(UPDATE) CLA – Powerful Metabolism Booster (and which foods to find it in)
Polyunsaturated fatty acids are a healthy type of fat found naturally in many common foods like seeds, nuts, and fish. They are not only important sources of energy, but they also are found in just about every cell in the body. While there are an estimated 60+ fatty acids throughout blood, plasma, and soft tissues, one type plays a very unique role in the body: CLA.
What is CLA?
Conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, is a term used to describe an essential fatty acid in the omega-6 category. This fatty acid is unique in that it has a double-bonded chemical structure, which alters it from other forms of its parent fatty acid – linoleic acid (LA). Further, CLA can be broken down into approximately 28 smaller compounds known as isomers. Each isomer has been clinically shown to offer different benefits to human health.
As an omega-6 fatty acid, CLA is essential to the proper function of many body systems, and is vital to overall health. Since it isn’t made in the body, it must be provided through diet, either in supplement form or specific foods.
Linoleic acid is one of the most common omega-6 fatty acids. It is found in many different vegetable oils and widely used in packaged foods, making it one of the most over-consumed fats in the United States. However, conjugated linoleic acid is a compound made in the bellies of ruminant animals including cattle, goats, and sheep, thus the primary sources of naturally-occurring CLA include meat and dairy products.
While CLA is chemically related to LA (linoleic acid), it works in the body very differently. Some isomers of LA are well known to cause lipogenesis (fat formation), while CLA is known to inhibit fat formation.
How Does CLA Help With Weight Loss?
Conjugated linoleic acid was first discovered in 1988 by researchers studying its effects on human health. They found that it provided many different benefits, namely in the area of weight management.
Meat from grass-fed animals is lower in fat than yields from grain-fed animals, which means that it is also lower in calories. It is estimated that an average person could cut calories by up to 17,000 a year (equal to about 6 pounds) just by switching from grain-fed to grass-fed animals.1
The consumption of omega-3 EFAs has been clinically shown to promote fat burning.2
One troubling aspect of factory farming involves the large amount of grain fed to food-producing animals. If a ruminant animal were left in its natural environment, it would not consume soy or corn meal feed. Instead, it would graze on grass. The result of grain-fed cattle is a body composition void of a proper omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio.
A cow that eats a diet of primarily grains will be affected accordingly. Factory farmed food-producing animals make it to dinner tables with an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio between 5-to-1 and 13-to-1.
Grass-fed beef animals naturally provide a body composition that includes fatty acids in an ideal 2-1 omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio.3
Why are omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids so important? Because they both provide significant health benefits. Omega-6 fatty acids help to ensure our brain works the way it should, and also helps the body develop properly. In addition, omega-6 fatty acids keep the bones, hair and skin strong.4,5,6
Omega-3 fatty acids are usually found in fish. They help to keep your heart working correctly and can also play a role in reducing your blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids also help prevent the development of health issues that can make it hard to breathe. They also help lower the chances that you’ll develop digestive problems.7
Unfortunately, the Western diet makes it hard to have a balanced fatty acid composition. The Western diet tends lean too heavily toward omega-6 fatty acids. According to one study, most of us consume as much as 16 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. Research suggests this imbalance could contribute to a wide range of health problems, including obesity, heart issues, chronic pain, breathing problems and more.8 Health practitioners agree that a balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio promotes fat burning.9
Another way CLA promotes weight loss is that is aids in maintaining stable blood sugar levels by lowering the glycemic index load of meals. This means that by consuming CLA, insulin spikes are reduced. As a result, the body may store less fat during food consumption.10
CLA’s rare double-bonded chemical structure allows it the unique ability to burn body fat while maintaining overall body mass.11,12
Studies show promising results regarding the affect of CLA on weight loss. Researchers conducting a study involving obese and overweight participants found that ingesting three to four grams of CLA per day resulted in not only a decrease in body fat but an increase in lean mass. Researchers also found that CLA does not interfere with insulin production, and does not have a negative effect on inflammation levels.13
It appears that different people see better results than others when it comes to CLA for weight loss. There are a lot of factors that go into determining how effective CLA will be for any specific person. These include gender, age, weight, dosage and more. There is evidence that CLA may play a role in increasing the amount of energy that the body expends, which helps to reduce fat.14
CLA has the exceptional capability to preserve muscle mass, while burning fat.
Numerous studies have confirmed that this fatty acid aids in reducing body fat all over the body while maintaining lean body mass independent of exercise routines.15,16
Additionally, studies suggest that CLA promotes the growth of dense, lean muscle tissue. For this reason, many fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders use CLA supplements in order to burn fat without losing hard-earned muscle mass.17
Other Benefits of CLA
Conjugated linoleic acid is a very powerful substance, able to provide numerous benefits to overall health. Here are just a few more ways CLA supports health and vitality.
CLA is a powerful antioxidant, able to protect soft tissue from cellular damage caused by free radicals.
