CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, is an altered form of linoleic acid and a type of Omega-6 fatty acid. CLA is not naturally produced in the human body, so it has to be consumed. While CLA is not always seen as an essential nutrient, a CLA deficiency could lead to weight gain and obesity (1).
Typically CLA is beneficial for athletes, bodybuilders and individuals trying to lose weight, although it has other benefits as well. Milk and beef are good sources of it. However, CLA supplements are the more common way to ensure CLA benefits. The CLA used in supplements is typically derived from safflower oil. No matter which way you get decided to get your CLA, the benefits are worth it. We’ve researched some of the top benefits CLA provides, and listed them here.
#1. Weight Loss
The majority of people who take CLA supplements do so to lose weight. This is because CLA is known to make burning fat and losing weight significantly easier than when individuals just exercise and diet. The science behind how CLA works is still being studied, but from what studies have been able to reveal, CLA helps regulate fat in the body. Mainly it helps turn body fat into energy. It also helps prevent the metabolism from slowing down, which typically happens as an one ages (2).
Another reason CLA is successful in helping individuals burn fat, is because it helps preserve muscle tissue at the same time. This makes CLA an excellent nutrient for body builders. Just keep in mind that your actual weight may not always be an indicator of fat loss or gain. Muscle weights more than fat; so when CLA helps your body preserve and gain muscle and lose fat, you could remain the same weight or even gain weight (3).
However, taking CLA over the long term could produce serious side effects including insulin resistance.
Bottom Line: CLA is good for athletes, body builders, and individuals trying to lose weight, as it helps burn fat and preserve muscle, but caution is advised about using it long-term.
#2. Cancer Prevention
Many of the studies revolving around CLA and cancer prevention are still in the animal-testing stages. However, they show promising results. Currently CLA is the only fatty acid that seems to slow or prevent carcinogenesis, which is the beginning stages of cancer. The reason behind this is that CLA makes it easier for the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A and D. It is able to do this by encouraging and regulating new cell growth (2). CLA may help prevent a number of cancers, such as liver, colon, skin and breast cancer, and it can help decrease cancer cell growth in a number of different stages.
In one study, where animals were given chemically induced breast cancer, CLA prevented the disease from developing, and combined itself with healthy breast tissue. In animals that already had breast cancer, CLA decreased the quantity of tumors. In another study, mice who were given CLA were 50% less likely to develop breast cancer. In yet another study, revolving around prostate cancer, only 10% of the mice given CLA developed cancer (4).
Bottom Line: CLA has cancer-preventing and cancer-fighting properties, and can lower an individual’s risk of develop cancer.
#3. Improve Blood Sugar Levels
CLA can be good for diabetics, as it has been known to help lower blood sugar levels. As already mentioned, CLA helps decrease fat, which helps decrease body mass. The decrease in body mass results in lower blood sugar levels, which can improve a diabetic’s quality of life. CLA can also lower leptin levels, which is a hormone that helps regulate fat levels. As it’s difficult for diabetics to lose and control their weight CLA can help improve weight and blood sugar levels in diabetics, improving their overall health (5).
In one study involving 21 adults with onset diabetes, some participants were given Rumenic Acid (food that contains CLA) for eight weeks. In 9 of the 11 participants taking CLA, blood glucose levels decreased. Leptin levels and weight had been affected as well. In another study that tested CLA’s effects on weight loss, over half of the participants had lost weight and decreased their risk of developing diabetes (5).
Bottom Line: CLA can help diabetics lower their blood sugar levels
#4. Improve Heart Health
Since CLA helps the body turn fat into energy, it can have positive affects on the heart. CLA prevents plaque and lipids from building up in the arteries, which can decrease the risk of developing heart disease. It can also help prevent atherosclerosis, which is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries (2). When atherosclerosis develops, blood flow through the arteries is restricted, which can cause heart attacks, stroke and cardiovascular disease. Therefore CLA can help prevent life-threatening conditions (6).
Bottom Line: CLA can help prevent heart conditions.
#5. Improve the Immune System
Research on CLA and its effects on the immune system are mixed. Some studies say that CLA has no effect on the immune system, but some studies suggest otherwise. One such study suggests that CLA could have a positive effect on eicosanoids, prostaglandins, cytokines and immunoglobulins. Eicosanoids help regulate inflammation throughout the body. Prostaglandins help the body heal after an injury. They are also responsible for helping a women’s labor progress. Cytokines are responsible for telling other cells that a part of the body is hurt and needs help. Immunoglobulins are the antibodies in blood that destroy bacteria and other harmful substances that find their way into the body. Therefore, some studies suggest that CLA helps improve the function of each of these immune system components (7).
Bottom Line: CLA can possibly help improve components of the immune system, resulting in speedier recovery from injuries.
CLA is not always considered an essential nutrient, as most people take it to help lose weight. However, it can have some important health benefits that go beyond fat loss, such as preventing cancer and improving heart health. Hopefully the benefits listed above encourage you to start finding ways to increase your daily CLA intake.