Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is the umbrella term used to indicate all linoleic acid isomers, referring to a polyunsaturated fatty acid from the omega-6 family. Polyunsaturated fats are all the triglycerides that contain a fatty acid with more than one double bond in the molecule.
CLA can be produced by the human body itself, although small amounts of it are found in foods such as full-fat milk and other dairy products. In even lower concentrations, it occurs in the meat of ruminant animals like cows. The CLA used in supplements is usually synthesized, mostly from safflower oil, by a process called isomerization.
CLA consumption is associated with reducing the deposits as well as the overall percentage of body fat. The supplement specifically helps eliminate abdominal fat, which is often connected to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, heart attacks, diabetes and even certain cancer types. It is often used by athletes because it helps reduce fat deposits and contributes to better muscle definition. CLA is known to preserve the existing muscle mass.
The process of losing fat invariably entails losing existing muscle mass. When such a process is not monitored by a physician or a nutritionist, it can even prove to be harmful rather than beneficial. The loss of lean mass resulting from weight loss contributes to a strong decline in the body’s metabolic function, because lean mass is more metabolically active than fat mass. In other words, loss of muscle results in the body spending less calories. Such as situation may not only compromise the slimming process, but it also helps increase the probability that the body weight goes back to its old level after a recovery process. What CLA does is promote weight loss while preserving muscle mass, because it contributes to an accelerated metabolism.
The mechanism through which this supplement helps eliminate the body’s fat deposits is based on the following assumptions:
- Stimulation of the carnitine palmitoyltransferase enzyme, which is responsible for transporting fatty acids to the mitochondria where lipolysis of the cell’s fat deposits takes place, stimulating “fat burning”
- Inhibition of lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that transports fat (fatty acids) to the deposits called adipocytes, and therefore keeping fat from being stored in the body
- Inhibition of growth and differentiation of the adipocytes where fat is stored
This mechanism works two ways: on one hand it helps to increase the metabolization of fatty acids stored in the body, and as such decreasing the fat deposits, and on the other it keeps dietary fats from being stored in these deposits in the first place. More fatty acids being oxidized mean more energy being created, which in combination with resistance training can also lead to better physical performance of athletes
Linoleic acid is essential for the synthesis of prostaglandins, substances that play a role in the body’s inflammatory responses and that are important regulatory agents in the immune system of any mammal. Furthermore, CLA has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
One of the side effects of the use of CLA that were discovered, is that it increases insulin sensitivity. This is particularly interesting because pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes are diseases that are directly associated with obesity and being overweight. In that sense, the supplement does not only help lose weight and fat, but also helps regulate blood glucose levels, and may even be useful for the prevention and/or treatment of diabetes.
Probably the most interesting fact about CLA use is that it helps people lose weight, whether they exercise regularly and/or follow a weight loss diet, or do not lead a particularly healthy life in terms of diet and exercise. The majority of the available studies recommends the intake of 2 to 5 g of CLA per day, depending on the diet and exercise habits of the individual.
The main benefits of CLA:
- Helps reduce body fat
- Stimulates weight loss
- Helps preserve muscle mass
- Improves muscle definition
- Provides antioxidant protection
- Helps regulate blood glucose levels
- Promotes cardiovascular health