We have heard a lot about the unhealthy effects of fat. But did you know that some fats are actually good for your overall health and wellbeing? Conjugated linoleic is one such kind of fat. This article explains why you need not worry about this healthy trans-fat.
What Is Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)?
CLA is a type of polyunsaturated, omega-6 fatty acid that is mostly found in the meat and milk of ruminants, such as cows, goats, and sheep. There are 28 different forms of CLA, the difference being in the arrangement of the double bonds. “Conjugated” in this case has to do with the arrangement of the double bonds in the structure of the fatty acid molecule.
CLA is naturally trans fat and is not associated with the health risks that occur when one consumes high amounts of artificial trans fats such as industrial trans fats.
CLA Is Mostly Found In Grass-Fed Animals
The total amounts of CLA found in animal meat and dairy will vary depending on what the animals are fed on. Research has shown that grass-fed animals have the highest amounts of linoleic acid. They are also loaded with Vitamin K which offers additional health benefits.
The average intake of CLA in the US is about 151 mg per day for women and 212 mg for men. Many CLA supplements have flooded the market but unfortunately, most of them are not derived from natural sources. Most of the supplements are made from linoleic acid that is derived from vegetable sources and later chemically altered to resemble CLA. For this reason, CLA supplements may not provide the same health effects as naturally occurring CLA from dietary intake.
Can CLA Help In Weight Loss?
Conjugated linoleic acid, just like other fats, is not inert but has biologic activity. Research suggests that CLA may help in weight loss through different mechanisms. This includes:
- Fat burning
- Reducing food intake
- Stimulates fat breakdown
- Inhibits fat production
Human studies have also shown that CLA can help to reduce body fat while increasing muscle mass. However, some human studies have only shown modest effects on weight loss. Here, weight loss is most pronounced during the first six months, after which it plateaus for up to two years.
Other Health Benefits of Conjugated Linoleic Acid
People who get a lot of CLA from foods are at a lower risk of various diseases. This is especially the case in areas where cows predominantly eat grass — rather than grain.
CLA is also useful for:
- Controlling high blood pressure
- Reducing obesity
- Improving metabolic syndrome
- Treating symptoms of hay fever allergies
- Improve airway sensitivity in asthma
- Reduce risk for breast cancer
- Improve cognitive function in elderly men
- Relieving symptoms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Reducing pain, inflammation, and stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis
Many studies have suggested that people who eat the most CLA from dietary sources have improved metabolic health and a lower risk of many diseases.
Does CLA Cause Serious Side Effects?
Even though consuming small amounts of natural CLA is beneficial, high doses may trigger serious side effects. High doses are usually found in supplements that are made by chemically altering linoleic acid from vegetable oils. CLA supplements usually come in higher doses as compared to the amounts people get from dairy or meat.
Studies have shown that high amounts of supplemental CLA can cause increased accumulation of fat in your liver. In time this will contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
High amounts of CLA can also trigger inflammation and fuel insulin resistance. This is unfortunate as it counters the potential health benefits that can be derived from this fatty acid.
Other side effects that are associated with high doses of conjugated linoleic acid include:
To avoid this, you need to stick to the recommended daily doses of CLA, especially when taking supplements. Whenever possible, stick to CLA that is directly derived from meat or dairy sources.
What Is The Appropriate Dose Of CLA?
The appropriate dose for CLA for adults is about 3.2–6.4 grams per day. One review gave an estimate of a minimum of 3 grams daily for weight loss. Doses of up to 6 grams per day can be taken without causing any serious adverse side effects.
The FDA allows CLA to be added to foods and gives it a GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status. However, you should remember to adhere to appropriate dosages as higher doses can easily trigger unwanted side effects.
Conjugated linoleic acid has been used effectively to stimulate weight loss. It has also shown potential in the treatment of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and other health conditions.
Although it doesn’t cause any serious side effects at doses up to 6 grams per day, higher doses, especially from dietary supplements, may cause long-term negative effects. Since this is a potential issue, you should consider safer alternative ways to lose fat.
- NCBI (2011): Effects of ruminant trans fatty acids on cardiovascular disease and cancer: a comprehensive review of epidemiological, clinical, and mechanistic studies. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22332075
- NCBI (2001): Estimation of conjugated linoleic acid intake by written dietary assessment methodologies underestimates actual intake evaluated by food duplicate methodology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11340114
- NCBI (2009): Antiobesity Mechanisms of Action of Conjugated Linoleic Acid. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2826589/
- NCBI (2007): Efficacy of conjugated linoleic acid for reducing fat mass: a meta-analysis in humans. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17490954
- NCBI (2010): Conjugated linoleic acid in adipose tissue and risk of myocardial infarction. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20463040