Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is a type of dietary fat that some people take in supplement form to help lose weight. So what’s the best CLA supplement for weight loss?
What is CLA?
CLA stands for Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). It’s a polyunsaturated (omega 6) fatty acid. When you eat meat and dairy, you’re getting natural sources of CLA. Grass-fed cows are richer in CLA than grain-fed cattle. This is because when cows eat grass, an enzyme converts grass into CLA.
In addition to meat and dairy, safflower and sunflower oils produce CLA. CLA supplements come from safflower and sunflower oil.
CLA is not an essential fatty acid. This means that you don’t need to obtain it from food. This is good news if you’re vegan or vegetarian as the richest sources of CLA come from animal protein. (CLA is also found in turkey, fish and other meats.)
More people are taking CLA in supplement form. This is primarily because of reports that this type of fat can help with weight loss.
So far, there’s very limited research on humans that shows it can help you lose weight. And some studies even suggest it does more harm than good.
Nonetheless, CLA is an interesting topic in nutrition….
Nutrition Oxymoron: A Healthy Trans Fat?
Technically, CLA is a trans fat.
Isn’t the number one golden rule of nutrition and preventing disease avoiding trans fats like the plague?
But it’s only artificial trans fats that are bad for you. The trans fats you’re probably thinking of are the result of “Frankenstein” food science. Created by an industrial process, trans fats extend the shelf life of packaged baked goods.
You’ll know if a food contains trans fats if “partially hydrogenated oil” is an ingredient. Don’t be concerned about naturally-occurring CLA in meats and dairy because it’s a trans fat.
However, what you should be concerned about with CLA from the diet is how much meat you’re eating. Don’t go eating a steak every night just because you heard about CLA weight loss.
In fact, research suggests the consumption of red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans. And as for processed meat? It’s definitely carcinogenic to humans. [SOURCE]
Are CLA Supplements Healthier Than Food for Weight Loss?
Considering CLA supplements come from plant oils and not animals, does that mean it’s healthier?
This brings up another interesting thing about CLA.
CLA is an omega 6 fatty acid. Some nutrition experts recommend reducing omega 6s in the diet. This is because Americans consume far too many omega 6s in comparison to omega 3s. Eating too many foods with 6s (baked goods and processed foods) and not enough of 3s (salmon, eggs) may contribute to inflammation and metabolic diseases.
In light of this, should you not take CLA because it’s an omega 6? Well, if you’re eating moderate amounts of grass-fed/pasture-raised meats and grass-fed dairy, omega 6 is safe. It may even offer some health benefits.
But if you’re taking CLA supplements and eat a lot of processed foods, the omega 6s from the sunflower/safflower oil may do more harm than good.
That being said, eating foods rich in CLA may help you lose weight more effectively than taking a supplement. But not because of the CLA.
You see, if you’re eating a low carb diet like keto or paleo, eating meat might help you lose weight. But the weight loss will be from cutting down on carbs. It’s not necessarily because of the amount of CLA you’re consuming.
As a matter of fact, the CLA thought to be most beneficial is from sunflower/safflower oil.
Do CLA Pills for Weight Loss?
What about CLA supplements then for losing weight? Do they work?
Again, the answer is, it depends.
Some research shows that CLA can improve lean body mass. But there’s very limited human research that it leads to weight loss in humans. One study from China (this one) on 80 overweight or obese people who took 1.7 grams of CLA supplement twice a day for 12 weeks reduced body fat by 2% and body weight by just under 1%.
But the biggest factor in whether a CLA supplement will help you lose weight is quality. Supplement quality is obviously an important factor in every weight loss remedy. It seems to be especially true for CLA supplements.
In short, CLA is probably not the best supplement to take for weight loss. This is because most brands of this supplement do not contain the form of CLA that has been shown to result in weight loss.
There’s another problem with CLA supplements besides not containing the best form of this fatty acid. Some brands do not contain as much CLA as claimed on the product label. ConsumerLab.com reports that one brand–Primaforce Max CLA–contains (or at least contained when the independent researchers tested it) less than 40% of the listed CLA. So buyer beware!
What Are The Best CLA supplements?
If you’ve heard stories and read CLA reviews that convince you it works, well, good luck!
ConsumerLab has approved several CLA supplements. They are:
- Finest Nutrition (3200 mg daily serving size)
- GNC Pro Performance (1,000 mg)
- GNC Total Lean (2,000 mg)
- Iron-Tek (2,340 mg)
- MRM (3,000-6,000 mg)
- Nature’s Sunshine (2,250 mg)
- Ortho Molecular (2,340 mg)
- The Vitamin Shoppe (2,340 mg)
- Vitacost Tonalin (2,340 mg)
The last one of this list is the most cost-effective, according to ConsumerLab. The Vitacost brand costs 35 cents per suggested serving.
Choose one of the above brands as they have been approved by ConsumerLab. If you’re considering another brand, make sure the total CLA is listed. Some brands list only the total of all oils.
Keep in mind if you’re taking CLA for weight loss, supplements are the way to go. They contain way more CLA to begin with than meat or dairy. In addition, as mentioned above, CLA supplements contain the best form (“trans 10” and “cis-12” if you want to get technical) associated with slimming.
Why Is There So Much Buzz About CLA & Weight Loss?
Blame it on rodents. Many of the impressive slimming results on this supplement have been conducted on rats and mice.
After about a month, the rats fed coconut oil and CLA show improvement in several markers. Total cholesterol concentrations were lowest in the rats on the coconut oil and CLA diet.
Are There Other Benefits of Taking CLA?
According to this 2015 meta-analysis (a rehash of several studies) in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, CLA may offer several benefits:
- Improving blood sugar levels
- Preventing or improving atherosclerosis
- Boost immunity
- Bone formation
- Enhanced muscular endurance and strength
But keep in mind these benefits have been shown in animals, not humans. Actually, in humans, CLA may be bad for health….
Are There CLA Side Effects?
CLA is generally safe for most people that are already healthy. However, studies with humans actually show some potential for doing the opposite in rodents. In rats, CLA improves blood sugar. But according to ConsumerLab (subscription required), there have been reports of worsening blood sugar in people with diabetes and obesity.
It may even decrease your sensitivity to insulin (which is not good; your pancreas will need to make more of this hormone to control blood sugar). This study says the effect may even create a pre-diabetic state and lower HDL (good) cholesterol.
Furthermore, other reports suggest it may harm the liver. Three cases of hepatitis from CLA supplementation have been reported.
More common side effects of CLA supplements include nausea and digestive upset and loose stools. These side effect may be avoided if you eat protein along with taking the supplement.
Best CLA Supplement Conclusion
So far, the research on CLA pills for weight loss isn’t very convincing. But if you take a brand of CLA that ConsumerLab has approved (see above), it’s probably safe for you to take. It may even help you lose some weight. However, what might work the best is cutting down on refined carbs and added sugars.