inflammation plays a role. Human studies are still underway, and the scientific evidence is not conclusive as of yet to make any definitive claims for using CLA for anti-inflammation.
CLA for the immune system – In 2005, a scientific study conducted in the Netherlands involving 28 healthy men and women, showed conclusively that supplementation with CLA did in fact boost their immune system. While this was a small test group, the results were promising, and additional studies are underway. The participants were given six 500-milligram capsules per day for 12 weeks and upon the conclusion of the study, all participants tested showed an INCREASE in anti-inflammatory cytokines and a DECREASE in pro-inflammatory cytokines. This small dosage amount is not likely to cause any known harmful side effects but could do much to boost the natural disease-fighting abilities of the body.
CLA for bone health – Similar to the studies on fat loss in mice, CLA supplementation on mice showed a profound positive result in increasing bone density and growth. This coupled with the noticeable reduction in body fat bodes well for the strength of the bones in mice.
In humans, the potential fat loss properties of CLA would help decrease the incidence of fractures simply because the bones are carrying less load, but the physical evidence of increases in bone growth and/or density is not as clear. Research is ongoing but if CLA begins to show consistent increases in bone density with supplementation in humans, this would be huge news for post-menopausal women who are at the greatest risk for bone disorders and fractures as they age.
CLA dosage guideline – Thus far, because of the inconclusive results in human studies, there are no specific guidelines as it pertains to daily CLA dosages. Due to the varying dosages in the existing studies, it appears that a dosage as high as 6 grams per day for up to a year appears to be safe. As further studies indicate dosage effectiveness, that amount may certainly change, especially as it pertains to the individual results one is looking to achieve. While those dosages appear safe, no long-term studies on the effects of CLA supplementation exist but are underway.
CLA side effects – As is the case with any supplement use, care must be taken when considering the possible long-term effects of the substance. While supplementation with CLA appears to be relatively safe, there do appear to be a number of potential side effects that are possible. A few of these pertain to simple digestion reactions in those who consume the substance. These include upset stomach, indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation. Some of these may be anecdotal and could be prevented if the substance were taken with food, or the dosage lessened.
While these effects seem mild, other reports indicate that supplementation with CLA could have the opposite effect on such areas as inflammation in the body and may even increase the incidence of insulin resistance or worsen the condition of fatty liver. This is due to the fact that CLA is processed in the liver and you can expect many more studies to show the long-term effects of CLA ingestion as it pertains to liver health.
CLA may also interact negatively with a variety of drugs including such over the counter medications as aspirin and Advil. If you are taking any prescriptions of any kind, or any over the counter medications, it is recommended you consult with your doctor before taking CLA on a regular basis.
Overall, there is much speculation about the positive benefits of CLA but few conclusive studies about the consistent results one may achieve with its use. Because of the enormously positive results in animal studies, you can rest assured that many more studies with humans are underway and more clinical results will be available in the days to come.
While it may not be wise to rush out and begin supplementing with maximum daily dosages of CLA, those who are looking for an adjunct for their fat loss nutrition and exercise program may do well by adding CLA to the mix. The reported side effects have been mild and numerous reports of its use aiding in weight loss continue to push CLA in a positive direction. As with the usage of any supplements, pay attention to recommended daily dosages, use caution, and if negative side effects occur that outweigh the positive benefits, discontinue use immediately.
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