What is CLA?

If you are asking this question, you’re probably looking for other ways to lose weight, aside from eating more healthily and fewer calories and engaging in more physical activity. Taking weight-loss supplements is another popular method among those who wish to shed excess weight; and conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, is a common ingredient used in many of these products.

Read on to find out more about CLA and whether or not it’s worth giving a shot. 

What is CLA?

What is CLA?

CLA is a type of polyunsaturated, omega-6 fatty acid – a naturally occurring trans fat present in grazing animals, such as cows, goats, and sheep. CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, comes in 28 different forms; the forms are determined by how the double bonds in the fatty acid molecule are arranged. These arrangements determine how CLA affects our cells. 

Pastured animals, or ruminants, produce CLA from the omega-6 fatty acids in green plants with the help of a unique digestive enzyme. CLA is stored in these animals’ milk and muscle tissues. Food sources that are highest in CLA include:

  • Butter: 6.0 mg/g fat
  • Lamb: 5.6 mg/g fat
  • Mozzarella cheese: 4.9 mg/g fat
  • Plain yogurt: 4.8 mg/g fat
  • Sour cream: 4.6 mg/g fat
  • Cottage cheese: 4.5 mg/g fat
  • Fresh ground beef: 4.3 mg/g fat
  • Cheddar cheese: 3.6 mg/g fat
  • Beef round: 2.9 mg/g fat

Take note that levels of CLA vary depending on the season and the animal’s diet. One study has found, for example, that milk collected in August has the highest amounts of CLA. Likewise, grazing animals that are grass-fed produce more CLA than those that are grain-fed. 

What is CLA?

CLA and Weight Loss

CLA is one of the most widely studied weight-loss ingredient, ever since its potential in aiding fat loss was observed in lab animals. CLA has, indeed, shown great potential as a weight-loss supplement in animals, but the results are mixed in human studies. 

In studies involving mice, CLA was found to curb food intake, stimulate fat breakdown and burning, and inhibit fat production. In some human studies, CLA has been found to reduce body fat and increase muscle mass; fat loss is minimal, however, and most pronounced during the first 6 months, and then it plateaus. In many other human studies, CLA did not show any effect on fat loss. 

There are two types of CLA that have the most impact on health. The c9, t11 type is the most abundant in food, and the c12, t10 type is present in smaller amounts in food but is the type usually used in weight-loss supplements.

Most diets naturally contain CLA, usually from meat and dairy products; but between 75% and 90% of this CLA is of the c9, t11 type – the type that does not produce a significant effect on weight loss. The c12, t10 type is what is used in weight-loss supplements as this has the most potential to aid in weight loss. However, the c12, t10 CLA present in supplements are derived from vegetable oils and chemically altered. 

CLA in Supplements

What is CLA?

The type of CLA used in supplements is a chemically altered version of the CLA that naturally occurs in food. CLA weight-loss supplements have been studied for their potential benefits and risks to health, and the majority of the findings suggest that they may be more harmful than beneficial. 

Its potential harm to the liver is one of the consistent study findings. Comparatively, naturally occurring CLA has not been found to produce the same effect. Most health experts agree that CLA supplements should not be taken for extended periods and in large doses as the risk for liver damage far outweigh whatever weight-loss benefit they may have. 

The better option is to increase the intake of CLA-rich foods in order to maximize their health benefits, including their weight-loss benefits. 

CLA for Weight Loss – Final Thoughts

Results from several studies have shown that CLA from foods can help lower risk for heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. Research on supposed fat-burning effects of CLA – particularly the naturally-occurring forms – is still lacking, but increasing the amount of CLA in the diet by eating more CLA-rich foods can definitely improve health. 

Dairy products and the meat of grazing animals are the best sources of CLA. CLA is also present in vegetables, but the amounts are minimal. 

The CLA used in supplements are chemically altered from CLA derived from vegetable oils and, therefore, have different effects on health compared to natural/unaltered types of CLA. While CLA supplements have shown some promise in aiding fat loss in animals, it may not produce the same effect in humans. Additionally, large amounts and prolonged intake of CLA supplements may lead to liver damage. 

CLA is not considered an essential fatty acid, so it is not a requirement for optimal health, but it will also not cause any harm if you decide to eat more CLA-rich foods. 

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