You may have heard of CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid. It’s been hailed as a highly effect weight loss supplement that can help the body burn fat without the stimulatory side effects that many similar compounds are known to cause.
Unfortunately, a lot of research has been done on the compound that doesn’t really support the hype. There is a lot of misinformation available regarding CLA, and while it’s certainly a useful nutritional compound, it’s not necessarily viable for the functions that many people think that it’s useful for.
In this article, I examine what CLA is, how it works, the side effects and if CLA really is the "wonder-drug" some claim it to be.
What is CLA?
CLA isn’t actually a single compound, so there isn’t a single CLA definition.
Conjugated linoleic acid is a blanket term that’s used to describe a number of trans fats that are all fairly similar to each other. There isn’t enough research to indicate which CLA compound is actually the most effective, so for the time being, we’re stuck using the term to refer to all of them.
CLA is naturally occurring. It’s quite similar to omega-6 fatty acids in the sense that it provides health benefits for your skin and can help to regulate and improve your metabolism.
It’s one of the ‘healthy fats’ that we hear about, which includes omega-3s, omega-6s,and other forms of poly- and monounsaturated fatty acids.
The interesting thing about CLA and other healthy fats is that research suggests that getting enough of these compounds can actually help to balance out levels of body fat.
However, this doesn’t mean that CLA is effective as a weight loss supplement. What this suggests is that most people are deficient in healthy fats and, as a result, their body attempts to hold on to any fat that it gets.
Once you restore a healthy balance of fatty acids to your body, it’s quick to shed any fats that are less healthy. This can provide people with the impression that they’ve discovered a miracle supplement when, in reality, they’re just returning to a healthy level of homeostasis.
How does CLA Work?
There’s a lot of hype surrounding CLA that suggests that it’s a miraculous, life-changing weight loss supplement. Unfortunately, unlike Hustler training techniques, using CLA for weight loss isn’t generally the best idea.
Some of this is due to ignorance, and some of it is due to misinformation. Some of this knowledge is also due to scientific studies that have been done, though most of these studies were done on mice.
Studies have revealed that mice who are fed CLA are quick to shed body fat. They will exhibit a reduction of up to 60% of their body fat once administered CLA. People have seen these results and decided that they would be fantastic if they were to work on humans as well.
First off, people aren’t mice. Their bodies don’t work the same way. While some studies that have been done on rats and later done on humans exhibited similar results, we can’t be sure that this will happen every time.
Besides, there are too many variables involved. Did these mice have healthy levels of CLA or other polyunsaturated fats before the experiment? Was it healthy for them to lose 60% of their body weight?
The reality is that CLA supplements haven't proven to be very effective when used on humans unless they are highly deficient in fatty acids beforehand.
Studies have revealed that people who were given daily doses of CLA supplements experienced highly varied results. Some people responded ‘better’ than others and lost much more fat, whereas others seemed not to respond at all.
The subjects were given between 700 mg and 6.8 grams of the stuff daily, and this is a good recommendation if you’re wondering how much CLA you can take in a day. Some subjects lost as many as 7.5 pounds whereas others gained a pound. The amount of CLA ingested didn’t seem to have an impact on the effects that were experienced.
There are a lot of implications here:
- The health and diet of the person involved in the study will have an impact on CLA supplementation.
- The type of CLA supplementation will provide different effects. There are several fatty acids that fall under the definition of CLA.
- The level of activity of the subjects will have an impact on the results of the study.
What this means is that, currently, there’s nowhere near enough information to confirm whether or not CLA supplements have a direct effect on body mass and fat loss.
CLA for Fitness and Fat Loss
Just because some studies have resulted in a discrepancy as to the efficacy of CLA does not mean that it’s not effective at all.
Several studies have revealed that it’s quite useful for improving the rate at which you burn fat. As we’ve mentioned, this is possibly because people who are deficient in essential fatty acids are more likely to hold onto other types of surplus fat.
One study revealed that people who took 3.4 grams of CLA daily over 12 weeks lost a lot more fat than those who didn’t take CLA. There was, however, some variability in the health and workout regimen of the subjects.
One thing that’s interesting, however, is the way that CLA can be useful for helping to improve the growth of muscle.
One study was done on athletes and bodybuilders. The subjects were given 7.2 grams of CLA on a daily basis alongside a workout routine. The test revealed that those taking CLA supplements experienced a greater improvement to arm girth, gains from leg presses, and overall muscle mass.
The placebo group, who performed the same workout, experienced significantly less improvements.
CLA for Skin
As a fatty acid, CLA has also been proven to be quite useful for improving the health of your skin and hair. It helps to keep it looking fresh and healthy and can be used topically. It’s often included in skin care products.
Many of the essential fatty acids are indicated in helping to improve the health of your skin, and CLA functions quite similarly.
CLA Side Effects
If you’re wondering what the side effects are from taking too much CLA, then you should be considered wise. Even the healthiest compounds can be abused, and there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
While CLA is generally recognized as safe by the FDA, there can be some adverse effects associated with too much consumption. There are also different precautions to be aware of for different demographics of people who plan on taking CLA.
- Children is considered possibly safe to be used by children but not for any longer than 7 months. No long-term evidence suggests that it’s safe to use for longer than this.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women can consume CLA in moderate amounts, but there isn’t any evidence that indicates medicinal amounts are safe or unsafe.
- People who suffer from bleeding disorders may want to be careful when using CLA because it can slow down blood clotting. This makes it unwise to take as a supplement after surgery or when trying to recover from an injury.
- While CLA has been indicated to help regulate blood sugar, there is some indication that it can actually worsen diabetes. This is particularly true for people who suffer from metabolic syndrome.
Should You Take CLA?
The reality of the situation regarding CLA is that it’s an over-hyped supplement.
There are certainly some studies that indicate it can be useful for helping people lose weight, but these studies aren’t specific enough to suggest that it’s useful for helping everyone to lose weight. It might not help you at all!
There simply isn’t enough evidence to give a full outline of the effects or potential dangers of using CLA as a workout supplement.
The most effective way to improve your strength and muscle mass is the tried-and-true method of using evidence-based training methods with a certified trainer.
There are several reasons why this works:
- You will be instructed in how to have perfect form, which can minimize the chance of injury and maximize your performance
- You will be able to learn according to your own specific preferences and learning levels
- You will have help setting realistic goals and accomplishing them
- There won’t be any wasted time and you’ll be able to achieve maximum results - many supplements that are hyped these days result in people wasting a lot of their time and not seeing any change
- Physical trainers are often educated about workout supplements that are actually proven to be useful, and they can help direct you towards supplements that will actually improve your regimen without sending you on a goose-chase
The best workout programs will provide you with the guidance you need to make meaningful, life-long changes without dependencies on products like CLA that almost universally acknowledged as "fads", or at least, questionable.
Wrapping Up: CLA
While some people have certainly experienced benefits while using CLA, the fact of the matter is that this alleged wonder-pill is a product that may or may not work, which may or may not negatively impact your health, fitness and wellbeing long term.
For those seeking weight loss and particularly fat loss, there are proven workout programs using evidence-based training protocols to not only produce greater results, but also do not risk your overall health.
Remember, no supplement, especially not CLA, will help you get lean and shredded on its own -- at best, CLA only supplements your diet and exercise.