Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is a term that refers to several different isomers, or structurally different forms, of linoleic acid. Also known as omega-6, linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid most commonly found in the milk and meat of ruminants. A CLA supplement is a dietary supplement that contains two CLA isomers, cis-9 and trans-11, which are typically derived from sunflower oil or safflower oil. These supplements are believed to help users reduce their body fat, while maintaining lean muscle mass. Research has also suggested that CLA boosts immune system function, improves cholesterol, increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin, and protects against cancer.
While CLA is most commonly found in products derived from ruminants, like cows and sheep, most supplements contain CLA extracted from cold-pressed oils. The two most frequently used oils are sunflower and safflower. On average, 1 gram (1,000 mg) of safflower oil contains around 40% more CLA than sunflower. Sunflower oil is less expensive, so some manufactures choose to use this oil in their formulas. Supplements containing safflower oil are usually stronger and contain more CLA than those containing other oils.
Some experts recommend taking a CLA supplement because consumers rarely get large amounts of CLA from their diet. One of the richest sources of CLA is milk fat. Red meat, lamb and olive oil also contain this fatty acid. The problem is that most of these sources are also high in calories and saturated fat. While avoiding unhealthy fat, many people also reduce their intake of CLA.
One of the most common reasons consumers begin taking a CLA supplement is to help them lose weight. These supplements are frequently advertised as effective weight loss aids. CLA is believed to reduce fat by preventing the fat-storing function of lipoprotein lipase. This claim has been backed by numerous studies that have found CLA effective in reducing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass.
In addition to its slimming properties, there are several other benefits associated with taking a CLA supplement. CLA is believed to enhance immune system function, boost the metabolism, lower cholesterol, and fight insulin resistance. Studies have also shown that taking a CLA supplement might help consumers reduce their risk of cancer and heart disease.
The main issue with taking a CLA supplement is that these supplements might further insulin resistance in obese individuals. This is because CLA isomers, cis-9 and trans-11, have been linked to increased insulin resistance. CLA supplements have also been known to cause upset stomach and nausea, especially when taken with milk or other proteins. After about two weeks of regular use, these side effects generally subside as the user adjusts to the supplement.