Experience Life Magazine

CLA: Can This Fatty Acid Help You Get Thin

Fans of the nutritional supplement CLA believe it does. Here’s the skinny on how CLA works and how you can best incorporate it into your fitness regimen.

“LOSE FAT WITH FAT!” Yes, it sounds like yet another dubious infomercial promise. But a growing number of American dieters who take nutritional supplements containing the fatty acid CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) believe this latest weight-loss trend has real substance. They have found that, when used in conjunction with a regimented plan of diet and exercise, CLA not only reduces body fat but also increases muscle strength and exercise endurance. Now science has stepped in to explore CLA’s too-good-to-be-true health claims – and CLA has stood up to the skeptics.

CLA is related to the omega-6 fatty acids, one of the two types of essential fatty acids that help the body increase metabolic rates, boost the immune system and keep cholesterol levels in check. CLA is found in dairy and animal fats, such as beef, lamb, whole milk, and eggs, but cannot be produced by the human body.

Interest in CLA began in the late 1980s when Michael W. Pariza, a professor in the Department of Food Microbiology and Toxicology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, discovered an isolated agent in fried hamburger that reduced the incidence of cancer in mice. A few years later his team unmasked the mystery element: a chemical form of linoleic acid they called conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA.

This discovery set off a slew of studies. While these studies examined different variables and came up with varying conclusions, the one consistent finding was that CLA helps people lose body fat. Among the research most cited is a Norwegian study published in The Journal of Nutrition in 2000. It found that CLA reduced body fat and preserved muscle tissue in overweight or obese people who did not change their diet. According to the research project manager, individuals in the CLA group lost six more pounds of body fat, on average, compared to those in the placebo group.

Another study in The Journal of Internal Medicine Research said that CLA reduced body fat in healthy exercising humans of normal body weight. Research in the ,i>International Journal of Obesity showed that CLA reduced abdominal fat in obese men, and Louisiana State University scientists showed up to an 88 percent reduction in the body fat of male mice who were fed CLA over a period of six weeks.

How It Works

CLA reduces body fat by increasing basal metabolic rates. In other words, it helps the body convert food more efficiently into energy. CLA doesn’t decrease overall body weight; rather, as Pariza told the American Chemical Society, “it keeps a little fat cell from getting bigger.” This can alter the body’s fat-to-muscle ratio. In one study, Pariza found that those who stopped dieting and did not take CLA eventually put weight back on in a typical manner – about 75 percent fat to 25 percent muscle. Participants who stopped dieting, but kept taking CLA, also gained weight, but at a 50-50 fat-to-muscle ratio.

CLA’s purported benefits extend well beyond a more slender waist. Further studies suggest that in addition to increasing muscle strength and exercise endurance, CLA can have an impact on specific diseases and ailments. Dr. Delbert Dorscheid, a cancer and asthma researcher on the faculty in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Chicago, reviewed more than 200 published research and clinical studies worldwide on CLA’s health benefits. Among the findings was that women with increased levels of CLA in their body tissue have lower breast-cancer rates. Similar findings have been reported for colon and prostate cancer. And the health benefits don’t stop there: CLA has been linked to improved immune system function, as well as a decrease in cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and even allergies.

Pariza is careful to point out that CLA research is still in its infant stage. “Some of these findings are better documented than others,” he says. “CLA has a potent inhibitory effect on body-fat accumulation, but its effects on muscle are not conclusive. In animal models CLA reduces some but not all forms of cancer; dietary CLA is particularly effective in inhibiting breast cancer in rodents. However, some things, such as how it affects diabetes, have not been proven.”

Even if CLA doesn’t turn out to be a miracle cure for cancer, odds are that it will continue to be a very popular dietary supplement. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, close to three out of four American adults are either overweight or obese. And it’s a good bet that many of those people will embrace dietary supplements that help them battle the bulge.

Who Can Benefit?

Can CLA help you? It might, if you know how to use it. Most of the studies conclude that a person needs to take 3.4 grams of CLA (3,400 mg) daily to receive its benefits. (The amounts used in many of the studies were two to three times higher, but the treatment period was only 12 weeks.) And where you get those 3.4 grams is up for debate. According to Peter W. Parodi, a food scientist with the Dairy Research and Development Corporation in Victoria, Australia, of all the CLA found in food, “milk fat is the richest source of CLA.” But in low-fat crazed America the consumption of dairy products and red meat has dropped dramatically. Studies at the University of Wisconsin indicate that CLA dietary consumption may have dropped as much as 80 percent in the last two decades.

