Supplements which promote weight loss are extremely popular and bought for many reasons including improving health, enhancing fitness and for purely aesthetic reasons. You will find conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) among the ingredients of many fat burners and diet proteins but it is also sold as a stand-alone supplement so what exactly is it and what are the benefits of taking CLA as an individual supplement?
CLA refers to a mixture of two or more double-bond isomers of Omega-6 essential fatty acid linoleic acid. The most common dietary sources of CLA are dairy products and meat. While CLA is not considered to be an essential nutrient in the diet, it does appear to exert positive biological activity within the human body. CLA is attributed with many health and fitness related benefits which contribute to its popularity as both a health and sports supplement.
CLA appears to be beneficial for:
- Reducing circulating free radicals and preventing oxidative damage.
- CLA appears to exert anti-cancer properties and has been beneficial in the fight against breast, colon, lung, skin and stomach cancer.
- Reducing inflammation at an injury site.
- Improved peripheral insulin sensitivity.
- Reducing blood pressure.
- Increasing metabolism and fat metabolism in particular.
- Reducing body fat but maintaining muscle mass.
- Increasing immunity.
- Improving bone mineral density.
- Reducing LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
- CLA may even be helpful in reducing food-induced allergic reactions.
CLA is most commonly supplemented for its positive effect on body composition. CLA is associated with increasing Acyl-CoA Oxidase which is an enzyme involved in fatty acid oxidation, polyunsaturated fatty acid synthesis and increased peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor signalling.
It is worth noting that the benefits associated with CLA are thought to be isomer dependant. The two most abundant isomers are c9,t11-CLA and t10,c12-CLA. CLA supplements showing positive metabolic benefits tend to contain a balanced mixture of these two isomers, such as Sci-MX CLA Lean 1000.
The Sport Supplement Reference Guide awards CLA with a clinical support rating of 4/5 and the feedback for CLA’s ability to reduce fat mass as a stand-alone supplement is positive. CLA is commonly used by bodybuilders during bulking phases of training in an effort to better partition their increased nutrient intake towards the gain of lean muscle mass and limit the increased fat mass associated with bulking. Some people even report that CLA increases muscle gain, strength and enhances sports performance although these reports are from a small minority of users.
A dose of 5-6g per day of mixed isomers is recommended based on clinical evidence. In softgel form, the majority of supplement brands recommend taking 1-3 softgels (dependent on gel/capsule size) three times per day with or following a meal.
CLA is tolerated well when taken within the recommended dosage. A small percentage of those who have taken CLA during studies have reported that it caused them mild gastrointestinal disturbances such as digestive discomfort and diarrhoea.
If you prefer to take one supplement for all your training and fat loss needs why not try Optimum Health Diet Protein. A 30g serving contains 116kcal and delivers 21.5g of protein and 3g of CLA. Take two shakes per day to meet the recommended CLA dosage with the additional benefit of ingesting green tea extract, carnitine and vitamin C.
Whigham LD, Watras AC, Schoeller DA, Efficacy of Conjugated Linoleic Acid for Reducing Fat Mass: A Meta-Analysis in Humans, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007, 85(5): 1203-11.
Llewellyn W, Sport Supplement Reference Guide, 2009, 78-80.