During exercise, harmful free radical molecules are produced by muscle tissue. However, CLA has been shown to help reduce muscle damage caused by the oxidative process. Studies have suggested its antioxidant properties spare further damage to soft tissues, thus accelerating the healing process and muscle development.18
For athletes concerned about maximizing their training efforts while maintaining delicate muscle, joint, and tendon tissues, CLA may provide therapeutic value.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Researchers have also found that CLA impacts a person’s risk for developing severe diseases associated with elevated blood sugar levels. It is believed that CLA plays a role in helping to regulate the amount of insulin in the body. In one study, researchers looked to determine if there’s a connection between the amount of CLA in adipose tissue and a person’s risk of developing diseases related to elevated blood sugar levels. They found that there is an inverse relationship. In other words, the study indicates that the more CLA a person has, the lower the risk of he or she developing a disease due to excess blood sugar.19
CLA has been shown to stimulate the activity of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors, or PPARs.20 These receptors play an important role in not only regulating metabolism, but inflammation as well.21According to research, PPAR activation could help to reduce the risk of the development of cardiovascular problems.22
Support of Healthy Cholesterol Levels
Studies have suggested CLA may have beneficial effects on plasma lipids to support a healthy cardiovascular system. Researchers found that high intakes of CLA raised HDL (“good”) cholesterol in healthy volunteers to support proper circulatory function.23
It’s important that you know the differences between HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. HDL is considered the “good” form of cholesterol, while LDL is considered to be “bad” cholesterol. HDL helps to remove LDL from the arteries and move it to the liver. There, the LDL is broken down and eliminated from the body through waste. If you have too much LDL, it can accumulate in the arteries and increase the risk of severe – potentially even fatal – cardiovascular problems. High levels of HDL, on the other hand, can reduce the risk of those issues occurring.24
As an omega-3 essential fatty acid, CLA has been shown to offer anti-inflammatory properties.25,26 This may be especially helpful for those suffering from consistent joint pain or other inflammatory conditions.
CLA has been shown in clinical studies to influence expression of genes involved in immune cell development and differentiation. In this way, it may positively influence the immune response by altering the expression and function of cells involved in immunity.27
As an antioxidant, CLA further promotes the healthy function of the immune system. It may support resistance against common infections like colds or flu.28
Reduction in Allergy Symptoms
It appears that taking CLA supplements or eating foods high in CLA could help improve the symptoms experienced by people who have seasonal allergies.29 There is also evidence that CLA could also reduce the symptoms associated with certain conditions that result in breathing difficulties. In one study, participants with respiratory issues took CLA supplements for three months. According to the results, they were able to exercise more and saw improvements in their ability to breathe.30
Best Food Sources of CLA
Again, the body can’t make its own CLA. You have to get it through either food or supplements. There are several sources of CLA. These include butter (preferably from cows that feed on grass), dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, cream and milk, and grass-fed beef. You can also find CLA in diary products from goats and sheep. Smaller amounts of CLA are found in turkey, seafood, veal and lamb.31
The highest proportion of CLA is found in dairy products – anywhere from .34 to 1.07 percent. The next best source is processed beef, which contains from .12 to .88 percent.32
Some of the best sources of CLA include:
If you’re looking to get more CLA from an animal source, it’s important to note that the animal’s diet will have a major impact on how much CLA you’ll get. The age of the animal will also have a substantial effect. Red meat is one of the best sources of naturally-occurring CLA. However, grain-fed cattle are known to contain only fractional amounts of CLA, compared to grass fed cows. Studies confirm that CLA production is up to four times higher in grass fed cattle, than in non-grass-fed counterparts.33,34 According to another study, the amount of CLA found in grass-fed cows is as much as 500 percent more compared to the amount found in cows that feed on grain.35
Eggs that have been produced by pasture-raised chickens have been shown to contain more omega-3 fatty acid content than grain-fed varieties. Most of the CLA content can be found in the egg’s yolk.36
Milk, cheese, butter, and other dairy products contain a natural form of CLA. However, it is best to purchase an organic dairy product, as the EFA content is generally higher.37
Non-Food Sources of CLA
Some people choose to get their CLA through supplement form. The CLA in many supplements is taken from fats that are found in safflower oil. If you’re looking for a supplement containing CLA, safflower oil has been found to provide some substantial benefits.
Safflower oil is a good source of unsaturated fats, which have been found to keep blood sugar levels safe.38 One study found that safflower oil could also have a positive effect on helping reduce complications in people suffering from diseases related to excessive amounts of blood sugar. The same study showed that safflower oil could also play a role in improving cholesterol levels.39
What is the Daily Recommended Dose?
On average, a person should have 3-4 grams of CLA a day. In one 12-week study, the daily dosage ranged from 1.3 grams to 8 grams in obese, overweight, and normal weight people, with varying results. On average, the recommended daily dose is 3.4 grams.40 Many people do not notice visible results of CLA supplementation for weight loss for up to 12 weeks.
Wrapping it Up
There are a lot of reasons why you might want to consider taking the steps needed to get more CLA.
Conjugated linoleic acid is an essential nutrient found in some very common foods, including red meat and dairy products. As an omega-6 fatty acid, CLA is involved in maintaining healthy body systems including the circulatory, and immune system. Additionally, studies have confirmed that CLA promotes weight loss independent of changes in physical exercise. Some researchers have found that CLA is able to burn fat faster than regular diet and exercise alone, and further support weight management by aiding in muscle growth and maintenance. Some studies have shown that CLA additionally promotes weight loss by reducing calorie consumption.
Other health benefits of CLA consumption include cardiovascular support, boosted immunity, free radical protection, and anti-inflammatory effects.
As you can see, research indicates that CLA could not only help you lose weight, there is also evidence that it could help your health in several other ways. However, you should never make any sudden changes to your diet without speaking with your doctor first. You should also speak with a medical professional before you take any sort of supplement.
40Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Naturaldatabasetherapeuticresearchcom. 2016. Accessed November 8, 2016.