But even if you resolve to gulp down several glasses of whole milk each day, you probably won’t be getting enough CLA. Changes in livestock feeding practices over the last 50 years have largely removed naturally occurring CLA from our diet. Larry D. Satter, Ph.D., an agricultural research dairy scientist at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, Wis., recently conducted a study comparing the amount of CLA in milk from cows grazing on pasture to the amount from cows fed hay or silage – the fermented feedstuff stored in silos. Satter found that pasture-grazing cows had 500 percent more CLA in their milk than those fed silage. According to Satter, “This is true even when the non-grazers eat pasture grass conserved as hay.” CLA levels in pasture-raised beef have also been found to be higher than those in the meats of grain-fed cattle.

The good news is that the days of CLA-light milk may be numbered. University of Alberta, Canada, researchers have announced that they are working to develop milk that contains higher levels of CLA by adding oils, such as canola, safflower, linseed or flaxseed to the animals’ diet. There is a patent pending on the formulation.

Until then Pariza says that supplements are the healthiest way to get CLA because they are manufactured to contain a specific balance of biologically active CLA isomers (chemical compounds). “In foods where CLA occurs naturally, like beef and dairy, the CLA is associated with the fat. To get sufficient CLA you would have to eat a lot of fat.”

Are all CLA supplements the same? Not really. Each brand usually has different amounts of active CLA. Since the various formulas contain a percentage of other oils as ingredients, you need to calculate how much each supplement is delivering to make sure you’re getting your full 3.4 grams. If a capsule contains 75 percent CLA, and it’s 1,000 mg, you are receiving 750 mg of CLA, and you need five per day to reach the recommended 3.4 grams. The most common type of CLA used in research is a patented formulation called Tonalin. Tonalin can be found in a number of brands, such as Natrol, Jarrow Formulas and Nature’s Way.

Many people have found it best to take CLA supplements before or with meals. Side effects are rare but may include nausea or upset stomach. These can be reduced, though, when the supplements are taken with protein, such as low-fat milk. People who report side effects say they usually subside after about two weeks. To date, there appear to be no health risks or serious side affects associated with CLA supplementation.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that CLA is not a magic drug. It will not make up for poor eating habits or lack of exercise. “I think it’s something that can help [with weight loss], but certainly there are no miracles,” Pariza says. He believes, however, that CLA provides an important psychological benefit while dieting. In his research, Pariza noticed that participants who took CLA repeatedly commented that they felt markedly better than those who received a placebo. “Basically, it was associated with reducing the stress of a weight-loss diet,” he says. “CLA can be helpful to people who are dieting in part because the improved results make it easier for them to stick with the diet.”

Matthew Solan is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Men's Fitness, Cooking Light, Yoga Journal, and other publications.

37 Comment to CLA: Can This Fatty Acid Help You Get Thin

  • liezel amorganda says:

    hi! i just ask if CLA is safe to take even if you have goiter

  • Carmen gonza says:

    Can you take cla with high blood pressure pills?

  • sara says:

    I want to try CLA, but i have one concern: What should we eat with it? Should we switch our diet to a high protein one? or we can just eat healthy (an equivalent mix of Carbs, proteins, fruits and veggies).

    Thank you

  • Muna says:

    I took CLA and found that it helps to decrease fat especially in the abdominal part, it gives energy and mass in muscles and minimize the inflammation. I am on the product for 3 weeks and I feel I am getting smaller I need to be on the product for a period of time till I feel I lost what I want from all the body, I am on diet too and walk half an hour daily but in the weekends I wake at least one hour.

  • Josephine Thanislass says:

    Hi,

    I’m from India. I very frequently gain weight. In spite of gymming also i dont find weight loss. Will this help me to loose weight.

    Regards,
    Josephine

  • teresa says:

    IV just bought this I’m 170lbs I’m gonna cut out carbs and put protein in . IV been trying to have a child after a yr of lossing one and no luck I believe its cause I gained weight .. So advice would be great from anyone . Starting this tommor . Fingers crossed …. April 2014 will keep u posted …

  • Jeanne Love says:

    CLA has been around for years, I have sold it in my healthfood store, and still do
    The thing about CLA is for a lot of people they say it does nothing, but for some
    they say it has reduced the body fat greatly, So not every one is the same but CLA
    in my openion is a great product. Enjoyed your website.
    Jeanne…Certified Nutrition

  • Fred Martinez says:

    Maria CLA is a substance that helps you lose weight but gain muscle lean you could be 145 an very leaned but also be 145 an be ‘runner 145 skinny ‘ depends like how you diet an work out. I take it but I’m trying to gain weight but be as lean as possible with the weight I am.

