Over the years it has become known that conjugated linolenic acid or CLA may have potent health benefits. In the past, it was believed that CLA was only a source of energy but recent studies show that this fatty acid can be used to treat and prevent several types of medical disorders. CLA is an unsaturated omega 6-fatty acid and is found in high concentrations in meats obtained from ruminants (eg cows, sheep, goats) and dairy products (eg butter, goat milk). The highest levels of CLA are found in beef which has been shown to contain 0.4-0.9 grams per 100 gram serving. Since the recognition of its health benefits, CLA is now also fortified in many foods such as chocolate milk, yogurt and cereals. In the USA, fortified foods can contain CLA in doses ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 grams.
Today there are also CLA supplements sold. These supplements contain CLA that has been extracted from sunflower and safflower oils. These supplements may also contain other additives, which may not be pure.
What are health benefits of CLA?
There have been several studies on the health benefits of CLA and they include the following:
- Lower risk of developing diabetes
- Decrease risk of developing certain cancers (e.g. breast, prostate and colon).
- Decreased risk of heart disease
- Reduction in body weight
- Increase in muscle mass
What are dietary recommendations for CLA?
To date specific dietary recommendations for CLA are not available and one should follow the recommendations available for omega 6-fatty acids. According to the American Dietetic Association at least 3-10% of your daily fat intake should come from omega 6 sources. For an adult who consumes a 2,000 calorie diet, this translates to 8-22 grams of omega 6-fatty acids/day. The majority of studies indicate that anywhere from 3-6 gram per day is safe. However, there have been studies showing that the average intake of omega 6-fatty acids in many people in North America is much less.
Is CLA safe?
Like many supplements when taken at the recommended doses, CLA is relatively safe. Adverse effects tend to occur when the dose is high. Some people may develop diarrhea, nausea and bloating but these are transient side effects that disappear spontaneously. Supplements that contain CLA may also contain other additives which may not be safe. When CLA supplements are taken in high doses (> 7 grams/day), it can result in fatty liver, elevated blood sugars and metabolic syndrome. There is also evidence indicating that CLA can decrease levels of good cholesterol (HDL). Thus, it is important to get the blood work checked every 4-6 weeks while taking the supplement.
Caution with CLA
It is important for all consumers to understand that CLA is not a substitute for your prescription medications or a good healthy diet. CLA is a complimentary health supplement that can help you lose weight and decrease the risk of developing diabetes. In the pat few years, a number of supplements have been found to contain counterfeit products so it is essential you buy the supplement from a reputable dealer.
CLA is an excellent supplement if taken within the recommended doses. However, it is important to understand that reliance on just one food or supplement for good health is not realistic or practical. One should at the same time eat a healthy diet, perform some type of exercise on a regular basis, discontinue smoking and limit the amount of alcohol intake. The benefits of CLA are not overnight but take weeks to become noticeable. As long as you take CLA, the health benefits will be sustained.
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