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What is CLA?

CLA - A Key to Burning Belly Fat
Good Dietary Fat

CLA is short for Conjugated Linoleic Acid and is classified as a naturally occurring fatty acid. People already consume this ingredient in their daily diet, and one of the most abundant sources for this fatty acid is from animal byproducts. However, many supplements claim to obtain this ingredient from plant sources.

CLA & weight loss:
Okay, so you've gained some extra fat by eating poorly for too long, and changing to a weight-loss diet, regardless of how nutritious it might be, will not put you completely back into a lean and healthy body. Nevertheless, it is a good start, especially if it includes a currently missing ingredient that was commonly in our diets before about the mid-1960s. It is a fat (actually, a mixture of similar fats) that is called "conjugated linoleic acids," or CLA for short. This article is about CLA, where you can get it, and what it can do for you.

CLA has been repeatedly shown in scientific research to reduce body fat and increase lean body mass. It is a mixture of fatty acids that occur as a natural component of the fatty portions of beef and dairy products from grass-fed cattle, so it used to be in our diet. (Actually, the normal bacteria in a cow's digestive tract transform plant oils from grass into CLA.) Unfortunately, for the past few decades, Americans have been losing out on the benefits of this fat-reducing ingredient for several reasons: we consume less beef, we drink less whole milk, and our cows make less CLA than they used to make because they are no longer grass-fed.

Sources of CLA:
For Inquiring Minds: CLA in whole milk in the U.S. was as high as 2.81% in 1963, and had dropped to less than 1% by 1992. On the other hand, grass-fed Australian cows have 3-4 times more CLA in their meat than do grain-fed American cows. One strategy, therefore, for bringing our CLA intake back up to earlier dietary levels is to consume only beef, whole milk, and cheese that comes from grass-fed cows. These products are generally available from health food stores that sell meat from free-range cows. You have to go out of your way to find them and you have to pay more for free-range beef and dairy products. A side benefit is that free-range cows are probably not pumped up with steroids, growth hormones, or antibiotics like feedlot cows are ... isn't that appetizing! This strategy may seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom about the healthfulness of a high-fat diet. Nevertheless, conventional wisdom is fundamentally wrong here. Beef and dairy products with high levels of CLA are good for your health!

Barring what may be for you a radical dietary change to consume more beef and full-fat dairy products, your best bet is to simply take CLA supplements. It turns out, however, that a bit of an argument has arisen about the best source of CLA supplements. Virtually all of the CLA supplements on the market are from plant oils, mostly from sunflower and, more recently, from safflower. You should realize, however, that plant CLA and cow CLA are not identical. Remember, fat-reducing CLA is a mixture of similar fatty acids that are made by bacteria in grass-fed cows. This means that the proportions of different fatty acids in CLA are not the same in plants as it is in cows. Indeed there is some doubt as to whether CLA of any kind occurs naturally in plants. Clearly, the best CLA for fat reduction is from grass-fed cows. The next best CLA may be from certain plant oils, which are altered to become CLA. Some evidence also shows that CLA occurs in the fatty portion of turkey meat (that is, mostly in the skin), although not in other poultry.

Research:
Study 1: Mice showed a 60% reduction in body fat and a 14% increase in lean body mass when fed the human equivalent of 3000-4000 mg of CLA per day.

Study 2: Mice showed up to 88% loss in body fat in another study.

Study 3: CLA supplementation led to 31% loss of body fat in pigs over an 8-week period.

Study 4: Obese men lost an average of 1.4 centimeters in waist circumference after 4 weeks of CLA supplementation.

Study 5: People participating in another CLA study group lost an average of 6 pounds in less than 2 months.

Study 6: CLA-fed mice showed an increase of 74% in energy expenditure from their diet, so the smaller than normal amount of the food they ate went into storage (fat) in their bodies.

Based on these and other studies, overweight people can generally expect to start losing weight by lowering body fat and increasing lean body mass within 45-60 days on 3000-4000 mg of CLA per day. It should be just that simple. In the form of a supplement, the cost for a month's supply for that much CLA should be less than $20, and any local health food store or nutritional supplement supplier should carry multiple brands of it.

Choosing a Good Product

When looking for a good, cost-effective CLA product, avoid pricey products that contain added nutrients. From what I have seen, some products have additional ingredients that apparently have the purpose of boosting the price and not necessarily the nutritional benefits of the CLA supplement. If you are already supplementing with vitamins and minerals, you do not need more beta-carotene and vitamin E from a CLA product. And, unless you have good reason, you do not need to have capsaicin in your CLA product, either. All of these are included in some products, in addition to some real junk such as titanium dioxide, caramel color or other coloring, etc. You won’t avoid all such additives, so just look to products with the fewest extras for the best cost/benefit CLA product.

Cautions: Some people report feeling slightly nauseous or have gastrointestinal upset or loose stools after taking CLA supplements. These side effects typically go away when CLA is taken with food, especially high-protein food. (Let's hear it for a good steak from a grass-fed cow!) Such symptoms occur for only about 2 weeks, until your digestive system gets used to the CLA burst that you give it in the rather large pills that most brands offer.

How About Side Effects?

We normally think of side effects as bad. However, research on CLA points to a number of additional health benefits, which can be thought of as bonus side effects. For example, a 6000 mg daily dose can improve insulin levels, which gets even further at the core of problems associated with overweight by undermining the onset of diabetes. Research with rats also shows the activities of CLA in preventing the development of breast cancer. Human studies are needed to see whether this works in people the same way. CLA is also able to prevent the growth of prostate cancer cells. Again, we don't yet know whether this cellular-level activity will hold true at the whole-person level until it is studied in humans. Nevertheless, early research suggests that CLA works like certain anti-diabetic drugs, such as Avandia and Actos, to enhance insulin sensitivity and protect against cancer. So, all in all, I think the ongoing story about the benefits of CLA is just going to get better as research continues.

 



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