  • Aanstasia S. says:

    Very good article,thank you.Have been really helpfull.

  • maria aquino says:

    I am confused, does CLA make you gain or lose weight? Ive lost 18lb hitting the gym twice a day or an 1 1/2 hr . But i was looking for something to help me out with the fat around my lower abdomin. I dont want to gain the weight back at all..so i wanna no will i gain the weight with the CLA or Lose it? I have 25lb to lose 5’5 165lb

    • britton rowland says:

      It will help you lose the fat. By gaining weight is means your lean muscle mass will increase. It will decrease fat. If that is the answer you are looking for. You will see the changes physically, yet your weight on the scale may not change much. You will basically be trading fat for a little more muscle.

  • Kim says:

    Hi
    I’ve previously taken CLA 1000 and found they did help with losing fat, along with healthy eating and exercise. However i have just started at a new gym and I’m quite skeptical about what the gym manager has told me about CLA. I asked to purchase the same package I’ve had before fat burners, CLA & protein shake. Although instead of giving me CLA she said ground up linseed is the exact equivalent to CLA capsules :/? Is she right? I’m not too sure :/ …

  • Kelli says:

    Can the CLA capsules be broken and contents eaten? I have a hard time swallowing pills..

    • Brittney says:

      I have been taking the gnc cla brand for exactly a week as of today. So far I am down 5 lbs. I have changed my eating habits completely and went to the gym 3 days this week. So far I believe its helping. Also the capsules are very hard to swallow, for me at least. I actually cannot swallow them so I empty the liquid/oil into my drink or food. So yes it can be consumed that way. I will give you a heads up that since it is an acid it does burn myour throat comsuming it that way. Make sure to flush your mouth and throat with plenty water because the taste is not good.

  • Ryan Barron says:

    I am 20 yrs old trying to get into bodybuilding and have been taking cla. I have been taking the GNC vitapak ripped which comes with 4g of cla, with a multi vitamin and water retention pill, I’m trying to get into competitions and needed a supplement to help me gain good lean mass, so far I have taken the pill for 3 weeks, I have went from 183-196 with minimal fat gain.

    I have not noticed that it gave me energy, or heated me up, but I have deffinatly noticed that I have gained very minimal fat than what I normally would if I did not take this pill, my veins still pop out of my arms, and my 6 pack still shows, just a tad bit of fat was put on because of poor dieting, but it was very minimal, I haven’t tried losing weight on this yet, but I could only assume that it would preserve the muscle really well and help you from putting some fat on from foods.

    In no way am I saying this is a miracle drug and that your going to lose all your weight just with this simple pill, you will still need to diet, but it does what this article says and it does seem to keep the fat cells small, I have ate a couple pizzas during the 3 weeks, just because I am somewhat lazy and have not put any noticeable fat on.

    Good luck on your weight loss goals people!

  • Jessica says:

    I am breast feeding but still want to try to lose my extra baby weight. Is this an ok supplement to take during this time? Or is there a certain time I should take it in between feeding?

    • Brad says:

      from WebMD. I would ask your doctor about this also.
      Special Precautions & Warnings:
      Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of conjugated linoleic acid in medicinal mounts during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

      I would avoid it as the risk it too great.

  • Fuzzy Dunlop says:

    Does anyone know if the fatty acid in Coconut oil is at all reacted to or have similar effects as CLA?

  • amanda says:

    I’ve been taking cla for a couple days now when will I start to see some results? I know it doesn’t happen over night but I’ve felt like I’ve gained weight in the last couple of days instead of losing anything.. I recently lost 150lbs but have gained 20 back along with quitting smoking so I’m really starting to feel chucky.. any idea on how to get my flat tummy back by summer??

    • George Woodill says:

      Minimum 2 weeks of steady concentration, it has to be cycling everyday and takes time to start, but when it does, look out! With diet and exercise I have lost 237 lbs!! From 440 to 203!!!

      • I’ve been taking cla along with L-carnitine for a little over a month now. I’ve noticed and drastic change In my stomach area and legs. I just started crossfit and I eat healthy. I usually workout 5 to 6 days/per week. The scales didn’t really change that much but my clothes are fitting looser and I’ve lost inches off of my waste. So can verify that the cla is doing exactly what I was told it would do. The key is to eat right and exercise to get the optimal results. It takes a few weeks for your body to show the benefits so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see a change right away. don’t get mislead by the scales either. Remember muscle weighs more than fat. I go by the way my clothes are fitting. My advice is to weigh yourself once a week and measure yourself to get a better understanding of whats happening to your body. So hang in there and don’t knock it before you fully get to reap all its benefits.

