CLA: Can one pill really do all this?

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a slightly altered form of the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid. It occurs naturally in dairy products and meats from grass-fed animals such as beef and lamb. However, changes in animal feeding practices and antibiotic use over the last decades has led to a steady decline in CLA levels in these foods, and therefore in most people as well, since humans cannot produce the nutrient. Some experts speculate that the rise in rates of cancer, heart disease and obesity may mirror the decline in available CLA from food sources. Indeed, mounting scientific research shows that taking CLA may help prevent these and other major diseases.


CLA is a safe and effective natural weight-control supplement. In the first human clinical trial using CLA for fat reduction, those taking the supplement saw a 20% reduction in body fat, an average loss of seven pounds of fat and an increase in lean muscle — without changing their diet. In another study, those taking CLA during and after dieting gained back less fat after the diet ended. CLA is thought to work for weight control by inhibiting the absorption of fat, regulating glucose and altering the body’s use of energy during sleep.


A relatively minor but promising area of research concerns CLA’s ability to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol while leaving HDL (“good”) cholesterol alone. Elevated LDL levels can lead to artery plaque (atherosclerosis), especially when damaged by free radicals. In a small animal study, rabbits fed CLA had lower LDL levels and less atherosclerosis than those not fed CLA.


Another impressive area of CLA research concerns its effects against various types of cancer, including cancers of the breast, lung, colon and prostate. Many studies confirm that CLA has potent anticancer properties, partly due to its strong antioxidant ability. A recent study by Dr Margot Ip of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute demonstrated that CLA also decreases blood vessel formation, slowing tumour growth. “By slowing blood vessel formation, tumour growth is reduced by minimizing the flow of nutrients to the tumour,” explained Dr Ip. She added, “CLA may prove especially beneficial for women who are at high-risk for breast cancer.”


With further benefits for managing diabetes and boosting the immune system already established and being researched, CLA is sure to become increasingly popular and widely accepted. Look for CLA supplements from leading brands at health and nutrition stores.

Sources: Healthy Fats for Life by L Vanderhaeghe & K Karst, Quarry:2003; Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Oct 4, 2002; Atherosclerosis 108:19-25, 1994; Dietary Supplement Information Bureau