The idea of a natural compound that can effectively ward off cancer, stimulate weight loss, and build muscle may sound too good to be true. Yet, many experts are claiming that CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, can do all this and more.
While research into the benefits of CLA is still in the early stages, it’s possible that increasing your intake of CLA could have tremendous health benefits.
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There are still some unknowns about the specific actions and risks of CLA in the body. Adding a CLA supplement to your routine should be researched and considered carefully.
What is CLA?
CLA is a naturally occurring group of chemicals. It is considered a “good fat” and is present in a normal diet in small amounts.
CLA is created as a byproduct of animals, especially cows, eating a natural diet of grass and greens. The most common sources of CLA in the human diet are meat and dairy products, most notably those from wild or grass fed animals.
Foods with the highest concentration of CLA include milk fat, grass fed beef, and lamb. The average person receives between 15 and 174 mg of CLA daily from foods.
CLA is also available in synthetic form. Synthetic CLA is commonly sold as a supplement.
Most synthetic CLA is derived from safflower oil, not from the meat and dairy that are the primary contributors to natural CLA. Because of this, the compounds in synthetic CLA may differ slightly from those found naturally, and arguably may be less beneficial.
What are the benefits of CLA?
CLA in its natural state has been shown to have many important health benefits. Perhaps the most widely known are CLA’s anti-cancer properties.
CLA is unique because it works in three ways- inhibiting cancers in the stages of initiation, promotion, and metastasis. Studies in both animals and humans have shown that those with high levels of CLA are less likely to develop cancer.
People with high levels of CLA are also more likely to survive and to have a milder form of cancer than those with lower levels of CLA.
CLA also has been linked to improvement of body composition. It can promote weight loss as well as lean muscle gain. As a result, many feel that CLA can help improve athletic performance.
Studies have also shown that CLA can have reduce inflammation and improve cardiovascular health. For more information on additional benefits of CLA, check out this WebMD fact sheet.
Because CLA is a fairly recently discovered compound, research is preliminary at best. In fact, most of the more conclusive studies on the benefits of CLA have been done on mice, not humans.
It is notable that of all of the studies that show benefits of CLA, the majority of them are on natural CLA, not synthetic.
Does CLA have side effects?
Natural CLA, which is consumed through a diet of grass fed meats and dairy products, has been shown to have few or no side effects. Synthetic CLA, however, may be more problematic.
Some studies have suggested that synthetic CLA can cause insulin resistance and spikes, which can actually lead to an increase in weight. In turn, this reaction can also increase the possibility of diabetes, especially in those who are overweight.
Synthetic CLA can also lower the levels of good cholesterol in the body, contributing to a cholesterol imbalance. Consumer Affairs has identified a comprehensive risk of synthetic CLA possible side effects.
How much CLA should I take?
Consuming CLA from natural sources such as grass fed beef and dairy products from grass fed animals is safe and there is no established recommended limit on consumption. Most experts recommend natural sources of CLA as the safest and most effective way to reap the benefits of the compound.
If you choose to take a CLA supplement, it is wise to do research first and be sure to follow the dosing instructions on the packaging. As with any supplement, you should consult with your doctor or health care professional prior to beginning to take CLA.
If you start to experience negative side effects, like stomach discomfort or muscle aches, you should immediately stop taking the CLA supplement and consult your physician. CLA may not be for everyone, but when consumed correctly it can have positive benefits both on weight control and cancer prevention.
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