        • Gisa Seeholzer says:

          Quick correction 1 lb of muscle is equivalent to 1 lb of fat, but fat takes up more volume than muscle. Also on average men will gain about 1 lb of muscle per month and women will gain about 1/2 per month. Most of the fluctuations you see on the scale are due to water and whether or not you took a poop. The most important thing to notice on the scale is that your weight is decreasing at a steady pace between 1 to 2 pounds per week. If you’re hitting this average loss than your heading in the right direction. For those of you trying to gain muscle or preserve muscle going over 2.5lbs may mean you’re losing muscle as well which is very common for individual who over do it on cardio. For more information visit http://www.bodybuilding.com they have a great support community and tons of information on supplements.

  • goodness says:

    can CLA be taken with just plain water?

  • mechelle says:

    I have trouble swallowing large pills or capsules. Can I break the large C L A capsules and add the contents to food?

  • bev says:

    I have been using CLA for a month now, but combined with heat and I have seen a huge difference in my abdominal region, its so much more slender, but my struggle is still my lower abs. I train 5 to 6 times per week doing weights and cardio. How long must I use CLA before I reach my desired target? I’m about half way there. My diet is 80% great and eat 4 to 5 times per day. What is the best CLA product out there?

    • Check out the website I posted. You will be able to view the different products and see the consumer reviews. To find which supplement works best for you look for consumers who have a similar body type to you. Good Luck!

  • JUNE NESTERAK says:

    The article was very informative. I was given a free bottle from GNC and tried it. I happened to weigh myself after a month as I do to keep track of my weight, I was not dieting at the time and found that I had lost 12 pounds and felt a lot leaner. The only thing that had changed during the month was the bottle of CLA and I had gone back to my normal activity. For several months previous I had taken on a project that kept me in front of a computer for about 14 hours a day and had gained some weight do to lack of activity. I believe it would have been a lot harder and taken longer to loose the 12 pounds without the supplement. I decided to look it up and see what it was all about. Your article explained it in layman’s terms very well. Thank you.
    June Nesterak

  • Thomas Lewis says:

    I just started taking CLA about a week ago. So positive was CLA’s second day’s effect on my perceived nutritional stability, that I doubt if I will ever want to go off of CLA. On the second day, I felt noticeably better as to well-being and a feeling of a sustained but subtle increase in energy and well-being, or what could be described as an improvement in one’s comfort level.

    I order CLA from Puritan’s Pride because they have the 1500 mg per softgel strength. I take 2 softgels after breakfast and lunch, so that is 3000 mg per day.
    The reason I tried CLA is I had clicked an ad to a web page saying that CLA increases muscle building by 800% and so is in a sense now considered a new type of steroid. Some say these are questionable claims, but I say it is perhaps true, so in any case I am glad to be taking CLA, a very subtle supplement that I believe the body builders are right about in their past and present enthusiasm and support for CLA.
    After reading about CLA, it seems to me that CLA increases the fat burning ratio of the body, resulting in a smoother and increased energy level. I can’t think of anything better for decreasing stress and promoting calmness than this always available energy source from fat that CLA provides. No wonder CLA prevents catabolism or the breaking down of muscles because CLA seems to decrease chemical friction or inflammation overall, thereby restoring body energy processes that had become inefficient or impaired. In short, I feel younger and calmer.

  • James Antaplyan says:

    CLA does work! i love it! def helped me lean out and get my abs back. Luckily i found a good one thats all natural and works. it includes a proprietary fat conversion formula combined with clinically proven* CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) to help you access your stored fat, achieve greater endurance, reduce body fat, increase muscle tone, and keep fat off.

  • McKenna says:

    Great article! I just started taking CLA and L-Carnitine along with my daily multi, turmeric and fish oil supplements. As someone who only occasionally eats meat and is looking for improved energy, stamina and performance during workouts, I look forward to experiencing some better results.

    • Anne White says:

      HI AFTER HAVING BREAST CANCER 12 MONTHS AGO AND RADIOTHEREPHY

      IM WONDERING WOULD IT BE OK TO TAKE CLA AS IVE GAINED WEIGHT FROM FERMARA

      LOVE THE SITE VERY HELPFUL

      THANK YOU

      • Jocelyn Stone says:

        Hi Anne,

        Thanks for your question. While our editors are quite knowledgeable in the general areas of nutrition and wellness, there are no physicians or nutritionists among them. So we have made it a policy not to offer advice regarding specific medical conditions. We recommend that you consult your medical practitioner.

        Best in health,
        The Experience Life team

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