Whilst the supplement industry is full of products designed to lower your body fat, including everything from thermogenics, thyroid stimulators, lipolytic agents, fat transporters and appetite suppressants, few have been backed by as many medical and sports journals as the fatty acid known as conjugated linoleic acid. Here we take a look at the facts, studies and research surrounding CLA to see why it’s being heralded as a breakthrough in fat loss by researchers at I-Shou University in China.
The study led by Chih-Kun Huang, MD took 63 subjects and randomly assigned them to receive daily supplements of CLA (3.4 grams) or a placebo (salad oil) in a milk product for 12 weeks. Results showed that after 12 weeks of supplementation participants in the CLA group displayed average decreases in bodyweight of 0.7kg, BMI of 0.31 kg/m2, body fat mass of 0.58kg and fat percentage of 0.6%. Chih-Kun Huang said ‘to our knowledge this is the first randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial to evaluate the effect of CLA on body fat composition and the results seem promising.’ Concluding ‘the consumption of milk supplemented with CLA (3.4 grams per day) significantly decreased the body weight, BMI, body fat mass, fat percentage, subcutaneous fat mass and the waist-to-hip ratio in subjects over just 12 weeks.’
But What Is CLA?
What exactly is conjugated linoleic acid and what are the benefits for athletes, bodybuilders or gym goers? Well it’s a naturally occurring fatty acid found mainly in cheese and beef however it’s only found in these foods in very low doses (no way near the 3.4 grams used in the study at I-Shou University previously mentioned). Furthermore similar promising results were found at Uppsala University in Sweden where they found supplementing 4.2 grams of CLA a day in healthy, young subjects resulted in a 3.8% decrease in body fat compared with individuals not taking the supplement.
Whilst it’s clear studies support the use of CLA to lower your body fat, experts still aren’t entirely clear as to the mechanism by which it works. It’s been theorized that it reduces your body fat in 3 ways: firstly research conducted at the University of Pais Vasco found that conjugated linoleic acid interferes with a substance in your body called lipoprotein lipase, which aside from various other roles in the body is mainly responsible for storing fat in the body. Furthermore Simon. E et al 2005 of the same study found that CLA actually helped the body use its existing fat for energy. Therefore studies show CLA not only inhibits the storing of fat it also enhances the burning of fat.
What about Muscle Mass?
Perhaps most important for athletes, bodybuilders or those training for aesthetics, it was found CLA supplementation actually increased muscle mass as well as lowering body fat. This in turn increases your basal metabolic rate and the amount of calories you burn at rest. Scientists concluded therefore that CLA doesn’t actually make you lose weight (like thermogenics do) but rather it favorably changes your body composition (i.e. body fat to muscle ratio). This notion is further supported by the 1 year human study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found CLA supplementation produced a 9% reduction in body fat and 2% increase in muscle mass.
So in summation, studies and experts believe that unlike thermogenics and appetite suppressants that help you lose weight, CLA will favourably enhance your body composition, increasing muscle mass and reducing body fat at the same time. Regarding dosage, there seems to be different amounts that have proved effective in various studies ranging from 1.4 grams to 6.5 grams. The most common dosage seems to be 3 grams per day, so it may be advisable to start with this dosage and increase or decrease depending on how your body responds.
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- A. Zabala et al (2006) ‘Trans-10,cis-12 Conjugated linoleic acid inhibits lipoprotein lipase but increases the activity of lipogenic enzymes in adipose tissue from hamsters fed an atherogenic diet.’ Br J Nutr. 2006 Jun;95(6):1112-9.