It’s been around for several years and for good reason. This fatty acid known as CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) may be an answer if you are still trying to drop those unwanted pounds or seeking its other health benefits.
What is CLA?
CLA is a naturally occurring type of omega-6 fatty acid that is technically a trans-fat but very different from the industrial trans-fats that are bad for your health. CLA cannot be produced by the human body but is found in many animal products, like eggs, milk, beef, goat and sheep and what these animals eat determines the amount of CLA found in their meat. For example, it is up to 500% higher in grass-fed cows than in grain-fed cows. 
CLA and Weight Loss
CLA doesn’t decrease overall body weight but appears to lower the melting point for fat burning while blocking fat cells from growing bigger by influencing enzymes that affect the way fat is processed by the body. It also reduces body fat by increasing basal metabolic rates, helping the body convert fat more efficiently into energy.
Bottom line – CLA may decrease body fat especially for people who are obese. It may help people feel fuller after eating. However, it doesn’t seem to lower a person’s weight or BMI. While new evidence is still in the news, the best option to actually losing weight is to change your diet and lifestyle, and up your exercise. 
Besides being good for weight loss, CLA has been shown in studies to be important for many other health conditions including:
1. Reduces Cardiovascular Disease
CLA has anti-atherosclerotic properties and may improve blood lipid profiles by reducing total cholesterol, triglycerides, and bad LDL cholesterol levels and HDL cholesterol levels. However, since CLA can lower both types of cholesterol (good and bad) in the body, it is not a standard treatment.
2. Anticancer Effects
CLA has antioxidant properties that may have anticancer effects as well as reducing the spread of cancer. 
Studies have shown that women who get a lot of CLA from their diet or supplements have a lower risk of colorectal cancer; they may also have a lower risk of breast cancer.
Studies also suggest that lactation and breastfeeding may impart protection against mammary cancer for the mom and infant later in life. However, more research to support these claims is still needed.
3. Improves Bone Health
CLA may improve bone density and enhances calcium absorption, making it a highly effective natural osteoporosis treatment for both men and women.
4. Improves Immune and Inflammatory Response
Some of the beneficial effects of CLA on immune and inflammatory responses include:
- reduces colonic inflammation
- decreases antigen-induced cytokine production
- reduces allergic-type immune responses
- modulates the production of cytokines, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes
5. Stabilizes Blood Sugar Levels
CLA can improve insulin action and enhance glucose metabolism in people with type 2 diabetes. Because of its insulin reducing action, people taking large amounts of CLA supplementation should monitor their insulin levels regularly and let their primary doctor know about any supplements they’re taking to avoid any potential side effects or drug interactions with medications.
Can you get CLA Naturally from Foods?
Sure, you can just buy the supplements containing CLA, but conjugated linoleic acid is found in ordinary foods, not exotic and expensive superfoods.
Here are 20 foods high in CLA that you can find in your grocery store and how much CLA they contain, per serving:
|1||Grass-fed beef||4 ounces||433 mg|
Whole milk cheddar cheese from grass-fed cow
|1 ounce||180 – 270 mg|
|3||Whole milk from grass-fed cow||8 ounces||160 – 240 mg|
|4||Lamb||4 ounces||148 mg|
|5||Ground beef, standard||4 ounces||71 mg|
|6||Butter, salted||1 tablespoon||54 mg|
|7||Whole milk from standard dairy||8 ounces||44 mg|
|8||Buttermilk from standard dairy||8 ounces||44 mg|
|9||Processed cheese product||1 ounce||43 mg|
|10||Veal||4 ounces||40 mg|
|11||Cheddar cheese from standard dairy||1 ounce||39 mg|
|12||Ice cream||1/2 cup||26 mg|
|13||Plain yogurt, standard form||6 ounces||26 mg|
|14||Ground turkey||4 ounces||23 mg|
|15||Cottage cheese||4 ounces||22 mg|
|16||2% milk, standard dairy||8 ounces||20 mg|
|17||Low-fat yogurt, standard form||6 ounces||12 mg|
|18||Sour cream||1 tablespoon||11 mg|
|19||Chicken||4 ounces||8 mg|
|20||Pork||4 ounces||6 mg|
As you can see CLA is in many animal products, like butter, milk, beef, and other meat. Grass-fed beef may have higher levels of CLA than grain-fed beef. Animals need real grass and greens in their diets to make CLA, so it’s important to go for grass-fed sources.
