CLA – or conjugated linoleic acid – has been touted as a weight-loss miracle. One study revealed that overweight women who were taking CLA lost 9% of body fat over a 12-month period. Since they didn’t really change their eating habits or lifestyle, these are pretty good results.
However, there was one concern: the women who were taking CLA did have some alterations in their heart disease risk factors, but these changes were not significant overall.
Still, according to the experts, these results require further investigation. After all, that’s the purpose of science: to put together studies to reveal the big picture.
What is CLA?
Conjugated linoleic acid is a fatty acid that naturally occurs in dairy and beef products. In addition, it’s sold in stores as a dietary supplement to help individuals lose weight (and maintain the loss), retain lean muscle, and gain control of their type 2 diabetes (which is often associated with obesity).
In health food stores, you’ll find CLA in a syrup or capsule form. The syrup has a decent flavor and you can mix it with food. On the other hand, if you break the capsules, it has a bitter flavor. When it comes to CLA products, you will find a variety of concentrations, but in order to get the most results, you’ll need to find a product that contains 80% CLA.
In animal studies, CLA has been proven to prevent several types of cancer and heart disease. In addition, there seems to be some improvements to the immune system. On the other hand, some studies have revealed contradictory results- perhaps because they measured improvements using body fat scales, which are not always very accurate.
Excellent Loss of Body Fat/Some Weight Loss
One researcher studied 180 overweight men and women who fell between 25-30 on the body mass index, or BMI. BMI is used as an indicator of body fat, and individuals with a BMI of 25+ have an increased risk of medical problems, including diabetes and heart disease. Most of the individuals in this study were women (149); only 31 were men.
The study participants were randomly divided into three groups. Two groups were taking CLA: one was given the pills and the other was given the syrup in a capsule. The third group was given a capsule filled with olive oil.
The participants were not asked to change their exercise or diet habits- but there was a nurse available to provide exercise and dietary advice as needed. The daily caloric intake was similar among the groups; everyone slightly reduced their caloric intake and all engaged in similar levels of physical activity.
According to the researcher in charge of the study, the decreased caloric intake could be due to a reduced appetite from taking the supplements or because they were keeping a food diary and learned to decrease their calories.
Throughout the 12-month period, participants had their blood, weight, and BMI checked. In addition, they answered a few questions regarding their diet and exercise habits since their last visit. At the end of the study:
- Both of the CLA groups lost about 4 pounds, while the placebo group did not
- The group taking the CLA syrup had a 9 percent loss of body fat, the group taking the CLA pills had a 7 percent loss of body fat, and the placebo group did not lose any body fat
- Both of the CLA groups improved their muscle mass.
Other Risk Factors
There were some concerns regarding other risk factors, as follows:
- The group taking the CLA pill increased their LDL (bad) cholesterol
- The group taking the CLA syrup decreased their HDL (good) cholesterol
- Both of the groups taking CLA saw an increase in lipoprotein, which is an indicator of inflammation/heart disease
- Both of the groups taking CLA saw an increase in leptin, which is considered to be a marker for heart disease
- Both of the groups taking CLA saw an increase in white blood cells, which could cause inflammation in the arteries
- Both of the groups taking CLA saw an increase in blood sugar levels, which is an indicator of diabetes
The results of this particular study do align with and expand upon the findings of previous studies and the effect of CLA seems to be the greatest among those with a BMI of 25 to 30.