Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a healthy fat found in the meat and dairy products (like butter and cheese) of grass-grazing ruminants. It is produced in the rumen of these animals with the help of a bacteria called Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens that “biohydrogenate” linoleic and linolenic acids.
Interestingly, CLA is both a trans fatty acid and a cis fatty acid.
The cis bond causes a lower melting point and ostensibly also the observed beneficial health effects. But unlike other trans fatty acids CLA is not harmful, but quite beneficial to your health.
In recent years, CLA has come into focus. And with good reason. Its health benefits range from blasting body fat to reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
But CLA isn’t a “new” fat. It’s a traditional fat that has all but disappeared from the 21st century plate due to grain-feeding as opposed to grass-feeding.
In fact, when ruminants are raised on fresh pasture alone, their meat and milk products contain 300-500% more CLA than products from animals fed “conventional” diets of grain.
This is yet another instance of how modern technologies have interfered with nourishing our ancient genes.
Health Benefits of CLA
Let’s take a look at the many benefits of CLA:
CLA Fights Cancer: CLA is a powerful antioxidant that offers potent defense against cancer.
- In animal studies, very small amounts of CLA have blocked all three stages of cancer: 1) initiation, 2) promotion, and 3) metastasis. Most anti-cancer agents block only one of these stages, and come with a host of side-effects, of course.
- What’s more, in laboratory studies, CLA has been shown to slow the growth of an unusually wide variety of tumors, including cancers of the skin, breast, prostate, and colon.
- CLA is such a potent a cancer fighter that animal studies show as little as 0.5 percent CLA in the diet could reduce tumors by over 50 percent.
- In a Finnish study, women who had the highest levels of CLA in their diet had a 60 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those with the lowest levels.
CLA and Diabetes: CLA beneficially affects multiple biochemical processes that benefit diabetes. After an eight-week study, diabetics who had added CLA to their diets not only had lower body mass and blood sugar levels, but lower levels of leptin, a hormone that regulates fat levels.
CLA and Weight Loss: A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that CLA inhibits the body’s formation of fat. Not only does it appear to reduce body fat, it also preserves muscle tissue. In the study, an average reduction of six pounds of body fat was found in the group that took CLA, compared to a placebo group. The study found that approximately 3.4 grams of CLA per day is the level needed to obtain the beneficial effects of CLA on body fat.
CLA, Inflammation and Heart Health: CLA not only has antioxidant properties, but it reduces inflammation too. CLA reduces prostaglandin E 2 (PGE2) in much of the same way that omega-3’s do. But the anti-inflammatory properties of CLA don’t end there. It has also been shown to reduce three other important markers of inflammation including IL-2, tumor necrosis factor-alpha and Cox–2.
Should You Take a CLA Supplement?
It’s important to note that the natural CLA found in foods is far superior to the man-made version in pill form. What’s more, these supplements could do more harm than good.
Studies have shown the type of CLA used in supplements has been associated with an array of side effects, which include: promoting insulin resistance, raising glucose levels, reducing HDL (good cholesterol) and stomach upset.