If you’re overweight or obese and searching for a safe, effective way to lose weight, a type of fatty acid known as CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) might be the answer. But CLA benefits stretch far beyond fat loss – it’s been shown to boost health in many other ways.
The main sources of CLA are dairy and meat products. As it turns out, sheep, cattle, and goats produce CLA in their bellies.1
CLA – The Basics
Conjugated linoleic acids are a family of at least 28 isomers of linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is an important component of cell membranes and also commonly used in vegetable oil.2
Now, CLA is not to be confused with oleic acid, which is commonly found in lotions, as well as insecticides and herbicides.3
CLA offers benefits that come from the different isomers, or forms, of this important fatty acid. The body needs CLA in order for you to be at full health – but it can’t produce CLA on its own. You need to get CLA through diet or through supplementation.4
A Balancing Act
CLA is an omega-6 fatty acid, which not only promotes healthy bone mass, but also helps boost the strength of your hair and skin.5-7
You’ve probably also heard of omega-3 fatty acids. Typically found in seafood, omega-3s have been found to play a role in preventing cardiovascular problems.8
What do omega-3 fatty acids have to do with CLA? Well, CLA has been shown to help with fat loss.9 But in order to take advantage of this benefit, your diet needs a good balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
It can be challenging to keep that balance. One study found most people consume 16 times the amount of omega-6s compared to omega-3s. This can lead to several different health problems, including an increased risk of metabolic syndrome. This condition can contribute to many serious health issues.10
How Can You Lose Weight With CLA?
Now, there are three main ways that CLA can help with fat loss. It helps reduce the amount of calories you consume, it helps you burn fat, and it also helps you maintain muscle mass. Here’s a look at how CLA does all of this:
If you eat meat from animals that eat grass, rather than grains, you’ll take in fewer calories. According to one study, you can cut nearly 20,000 calories a year by eating meat from grass-fed animals instead of grain-fed animals. That equates to nearly six pounds!
One of the reasons grass-fed meat is better for people trying to lose weight is that it’s higher in CLA.11
As we mentioned earlier, it’s very important to maintain a good balance between omega-6 fatty acids (such as CLA) and omega-3 fatty acids. Studies suggest doing so could help your body do a better job of burning fat, which, in turn, can help you lose weight.12
- CLA also helps with fat loss by helping your body keep its blood sugar levels safe and stable. It does so by reducing what is known as the “glycemic index.” In a nutshell, it helps reduce spikes in insulin. This leads to less fat being stored when you eat.13
- Research also indicates that CLA’s chemical structure helps you burn fat, but keep muscle.14,1
- In addition, there is evidence that CLA reduces the influence of lipoprotein lipase, a gene that plays a role in how much fat your body stores. As a result, it could keep your cells from storing as much fat.16
Study Shows Connection Between CLA and Fat Loss
One clinical trial highlights the important role CLA can play in helping people lose weight. A group of obese men and women consumed three grams of CLA daily during the duration of the three-month study.
Not only did they have less body fat, they actually saw an increase in muscle mass.
In addition, the study also showed that CLA had no effect on insulin levels in the participants.17
Another study showed that CLA could increase the body’s energy expenditure. This, in turn, could help with fat loss.18
This is not to say that CLA will work for everyone the same way – at least when it comes to dropping some pounds. The amount you take will play a large role in how much success you’ll experience. Your gender, your age, and your weight will also be factors.
Keeping Lean Muscle Mass
When going on any sort of weight loss program, it’s important that you keep as much muscle mass as possible while increasing lipid metabolism (a fancy way of saying “burning fat”). Again, CLA could help you do just that.
In one study, researchers found that no matter what type of exercise routine the participants followed, those who took CLA retained muscle mass while losing body fat.19
As a matter of fact, CLA could actually help you increase muscle mass. Many athletes, such as bodybuilders and those involved in fitness competitions, use CLA supplementation to increase lean muscle while burning fat at the same time.20
What Are Some Other CLA Benefits?
