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Conjugated linoleic acid, CLA

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By: Dr. Linda Khoshaba

What is CLA?

It is the first supplement proven in double blind studies in humans to promote fat loss. Here’s the science behind it:

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a fatty acid that has been shown to improve body composition. This kind of fatty acid is related to the Omega 6 family, it is just an altered form of it. It was recently discovered by accident in 1978 by Michael Pariza at the University of Wisconsin.  It was found to be a mystery agent in a fried hamburger during a study on mice.

Does it work?

It’s been used as a supplement in several clinical studies that involved both animals and humans. In the mice studies, body composition improved as much as 60% when compared to the control group. In human studies, mixed results have been seen.  In the studies where positive findings were demonstrated, 3.4 grams daily of CLA had a more positive effect of body composition instead of body weight. In the other studies, no significant impact was seen on body weight. One hypothesis is that CLA may help prevent weight gain instead of working through a weight loss mechanism.

Benefits and Risks

CLA is not a single element; it is a composition of biochemical substances. There are many different forms of the molecule and depending on the configuration and position of the CLA molecule, it can have different effects in the body. There are still many theories of how CLA works because it cannot be explained by one single mechanism.  One hypothesis is that it prevents the growth of fat cells by altering enzymes that affect fat growth process. Other ways CLA is believed to help with weight loss is that it can help burn more energy by increasing basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy required to keep your body functioning at rest). More research is been developed to uncover the numerous biochemical effects of CLA on the human body.  This can be a promising way to prevent weight gain instead of focusing on weight loss and this would have an enormous positive health impact on the obesity crisis. There has not been enough research to determine if there are any long-term side effects on humans taking CLA.  One unpublished research study showed that CLA caused gastrointestinal upset.

Natural Sources of CLA

Our bodies cannot make CLA and we need to consume it. CLA is commonly found in meat and dairy products. Grass fed beef contains more CLA than grain fed beef. Grass fed beef contains anywhere from 1 to 10mg per gram, grass fed milk contains approximately 175mg in a 8 ounce cup and 1 teaspoon of butter made from grass fed milk contains approximately 246mg.  If your diet is low in meat and dairy products, another way to optimize CLA is through healthy gut flora. Probiotics, especially strains for lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, are ways to make CLA.  A diet that is well balanced in calories, micronutrients, and macronutrients should be a sufficient way to get CLA intake in, however, the quality of foods is what can make a difference in the amount you get.


(c) 2015- Integrative Health Care, PC

Dr. Khoshaba primarily focuses on women’s health, pediatric medicine, diabetes management, and prolotherapy. She is a primary care provider who is treats all aspects of health and wellness and is dedicated to meeting the individual need of each patient.  She is devoted to educate and empower patients’ to make lifestyle changes so they can experience life to the fullest.  In her spare time, Linda enjoys traveling and spending time with her family, husband and dog named Lucky.

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