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Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) Supplementation

June 4, 2016

Every year, new brands of supplements come out in stores—each claiming to work wonders on the human body. In 2015, Conjugated Linoleic Acid supplements (CLA) made their appearance on wellness stores’ shelves, promoted as the new weight loss supplement. Natural CLA is a fat produced in the stomachs of animals like cattle and others that produce milk; however, this particular supplement is made commercially due to its small net production naturally. CLA supplementation has been studied to look at its effects on body composition, cardiovascular health, immunity, asthma, cancer, and diabetes.  However, evidence has been contradictory and a full conclusion about CLA’s effectiveness has not yet been developed.

The Risks

An individual with cardiovascular problems or high blood pressure may want to think twice before
taking CLA.  Several studies have shown that CLA supplementation has adverse effects on cardiovascular health that lead to an increase of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), which in return has an inverse effect on the “good” HDL cholesterol. Studies have also found a strong correlation between taking these supplements and an increase in the fat concentration in muscles.

Other studies have shown that CLA may improve insulin sensitivity in young, healthy, sedentary
individuals, but this evidence is scant. In one study looking at insulin sensitivity in overweight, non-diabetic individuals, the opposite effect occurred. It appears that those who are at risk for Type 2 Diabetes and take CLA supplementation may increase their insulin resistance, which causes higher blood sugar concentrations.

Who it 'May' Help

CLA supplementation may prove to decrease the inflammation in patients undergoing chemo-or radiation therapy. A study found that cancer patients who took CLA were more likely to see improved immunity and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as improvements in weight and appetite. Not only did the rate of malnutrition decrease in the CLA group, but instances of nausea, diarrhea and pain decreased as well. Although this study did show that CLA alone could improve the overall health of cancer patients, much more research still needs to be done on this topic with much larger populations.

Effectiveness in Weight Loss

Most of the marketing of CLA supplements has been as a weight loss treatment; however, there are
several studies that suggest otherwise.  In a journal review, a majority of 16 presented studies showed no statistical evidence of CLA promoting weight loss. The studies that did show any form of weight loss most commonly also included a change in exercise or diet, therefore it is difficult to say how lifestyle changes played a role. 

Overall, it has been consistently agreed upon that more significant research and evidence must be provided before making any conclusion on the effectiveness of CLA supplements for weight loss.
Indeed, several animal studies have provided significant evidence, yet not enough human studies have been developed. Remember, supplements that usually market “megadoses” of one nutrient are usually not “mega-better” for you. At The Sage, we always recommend a balanced, nutritious diet and physical activity as a means for weight loss. If alternative means of weight loss are necessary to
promote health and reduce risk or presence of associated chronic diseases, it is essential to speak to a health professional - especially before reaching for a pill or supplement.

Happy Eating!

Jamie Pepper, Nutrition Intern

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