There are few weight loss ingredients more clinically studied than conjugated linoleic acid – or CLA as it is also known. But does it actually help you lose weight?
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Does Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) Work for Weight Loss?
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid. It’s naturally-occurring in meat and dairy produce.
In recent years, conjugated linoleic acid has acquired a reputation as a weight loss aid.
Bodybuilders and other athletes often find it a particularly attractive option because it appears to support fat-loss while also protecting existing muscle mass.
The manufacturers that include conjugated linoleic acid in their supplement formulations often make many other claims for the ingredient’s capabilities.
Other common claims include:
- Boosts energy
- Increases metabolism
- Lowers cholesterol
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces inflammation
- Supports healthy-looking skin
However, although there are arguments to be made for and against these claims, this article focuses on the value of conjugated linoleic acid as a weight loss aid.
CLA Natural Sources V Processed Forms
Sheep and cattle obtain the fatty acid from the linoleic acid present in the grass and grains they eat. Grass-fed livestock is a particularly good source.
The animals possess enzymes that convert omega-6 fatty acids from plants into conjugated linoleic acid.
However, the conjugated linoleic acid in supplements is usually made from the linoleic acid in safflower oil or, less commonly, sunflower oil.
The linoleic acid is processed with chemicals, enzymes, or probiotic bacteria. This transforms it into conjugated linoleic acid, but it’s slightly different from the form you would get from food.
There are many forms of conjugated linoleic acid. C9, t11 is the kind that’s most abundant in food. Supplements provide t10, c12. This form is also present in food but in lesser amounts.
Some fatty acids are essential for good health. Others are not. conjugated linoleic acid is one of the forms that are not. So, if you don’t obtain it via your normal diet there is no cause for concern.
Nevertheless, a lot of people consume conjugated linoleic acid to burn fat, lose weight, and/or attain a variety of other benefits.
Does Conjugated Linoleic Acid Work for Weight Loss?
The abilities of conjugated linoleic acid have been explored in numerous studies, many of which focused on its value as a weight loss aid.
Unfortunately, research to date suggests supplements that provide this particular fatty acid offer more benefit to animals than people.
It does help humans to lose weight. Research certainly supports using conjugated linoleic acid in this way. However, the difference it makes is likely to be minimal.
Animal-Based Evidence for CLA
When animals consume conjugated linoleic acid, it causes an increase in the enzymes and proteins their bodies use for breaking down fat.
The results of one 6-week study, conducted on mice, shows conjugated linoleic acid caused the rodents to lose 70 percent more body fat than the mice receiving a placebo.
This was due to the compound’s ability to reduce energy intake, increase metabolic rate, and influence other biological mechanisms.
The result of another study, this time involving pigs, suggest conjugated linoleic acid may also inhibit fat growth.
It was the results obtained from animal studies such as these that prompted researchers to begin exploring the value of conjugated linoleic acid as a weight loss aid for humans.
Human-Based Research into CLA
It would be great if the compound could work as well for humans as it does for mice. Sadly, the evidence so far suggests this is not the case.
Although a clinical review of 18 human studies affirms conjugated linoleic acid can support increases in weight loss, it doesn’t appear to be one of Mother Nature’s big gun fat burners. For humans, anyway.
The participants in one study supplemented with 3.2 grams per day and only lost an average of 0.11 pounds per week more than the placebo group members.
Do the math and that’s not even a pound a month.
Another clinical review evaluated the long-term value of conjugated linoleic acid as a weight loss aid for overweight and obese people.
Again, the results were not staggering. They show doses of 2.6—6 grams per day only helped the study participants to lose 2.93 pounds more than the placebo groups over a 6—12 month period. That’s not a big improvement on the placebo.
Big gun or no, it would be foolish to discount the value of conjugated linoleic acid too quickly. Let’s not forget, a number of studies show conjugated linoleic acid supports increases in muscle mass.
Low-calorie dieting generally causes some degree of loss of muscle mass. Obviously, this is highly undesirable if you are someone who has worked hard to build muscle and wish to preserve it.
There’s also a bigger picture here. When muscle mass increases, muscle metabolism increases too. This causes the body to burn extra calories per day.
This can help support long-term weight loss and make it easier to stop the pounds you lost from returning.
It’s also important not to lose sight of the fact many supplements combine conjugated linoleic acid with additional ingredients.
Often ones that have better fat-burning capabilities. Such combinations may enhance fat burning while also protecting against loss of muscle.
Does Conjugated Linoleic Acid Help Weight Loss – The Bottom Line
Research shows conjugated linoleic acid can help people to improve on the results they would normally attain via diet and exercise.
The same studies that show this also reveal the ingredient is anything but a weight-loss powerhouse. It supports modest improvements on existing results but nothing to get over-excited about.
However, conjugated linoleic acid can work well alongside other ingredients. Its ability to support improvements in muscle mass is also an important consideration.
People who are already losing decent amounts of weight via diet and exercise may find a supplement like this particularly useful.
Its ability to help maintain and/or improve on existing muscle mass can encourage swifter metabolism and provide ongoing benefits that may help people to get in shape, stay in shape, and avoid the pit-fall of yo-yo dieting.