As you can see, there is solid evidence that CLA could play a role in helping with fat loss. But this just scratches the surface of the health benefits CLA provides. In fact, CLA helps you all the way down to your cells:
1. Reducing Your Risk for Allergies
If you are prone to allergy attacks when the seasons change, there is some evidence that CLA might help. One study shows that people with seasonal allergies who either ate foods containing high levels of CLA or took CLA supplements had fewer symptoms.21
CLA could also have an effect on certain respiratory problems. Participants in one study took supplements containing CLA for 90 days. According to the results, they not only experienced improved breathing, they were also able to exercise for longer periods of time.22
2. Decreasing Cholesterol Levels
Now, there are two main types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is considered to be “good” cholesterol, while LDL is considered “bad” because it can clog arteries and lead to cardiovascular problems. HDL helps to take LDL out of your arteries.23
Human studies show that one of the health benefits of CLA is raising HDL cholesterol levels. According to one study, an increase in CLA results in an increase in HDL levels, helping to promote better circulatory health.24
3. Keeping Blood Sugar Levels in Check
If your blood sugar levels are too high, that puts you at risk for potentially serious health problems. However, human studies appear to show CLA may help keep blood glucose at safe levels.
Researchers conducted a study in order to see if there was a link between the risk of developing complications due to high blood glucose levels and the amount of CLA in tissues. They actually found that the more CLA is in tissues, the lower the risk.25
4. Reducing Oxidative Stress
Everyone needs oxygen to live, of course. But oxidative stress is another matter entirely. Oxidation leads to the formation of free radicals — damaged molecules that can affect your cells and your DNA, and threaten your health and energy. If you have too many free radicals in your body, oxidative stress can result.26
CLA acts as an antioxidant, helping to keep free radicals from causing damage to the cells that make up your tissues. According to one study, it appears that CLA can not only provide protection to tissues and muscles, it can also help them heal and develop.27
CLA’s antioxidant properties could also help strengthen your immune system. This could help your body do a better job of warding off the flu, colds, and other ailments.28
Sources of CLA
As stated earlier, the only way you can get CLA is through food or supplementation. Your body can’t make it on its own. As it turns out, there are several foods rich in CLA you can easily add to your diet.
Dairy products from cows, sheep, and goats are loaded with CLA. These include yogurt, milk, cheeses, and butter.29 Look for organic alternatives whenever possible. They tend to have higher CLA content.30 Egg yolks are also a good source of CLA.31
Back to Dairy Cattle…
We briefly touched on the benefits of eating grass-fed beef versus grain-fed beef earlier. Let’s take a closer look at how doing so can help increase your CLA levels.
Now, the diet that an animal eats will have a lot to do with how much CLA you get. While red meat is an excellent source of CLA, research shows that dairy products from cattle raised on grains contain dramatically less CLA than those from grain-fed cattle.
In fact, dairy products from grass-fed cattle have four times the CLA, according to the results of one study.32
What About CLA Through Non-Food Sources?
If you would rather consume your CLA through supplements, they are available. Many supplements contain CLA from safflower oil, which has been shown to deliver some significant health benefits on its own.
For example, safflower contains polyunsaturated fats, which help keep blood glucose at a safe level.33 Polyunsaturated fats are also known to help reduce levels of bad cholesterol.34
What are the Safest Doses of CLA Through Supplementation?
Since every person is different, there is no single, catch-all answer as to how much CLA you need in order to gain the maximum health benefits.
However, in one clinical study, three groups of participants received doses of CLA of between 1.3 and 8 grams daily for three months. The groups included people who were obese, as well as others who were overweight. Another group consisted of people who were of normal weight.
According to researchers who conducted the study, the people who consumed an average of between 3.4 grams and 6.8 grams a day saw the most significant results.35
Now, if you take CLA for weight loss, it’s important to note that you won’t see results overnight. As with most weight loss programs, it will take time before you see a substantial difference.
Evidence suggests CLA could help increase insulin resistance in the body.36 The body needs a hormone known as insulin for energy. But sometimes the cells don’t do a good job of “unlocking” so that they can actually use that insulin. They’re basically “resisting” insulin. Insulin resistance is the result.
Insulin resistance can cause blood glucose levels to get too high, leading to a heightened risk of serious health problems.37
An Amazing Nutrient
CLA can be an important part of your efforts to lose weight. It may even help you maintain a healthy weight – even if you don’t change your exercise routine. Again, though, different people will see different results, and it will likely take some time before you start dropping pounds.
But the health benefits of CLA go far beyond losing weight. Solid, scientific evidence shows that it can help keep your immune and circulatory systems healthy. It may also help you maintain muscle mass, and it could help you maintain good heart health as well.
A final note: If you’re thinking of changing your diet or taking CLA supplements, speak with your doctor first. You want to make sure it will be completely safe for you to do so.