Woman Holding CLA Supplement

Many people understand fats to be an unhealthy component of their diet. Although this is true for some fats, there are certain other fats that are actually quite important to one's health and can even help them lose weight. Conjugated linoleic acid is one of these healthy fats. A variety of scientific studies have shown that it can produce a range of health benefits when taken daily.

What Is Conjugated Linoleic Acid?

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is an unsaturated fat, which means it contains double or triple bonds attaching carbons together. These unsaturated bonds can occur between any number of different carbon atoms within the molecule. This means that there are actually 28 kinds of CLA. For the most part, only specific kinds of CLA have been linked to health benefits. They are related to the omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids, and is arguably just as important in a person's diet.

What Are The Sources Of Conjugated Linoleic Acid?

Eggs and Dairy Sources of CLA

A major source of conjugated linoleic acid is meat from grass fed ruminants. A ruminant is an animal that eats grass and digests it in a specific stomach called a rumin. These include cows and sheep. Other dietary sources of CLA include dairy and eggs.

There are also a variety of supplements available on the market which contain CLA. Because research is still ongoing, a recommended daily intake (RDI) for conjugated linoleic acid has not yet been established. Based on current scientific research, it has been determined that the best dosage is from 1.8 to 7 grams per day. This equates to eating around 360 grams of the dietary source per day. Alternatively, supplements that contain 2000 mg of CLA or more should suffice.

Bottom Line:
Conjugated linoleic acid is a healthy, unsaturated fat that should be included in a person's diet in sufficient quantities. There are a variety of types of CLA, though only a few have been studied for their health benefits. A person can get CLA from their diet by eating about 360 g of meat from cows or sheep. There are also CLA supplements available on the market.

Health Benefits Associated With Dietary CLA

Although scientific research is still developing, CLA has been associated with a variety of health benefits through scientific studies. This depends on the type of CLA that is taken in and can include:

  • Weight loss
  • Decreased levels of cholesterol and prevention of atherosclerosis
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Increased immune system function
  • Decreased risk of cancer

Because it is an essential fatty acid, CLA plays a role in structural and functional processes in the body. For example, it may be used to build cell membranes.  Another function includes its use to produce chemical signals that cells send to each other. In fact, some of the notable signals include those which function in the immune system.

On the other hand, a deficiency of the these essential fatty acids, which include conjugated linoleic acid, can cause damage, including:

  • Scaly skin - An itchy, painful condition where skin may be dried out, flaky or crusty and takes a while to heal.
  • Reduced immune function - A dangerous condition that could lead to a variety of other health complications. 
Bottom Line:
Conjugated linoleic acid performs a variety of biological functions in the body. It also produces a moderate range of health benefits when taken consistently. A deficiency of essential fatty acids - which include conjugated linoleic acid - result in poor skin health and immune function.

How Does CLA Aid In Weight Loss?

Woman Holding Tape Measurement Measuring Her Belly

Scientific studies which have been conducted on animals and humans show that a certain kind of CLA can cause a reduction in adipose (fatty) tissue. These studies show a reduction of up to 50%. These researchers also noted that consistent CLA intake increased metabolic rates in the test subjects. They found that the sympathetic nervous system (the division of the nervous system associated with increased physical activity) was more active when taking CLA which resulted in the oxidation of fats as an energy source.

CLA also induced the apoptosis (programmed cell death) of fat cells and it reduced their differentiation (growing into a mature fat cell). This means that CLA also reduces the storage of fat. This scientific research shows that there are several processes that CLA facilitates that could help a person lose weight.

Bottom Line:
There is definite scientific evidence that shows the ways in which CLA can help a person lose weight. Not only does it cause fatty tissue to release fats, it also improves the breakdown and metabolism of fats and reduces their storage.

Additional Notes On CLA

The dietary sources that contain CLA are not suitable for vegans and vegetarians. For this reason, vegans and vegetarians are at major risk for developing a deficiency of CLA and may miss out on the health benefits. There are some plants which contain CLA, but these are rare and the amounts present are not as high as in animal products.

Another group that is at risk is the elderly, because as a person ages their metabolism changes. This means that their CLA needs could change and they may need to consult a doctor or dietitian about the recommended amount they should be taking in.

Bottom Line:
Certain groups of people should pay special attention to the amount of CLA they get, as they are at risk of either not getting enough or getting too much. These groups include vegans, vegetarians and the elderly.

Summary And Conclusion

Every person should consider if they are taking in the right amount of CLA because it is a necessary component of many physiological processes in the body. Beyond this, it also produces a notable set of health benefits, one of the most important of which is maintaining a healthy weight. It is also important to note that other lifestyle choices may reduce the effects of CLA. These include eating an unhealthy diet and reduced physical activity. Therefore, to achieve the full benefit, the person should try to maintain a healthy lifestyle as well as consume the correct amount of CLA.

Researched and written by experts, brought to you by our team at Mommy Authority.

Amy Roberts studied psychology and has been working with kids for over 10 Years. She has 3 adorable kids of her own and has a passion for writing and horseback riding. Amy is a contributing writer for MommyAuthority and also writes for her local neighborhood paper in Wisconsin.