How Can CLA Help You Lose Your Weight?

by Dr. Ahmed Zayed
Published on January 23, 2019 and last updated for accuracy on April 4, 2019

You’ve probably read tons of articles with weight loss tips and seen even more products that promise to help you slim down. What most of them have in common is that they mention CLA. To many people, CLA is just some complicated substance that’s present on the label of dietary supplements for weight loss, but its mechanisms of action and actual efficacy remain unknown.

Let’s change that, shall we?

I was always frustrated with the lack of reliable information about weight loss ingredients that are promoted right in front of our eyes. That’s why this article takes an in-depth insight into CLA for weight loss. Read on to learn more about it, mechanisms of action, and much more.

What is CLA?

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a naturally occurring fatty acid found in meat and dairy products, but it’s also a popular dietary supplement. Basically, cows, goats, deer, and other ruminants have an enzyme in their digestive system that converts the Omega-6 fatty acids in green plants to CLA (1). Then, CLA is stored in the muscle tissues and milk of the animals.

The biological activity of CLA was discovered by researchers in 1979 who found it had the potential to inhibit chemically-induced cancer in mice. After that, scientists became more interested in CLA and carried out many studies in order to learn as much as possible about the health benefits of this fatty acid.

In 2008, FDA categorized CLA as generally safe for consumption. This led to increased use of CLA and its wide inclusion in dietary supplements. Benefits of CLA are numerous, but the most common use of this fatty acid is for weight loss purposes.

Can CLA promote weight loss?

CLA is a popular ingredient in weight loss products, but the question is whether it really works. Although many studies investigated this subject, it’s still important to conduct further research mainly because current evidence is conflicting and limited.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a review of studies on the efficacy of CLA in the reduction of fat mass. For this purpose, scientists searched PubMed database for studies and 18 of them were identified. Findings revealed that given at a dose of 3.2g/day, CLA produces a modest fat loss in humans (2).

On the other hand, the journal Public Health Nutrition published a review of studies which showed that CLA had not shown a significant impact on body weight or body composition in humans. In fact, a component of many CLA supplements, trans-10 cis-12, was found to exhibit a negative influence on blood sugar metabolism and could contribute to insulin resistance, i.e. impair insulin sensitivity (3).

The International Journal of Obesity published a review of studies that evaluated the efficacy of popular weight loss supplements. The review showed that CLA is generally safe for consumption and it has the potential to promote weight loss and contribute to weight management (4).

Also, a study from the journal Nutrition found that overweight Chinese subjects had a more effective weight loss thanks to supplementation with CLA for 12 weeks (5). These effects were achieved without adverse reactions.

As you can see, multiple studies show different results. This only emphasizes the importance of further research on the efficacy of CLA that would clarify these conflicting findings.

How does CLA work?

While studies show contradictory results, many people swear by CLA and use it to slim down. The question is how this fatty acid works, i.e. what underlying mechanisms it uses to help us reach target body goal. Similar to other weight loss aids, CLA helps in many ways, both direct and indirect mechanisms. Let’s take a look at different effects CLA exhibits to promote a healthy and natural weight loss.

Reduced fat mass

Accumulated fat does more than increase our weight, and it also raises the likelihood of cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and other health-related issues. Abdominal fat is particularly stubborn, and it’s tricky to lose it. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to notice they’re losing weight, but there’s still a lot of fat in the abdominal area.

Losing fat in that area isn’t a mission impossible, you just need a well-structured plan that involves powerful methods to burn fat. It turns out supplementation with CLA can be one of those methods.

A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirmed CLA could reduce body fat mass successfully. The study included 180 male and female volunteers with BMI of 25 to 30. They were assigned to different groups where some subjects took CLA while others placebo. Participants didn’t need to change their physical activity and diet habits (6).

It’s impressive that men and women who took CLA lost more fat mass although they didn’t change anything in their dietary pattern and exercise level.

While it’s not quite clear how CLA reduces fat mass, one theory is that it increases the amounts of specific enzymes and proteins that are involved in the breakdown of fat. Evidence shows that CLA supplementation causes greater fat loss compared to placebo and it also decreases fat growth in a dose-dependent manner (7).

Basically, bigger doses would lead to greater fat loss than smaller doses, but make sure you don’t take more than necessary and always follow dosage instructions.