CLA is also found in sunflower and safflower oil. Cooking food may increase levels of CLA.
A diet rich in saturated fat may not be part of your standard diet especially if you eat primarily plant-based or are a vegan. This also means that it will be difficult to significantly boost your intake of CLA while keeping a balanced diet so to get the suggested beneficial dose a day, supplementation may be the best way to go.
CLA supplements have undergone more than 600 studies in the past 25 years and these studies have discovered 4 ways CLA may help fight obesity:
- Reduce fat storage after eating
- Increase fat burning or metabolism
- Increase the speed fat is broken down in fat cells
- Reduce the number of fat cells in our bodies
Are all CLA supplements the same?
Not really. Each brand usually has different amounts of active CLA and most of the studies conclude that you need to take 3.4 grams of CLA (3,400 mg) daily to receive its benefits. Since various formulas contain a percentage of other oils as ingredients, you need to calculate how much each supplement is delivering to make sure you’re getting your full 3.4 grams. If a capsule contains 75 percent CLA, and it’s 1,000 mg, you are receiving 750 mg of CLA, and you’d need five per day to reach the recommended 3.4 grams.
Best CLA supplement
I recommend this CLA product from Designs For Health specifically because I can be assured that my patients are getting a standardized 80% Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) per serving so you need less to reach the suggested 3.4 grams for the most benefits. It contains the naturally-occurring fatty acid shown to be useful in supporting proper fat burning and the maintenance of lean muscle tissue. There are actually over 20 different forms of CLA, but the most important forms are in this supplement. These are called cis-9, trans-11 and trans-10, cis-12 isomers.
Is CLA safe?
Taking CLA is generally safe, however, at times it can cause some side effects so another reason to be sure of the quality and dosing you are taking. Some reactions may include:
- Side effects such as upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, and fatigue.
- Supplements may affect how your body absorbs sugar or worsen insulin resistance in people with diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
- Not recommended for people with poor liver function or liver diseases such as “fatty liver.“
- CLA does lower bad LDL cholesterol but it may also lower HDL (the good cholesterol) so check your levels.
- Not recommended for children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding since there is not enough evidence to know of its long-term use.
How long does it take CLA to work?
CLA supplements are not miracle pills. Usually, it takes a few weeks for the weight loss effects to show up and you must consider these four factors to make sure you are optimizing its use:
1) Choosing the right CLA product
- There should be at least 80 percent CLA in the product to be considered a good choice.
- The product that you are going to buy must not have any allergens.
- Made with non-GMO ingredients.
2) Dietary factors to improve CLA efficacy
- Cut back on starches and sugar
- Eat more protein and fat
- And of course, the more vegetables, the better
3) Exercise more
CLA or any other weight-loss supplements on the market can’t help you if you don’t change your diet and don’t move your body enough. Ideally, you should:
- Spend at least 2 ½ -3 hours a week doing some form of medium-intensity cardio, with consistency, for the best result. That means regularly doing heart-healthy things like walking, jogging, running, biking or swimming.
- Instead of taking elevators, what about using the stairs? Or park your car a few blocks from your destination and get a walk in? Or after long hours of sitting in front of the computer, why not stand and stretch out just for a few minutes?
4) Dosage and frequency of CLA supplementation
To get the full potential of CLA you must take the right amount, frequently and be patient. The recommended dosage is 3 to 5 grams a day for the best outcome and the frequency is every day, dividing your dose into your three meal times.
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1) Definition of Conjugated linoleic acid
2) Effect of supplementation with conjugated linoleic acid on human serum lipids and body fat.
3) A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef.