CLA has been touted as a stimulant free, weight loss miracle supplement. With such claims its little wonder why most supplement brands market CLA products – usually in the form of pills or syrup. However, like you may have guessed, the reality of its effectiveness is somewhat different. While CLA may not be miraculous, is it an effective weight loss supplement?
Despite what you may read about CLA, especially in magazines and websites which sell CLA products, it would be wise to be realistic about its potential effects. A lot of the initial hype surrounding CLA as a potent fat loss supplement originated from animal studies, typically on mice. One such study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin produced dramatic results. During the experiment those mice fed with a CLA supplemented diet exhibited up to 60% less body fat and 14% more lean body mass compared to the control group1!
Such results are enough for anyone to sit up and take notice.
Humans are not mice, though. Studies on humans have proved much less effective and inconclusive.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a grouping of isomers of linoleic acid, a fatty acid which is found in meat and dairy products. As you already know, it is sold as a dietary supplement claiming to aid weight loss, retain muscle tissue and help those with type 2 diabetes.
If you plan to purchase CLA it would be wise to buy a supplement with at least 80% active isomers and be sure to shop around for the best deal. There can be a high discrepancy in price between CLA products with no real difference in product quality; in fact it is fairly easy to find products which are superior to those of well-known brands yet are half the cost, with 90 x 1000mg capsules typically available at under £10.
Unless you’re a mouse, the evidence is not compelling.
A systematic review looking at the long-term effects of CLA on body composition in over weight and obese people concluded that there was no convincing evidence to support its effectiveness2. Other studies have produced similar findings, but it would probably be more fitting to say the case for CLA is unconvincing at this stage, rather than categorically ineffective.
There have been studies which have indicated long-term CLA supplementation does produce fat loss, despite no changes in lifestyle (including diet and exercise levels).
A study led by Jean-Michel Gaullier PhD3 split 149 over-weight women and 31 over-weight men into three groups; one group took four and half grams of CLA (80%) daily, another group took just over three and half grams of CLA syrup (76%) daily and the other group was the control which took a capsule filled with olive oil. For the second group the CLA syrup was placed within a capsule so the method of administration was the same for all groups.
After one year the two CLA groups did experience weight loss, losing on average 4 pounds, whilst there was no change in the control group. The CLA syrup group experienced 9% fat loss and the CLA pill group 7% fat loss.
At this stage there is not a convincing case for including CLA on your shopping list. If you do become tempted then remember to shop around so you’re not paying over the odds for a supplement which may not prove effective for you.
It’s also worth remembering that the weight loss benefits you’ll get from any weight loss supplement pales in comparison to the overall results yielded from working out and following a weight loss diet. That’s not to say weight loss supplements are not worth purchasing, more that they should only be considered once the fundamentals are in place.