Faster metabolic rate

Not many studies were conducted to inspect the influence of CLA on metabolic rate, but current evidence sure is promising. The American Journal of Physiology published a study which showed that not only CLA promotes fat loss, but it also accelerates metabolic rate (8). Other evidence also confirms that CLA increases resting metabolic rate independent of a possible change in physical activity (9).

Faster metabolic rate allows the body to burn more calories than we consume in our diet. This is a crucial method for a successful weight loss, but also weight management. A common concern that many people have after losing a few pounds is keeping them off and avoiding the well-known yo-yo effect. Thanks to CLA it can be easier to drop a few pounds without having them come back so easily.

Improved athletic performance

Even though we’d like to slim down without exercising in the gym, the truth is that physical activity is an important aspect of weight loss. It goes hand in hand with a healthy diet. In order to reach your body goal faster, you need to get maximum out of workouts.

That’s where CLA steps in. Evidence shows that a combination of Omega-3 fatty acids and CLA enhances mitochondrial efficiency in muscle (10). As a result, the amount of energy production from glucose and fat in muscle increases.

Improved efficiency in energy production leads to enhanced athletic performance. CLA can help you exercise more and get better results from your physical activity. It’s needless to mention how important this is for successful weight loss, weight management, and your confidence. Each time you notice improvements in your appearance or on the scale, you’ll get even more motivated to do your best each time in the gym and keep going.

Weight management

A common mistake most of us make is that we focus on weight loss, but little attention is paid on what comes next – weight management. That’s why we regain lost pounds within a few months. Our weight loss strategy needs to be effective for the period after we have achieved our body goal.

Many weight loss aids work only for a short period of time, and they don’t make much difference in weight management, but CLA could be different.
Studies show that supplementation with CLA supports weight management.

What’s more, one study showed that CLA could be more helpful for maintaining weight in a healthy range rather than weight loss itself (11).

Diabetes management

Diabetes is a common health problem that affects millions of people around the globe. The condition is indicated by high levels of blood glucose and insufficient production of insulin or lack of production of insulin depending on the type of diabetes a person has. Diabetes can have numerous complications and lead to other health problems including nerve damage and cardiovascular diseases.

Weight gain and diabetes can often go hand in hand. Overweight or obese persons are at a higher risk of diabetes, while the condition itself can also make someone prone to weight gain. That’s why it’s of huge importance to make lifestyle modifications that will help us maintain weight in a healthy range. CLA can help us achieve that. Weight loss can aid diabetes management, which is good news. What many people don’t know is that CLA can help treat diabetes too.

Scientists from Ohio State University published a study of postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes and found that supplementation with CLA reduced BMI and improved symptoms of diabetes in subjects (12). A combination of diabetes management and weight loss effects can be particularly useful for overweight persons who have this condition or are at a higher risk of developing it.

Are there any side effects? Who should avoid CLA?

CLA is considered safe for consumption, but it doesn’t mean some side effects won’t occur. Generally speaking, the risk of adverse reactions increases when a person takes larger dosages thus emphasizing the importance of taking recommended doses. Avoid adjusting the dosage of CLA on your own.

The most common side effects associated with excessive intake of CLA supplements include:

  • High blood sugar
  • Pro-inflammatory effects
  • The reduced concentration of HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

In some cases, CLA can induce symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach discomfort, and loose stools at normal doses too.

Persons with diabetes, kidney disease, metabolic syndrome shouldn’t take CLA without consulting their doctor. Your doctor will inform you whether it’s safe for you to take CLA or not.

As far as dosages are concerned, most studies revolve around the dose of 5g which was not only effective but safe at the same time. Any greater amount on a daily basis could pave the way to side effects.

Conclusion

Conjugated linoleic acid or CLA is a naturally-occurring fatty acid that is widely used as a dietary supplement today. Besides CLA supplements this fatty acid is also included as an ingredient into various weight loss products. Considering its popularity, it was important to discuss the potential efficacy of CLA.

Regarding its efficacy, studies on CLA showed mixed results thus emphasizing the importance of further research on this topic. CLA supports weight loss through fat loss, faster metabolism, improved athletic performance, but it also aids diabetes management. Additionally, CLA supports weight management.

Before you take supplements, it’s useful to consult your doctor first and always stick to the dosage recommended by the healthcare provider or the manufacturer.

References

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20556602

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17490954

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17903328

(4) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jobe/2011/297315/

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22261578

(6) https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/79/6/1118/4690231

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12575906?dopt=Abstract

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9728060

(9) https://www.nature.com/articles/0802304#discussion

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23107305

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17995628

(12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19535429

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