CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, has been the subject of a variety of research in the past several years. Over 200 studies have shown that it may play a very important role, not only in weight loss, but also in helping to fight cancer, diabetes, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). It is not made in the human body, and is found naturally in beef and dairy fats, or as an over-the-counter supplement. Chemically, it is a slightly altered form of the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid, and an omega-6 fatty acid. The CLA found naturally in the food sources is highest in cattle and cows that consume a diet rich in grasses, and those who are grazing in pastures; as opposed to those fed conserved feed, such as grain, hay or silage.

To quote Larry Satter, an Agricultural Research Dairy Scientist, “Pasture-grazed cows had 500% more CLA in their milk than those fed silage.” Since the fat is the specific carrier of the CLA, the content of the fat in the milk is very important. The higher the fat content, the greater the CLA amount is in the milk. This is contrary to what is recommended when drinking milk. Skim or 1% is always recommended over the whole or 2%, to avoid the excess calories and fat, since typically milk was only drunk for the calcium content (or the protein). This adds a whole new benefit to milk and dairy products, making way for science to manipulate the CLA content of milkfat, and may open the door the CLA-enriched foods.

Researchers believe CLA helps block fat cells that are in the body from filling up with fat by interfering with a fat-storing enzyme known as lipoprotein lipase, as well as, by increasing the sensitivity of cells to the hormone insulin. Animal studies have also shown an increase in lean muscle mass and fat reduction, or fat burning; providing favorable changes to body composition, a decrease in overall body fat. It is called a “fat burner” because it revs up muscle metabolism, therefore, helping increase lean tissue, causing the body to need more calories to function (since fat cells burn little to no calories), thereby speeding up the fat burning process to create energy.

The benefits of CLA include:

Increase in metabolic rate
Body composition changes (decrease in abdominal fat, increase in lean tissue)
Enhances muscle and bone growth
Lowers cholesterol and triglycerides
Lowers insulin resistance (anti-diabetic effects)
Reduces food-induced allergic reactions
Enhances immune system
Anticarcinogenic effects (cancer fighting)
Antiatherogenic effects (lowers total and LDL cholesterol)

Much remains to be learned about the underlying mechanisms by which CLA exerts its diverse physiological effects. The benefits are real, even though more research with humans needs to be done. You should not think that taking CLA alone would miraculously make you lose weight, if you are not incorporating a smart, healthy, well-balanced diet and exercise program along with it. As always, research a reputable brand and supplier such as before buying any CLA supplement.

Julie Riggs has been teaching fitness and nutrition skills to every population, from NFL players to the elderly, pre and post natal moms to professional bodybuilders for her entire career. As a writer and consultant for and as a registered dietician, personal trainer, and mom of three Julie brings real life perspective to the every day person’s fitness and nutritional concerns.

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