CLA: Promising, But Far From Proved

The Buzz: Tonalin CLA helps you ?get smaller in all the right places?.without the dreaded yo-yo effect,? claims the product’s website. The site also highlights CLA’s potential ability to protect against cancer, heart disease, diabetes and impaired immunity. Can CLA really be such a superhero?

 

The Basics: CLA’short for conjugated linoleic acid?actually refers to a group of compounds with the same chemical makeup as the essential fatty acid linoleic acid, but with different 3-D configurations. Ruminant animals and some plants make CLA, but the human body itself does not. What little is present in the body comes mostly from eating beef and dairy fat.

   Some scientists believe that, although not an essential fatty acid itself, CLA has health benefits. Yet CLA consumption has declined over the years, as people eat less beef and full-fat dairy, while livestock are less likely to be grass-fed, resulting in less CLA in the animals.

   One branded form of CLA, Tonalin, is the product used in most CLA studies and in a number of CLA-containing supplements, including Jarrow Formulas, Nature’s Bounty, Nature’s Way, GNC, Puritan’s Pride, Source Naturals and Your Life.

 

The Bonus: Animal research has demonstrated CLA’s ability to improve body composition, lower blood lipids, enhance immunity, slow plaque deposits, control blood sugar and inhibit cancer.

   Some reports suggest people, too, may lose body fat by taking CLA. In a Swedish study, 53 men and women taking 4.2 grams of CLA daily for 12 weeks decreased body fat by 4%. And a not-yet-published study found that CLA prevented regain of body fat in people taking it for two years. How might it work? CLA may inhibit new fat storage, says Mark Cook, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

 

The Bust: Despite all the positive animal research, there’s a relative paucity of CLA studies in people. Results have been mixed, with at best only modest reductions in body fat, says Cook. And human studies have yet to confirm the benefits to immunity, heart health and diabetes seen in animals.

 

The Bottom Line: CLA holds promise, but clearly more research is needed to prove there is value to humans.–Andrea Klausner, M.S., R.D.

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