CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) Benefits & Side Effects

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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CLA is a critical fatty acid which performs a number of functions important for our physical health. Take a detailed look at how it functions inside your body and what are its health benefits.

What is CLA?

CLA is linoleic acid, a type of omega-6 fatty acid that occurs naturally in the body and in certain foods, mostly in meat and dairy products as per a study conducted by Banni S., Ph.D., Department of Experimental Biology, Experimental Pathology Section, University of Cagliari, Italy. Maintaining a healthy balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids is a key part of overall health.

What Does CLA Do?

CLA plays an important role in the processing of body fat, and the regulation of cell formation, as well as the growth and overall health of the cardiovascular system. According to Christine Williams, 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. It is also popular as a weight loss supplement. 

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) capsules next to a placard stating the same

CLA helps in maintaining weight loss, retaining lean muscle mass, and controlling type 2 diabetes. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

CLA Benefits

Conjugated Linoleic acid has some amazing benefits for your body as discussed below. Let us take a detailed look at them below.

CLA for Weight Loss

Some research suggests that this fatty acid supplement helps to regulate body fat by using it as a source of energy. In addition to converting body fat to energy, it is believed that CLA helps to maintain a healthy metabolism. However, according to Thomas M. Larsen, Ph.D., Department of Human Nutrition, Center for Advanced Food Studies, The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Denmark, the evidence for this is not conclusive, so be wary of taking this supplement solely for the purpose of losing weight.

A recommended dosage of 3 to 4 grams of this supplement can help with your weight loss goals and at the same time build healthy body mass.

Healthy Cardiovascular System

CLA is thought to be beneficial to the cardiovascular system, as it converts stored fat reserves in the body into energy and prevents the build-up of plaque in the arteries. It is also thought that CLA may help lower blood pressure, which can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke as per a study published by the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.

Anticancer Potential

This substance may also help defend the body against the development of cancer by improving our ability to absorb vitamins A and D, in addition to regulating cell function and growth. According to research by Dr. Clement Ip published in the American Association for Cancer Research, low levels of this specific fatty acid have been associated with a higher risk of mammary cancer, among others.

Incorporating CLA In Your Daily Diet

The best way to ensure that you have sufficient levels of this fatty acid in your body is to incorporate it into your daily diet by eating beef or dairy products. These supplements are chemically produced through the altering of vegetable oils and can, therefore, affect the body in a different way than naturally-occurring CLA.

CLA Side Effects

Some studies and researchers have argued that taking CLA as a supplement might make the body more insulin resistant, and therefore have negative effects on people with diabetes or those who are at risk for diabetes. Taking too much of this omega fatty acid can also cause a build-up of fat in the liver.

When taking these powerful supplements, some people have reported to experience a drop in their levels of HDL, a type of cholesterol that is beneficial to the body. It is best to approach all weight loss supplements with caution, as they are not a replacement for exercise and a balanced, healthy diet. If you are uncertain as to whether this particular fatty acid is the right supplement for you, we recommend speaking to your doctor or a nutritional specialist.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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