If you are shopping for supplements and got stuck among the wide range of choices along the way, then eyes in here. CLA might be just the one that you have been looking for. Let us play Sherlock and try to crack the codes and help you understand what CLA is, how it works, and if it’s the supplement for you.

What is CLA?

There are two main types of essential fats — Omega 3 and Omega 6 (1). Maintaining a healthy balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids is a key part of overall health. CLA stands for Conjugated Linoleic Acid. It is a sub-category of the Omega 6 essential fatty acid which is a linoleic polyunsaturated fatty acid. The word conjugated in CLA refers to the arrangement of its single and double bonds that helps determine the type of fat (2). It occurs naturally in the body and in certain foods, mostly in meat and dairy products, based on the study conducted by Banni S., Ph.D., Department of Experimental Biology, Experimental Pathology Section, in University of Cagliari, Italy (3). This is an essential fat that the body needs to have to function properly. It is a popular dietary supplement that is sold with claims of helping people lose fat, maintain weight loss, retain lean muscle mass, and control type 2 diabetes — the type of diabetes that is often associated with obesity (4).

In addition, CLAs have a variety of biological properties which suggest potential benefit in asthma, including effects on energy regulation, lipid metabolism, inflammation and immune function (5). CLA plays an important role in the processing of body fat, regulation of cell formation, and growth and overall health of the cardiovascular system (6). According to Christine Williams, a Professor of Human Nutrition, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, Reading Univerisity, CLA plays an active role in prime physical health, and so this fatty acid is taken as a supplement, in pill or syrup form (7).

This amazing fatty acid is touted of its amazing benefits it brings to our body.

Five health benefits of CLA

  1. Weight loss – Very promising studies indicate that CLA can improve body composition and weight loss. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2004 shows that a group of overweight men and women who took CLA for a year lost an average 9% of their body fat without changing their diet or lifestyle, but combining CLA with a healthy lifestyle could see even greater results (8). In 2001, Norwegian scientists followed 20 healthy adults who exercised for 90 minutes three times a week, for 12 weeks. The ones who took CLA every day lost more body fat than those who only exercised (9). However, a more recent report suggests that the participants who took the supplement for a longer period of time like 6 months to 2 years, lost more fat than those not taking CLA (10). CLA is thought to trigger a series of chemical reactions that stimulate fat-burning in the body that may work by speeding up metabolism, increasing insulin resistance, helping the body ‘mobilize’ stored fat and by killing white ‘bad’ fat cells (11). CLA is a special kind of fat that increases a feeling of satiety and inhibits the production of fat within the body (12).
  2. Immune system – A study shows that CLA, a fatty acid naturally found in dairy and meat products, can beneficially affect immune function in healthy human volunteers (13). Indeed, it has immune-enhancing effects and anti-carcinogenic activities in several animal studies. The CLA present in saturated-fat foods might offset the adverse effects of the saturated fat content and benefit everything from blood sugar control, to hormone regulation, to natural cancer prevention and it appears to modulate immune and inflammatory responses as well as improve bone mass (14). The anti-inflammatory functions of CLA help support nearly every system in your body and bolster the immune system and helps build resistance to infections, inflammatory disorders and other immune system imbalances like autoimmune disease and allergies (15). Studies show that CLA plays a role in regulating your body’s inflammatory and immune responses, as well as boosting liver health to support detoxification (16).
  3. Heart health – Evidence suggests that ruminant trans-fat is beneficial for cardiovascular health. In a number of animal studies, it shows that CLA has anti-atherosclerotic properties that improves blood lipid profiles by reducing total cholesterol, triacylglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels and improving HDL cholesterol levels (17). In a study led by Hannia Campos of the Harvard School of Public Health that involves of 4,000 people shows that people with the highest concentrations of CLAs — the top fifth among all participants — had a 36 percent lower risk of heart attack compared to those with the lowest concentrations and it holds true even once the researchers took into account heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and smoking (18). Campos adds that CLA offers heart-healthy benefits that could more than offset the harms of saturated fat in milk.
  4. Anti cell-growth properties – Some researches suggest that CLA has potential benefits against cancer. As an antioxidant, CLA may have cancer-fighting properties. Studies examining the consumption of CLA-rich milk products such as cheese have shown an inverse association with breast cancer (19). Another study shows an inverse correlation between CLA intake and colorectal cancer among women (20). A study using animal models suggest that the mechanisms of the anti-carcinogenic properties of CLA include modulation of eicosanoid production, interference in cell signaling pathways, inhibition of DNA synthesis, promotion of apoptosis, and modulation of angiogenesis (21). CLA can lower the risk of breast cancer, metastasis and some factors concerning this malignancy (22). Studies have shown that women who get a lot of CLA from their diets have a lower risk of colorectal cancer; they may also have a lower risk of breast cancer (23). However, we don’t know if taking CLA supplements would have these benefits, too. More research on humans is needed.
  5. Asthma – Asthma symptoms are caused by irritation and inflammation of the airways. CLA may reduce airway inflammation in asthma and thus reduce asthma symptoms. A study shows that CLA improves airway hyper-reactivity in overweight mild asthmatics (24), (25). Another study demonstrated that CLA supplementation also helped control asthma brought on by food allergy-related sensitivities (26). CLA can increase lean mass, reduce body fat, and based on new research from the University of British Columbia but can even help asthmatics improve their tolerance for strenuous exercise (27). With high CLA consumed for 12 weeks, improves symptoms and overall well-being in people with seasonal allergy symptoms (28). Similarly, some research shows that for people with asthma, CLA might be a natural treatment method for asthma-related symptoms, due to its ability to help control inflammation. Twelve weeks of supplementation seems to improve airway sensitivity and ability to exercise (29).

Final Thoughts on CLA

CLA has wonderful benefits to our health. Weight loss appears to be its popular benefit based on researches done and data gathered. But there are still a handful of benefits that CLA brings and are included in the list which can be really promising. Before trying out CLA, it’s important to consider what the benefits of CLA and know more of its dangers. It is always better to be cautious.