Another Scam Supplement?

Many people who struggle to reach their fitness goals have been tempted by the advertisement of miracle drugs- ‘you can take one pill twice a day and magically your trouble spots will melt away, leaving you the perfect body you’ve always dreamed of’! Though many people will rely on these drugs on a daily basis to meet their fitness needs, few users truly meet their goals- the only baggy place these pills create in your jeans are in the pockets.

Recently an older supplement has stormed back onto the market- CLA, or Conjugated Linoleic Acid. In 2003 this pill was the newest weight-loss drug being used by celebrities and average Joes alike; Kristyn Kusek of Fitness magazine wrote this article about CLA:

CLA: The Latest Weight-Loss Wonder Drug?

Conjugated Linoleic Acid is the next big thing in diet supplements. We found out if it’s helpful- or just hype.

Each year, American’s spend almost 40$ billion on dieting aids. Most are ineffective, and some are downright dangerous, as the ephedra-linked death of a major league baseball player in February showed. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid found naturally in beef and dairy products, is poised to be the next must-try supplement. Should you give it a go? Fitness scoured the research and went to the top experts in the field to find out.

The Weight-Loss Story

Despite the hype, it’s still unclear how CLA works-or whether it works at all. So far, the most promising results have been in animals; in one study, mice given CLA were up to 70 percent leaner than those fed a placebo. Research in people has been conclusive. A study of 53 men and women found that it reduced body fat (but not weight) by an average of 3.8 percent. “Yet the two short-term studies I’ve done have shown no benefit,” says Richard L. Atkinson, M.D., director of the Medstar Obesity Institute in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Atkinson and other researchers remain optimistic, however, that CLA will prove to be helpful, at least for people with certain medical conditions. CLA may improve insulin sensitivity in diabetics, which could help them shed pounds. Recently, scientists at Ohio State University in Columbus gave CLA to 22 obese type 2 diabetics for eight weeks. “The average weight loss in the CLA group was six pounds. There was no change in those who didn’t take the supplement,” says lead researcher Martha Belury, Ph.D., R.D., an associate professor of human nutrition.

Other Potential Health Beneifts

In Belury’s study, CLA also helped the subjects gain better control over their diabetes by causing a drop in blood-sugar levels. Animal studies have shown that CLA may reduce the risk for breast cancer by up to 30 percent and could lower cholesterol levels and colon cancer risk as well. Studies are under way to determine whether this holds true in people.

Safety Concerns

In studies, CLA has not caused any known side effects. “Still, as with any supplement, it’s possible that CLA could interact with prescription and over the counter medications, and no study has examined this issue,” says Monica Revelle, a public affairs specialist at the FDA.

As the ephedra-related death of the ballplayer showed, taking a “no news is good news” approach to the lack of research on a new pill can be risky. Just this year, a study found that ephedra accounts for less than 1 percent of supplement sales but 64 percent report adverse effects. An analysis of 16,000 complaints commissioned by the National Institutes of Health showed that, in addition to minor problems like stomach upset, using ephedra was associated with heart attack and stroke.

Even if you’re willing to roll the dice, CLA’s cost- at least 30# for a month’s supply- might make you think twice. It’s unclear how much CLA you need to consume- and for how long- to experience its beneficial effects, says Belury. Unfortunately, increasing the CLA content of your diet isn’t practical. You’d have to eat seven and a half pounds of beef just to get the minimum two grams of CLA used in studies.

The Bottom Line

For the time being, researchers recommend that you stick to tried-and-true weight-loss methods: diet and exercise. But keep your eyes open for future CLA news. It may someday turn out to be a magic weight-loss pill after all.

Fitness magazine did a decent cover of that research, which at the time was fairly new. So in 2003, we were biding our time waiting for new research on the efficacy, and safety of CLA; in 2011 we still have very little information about CLA and its effects on the body. This article written by Cathy Wong from Guide in February of this year has little to offer us in the way of new information:

Does CLA Work for Weight Loss?

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a fatty acid often marketed as a weight loss aid. Available in supplement form, CLA is found naturally in dairy products and in beef. Proponents claim that CLA can reduce fat while building muscle, as well as keep cholesterol in check. Despite these claims, research on CLA and weight loss has yielded mixed results so far.

Does CLA Work for Weight Loss?

For a report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007, researchers reviewed 18 studies on CLA and fat loss in humans. Results revealed that CLA supplements (taken at a dose of 3.2 grams per day) may produce a “modest loss in body fat.”

In another review from the same year, scientists analyzed the available research on CLA and obesity. Published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, the review states that CLA has not shown a significant effect on body weight or body composition in humans. What’s more, trans-10,cis-12 (a component of many CLA supplements) was found to have a negative impact on blood sugar metabolism and possibly contribute to insulin resistance.

The most recent research on CLA and weight loss includes a 2011 review from the Journal of Obesity. Looking at studies on supplements thought to affect body fat, the review’s authors found that CLA (along with chitosan, chia seed, and several other substances) appeared to be effective for weight loss. However, since the supporting research is limited, the authors warn that more research is needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of these supplements.

Should You Use CLA for Weight Loss?

Due to the conflicting evidence for its effectiveness, CLA cannot currently be recommended for weight loss. Furthermore, it’s crucial to take caution when using CLA supplements (due to their potentially negative effects on blood sugar and insulin).

If you’re looking to lose weight, make sure to follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and consider these alternative weight loss solutions. In addition, it’s important to consult your physician before using CLA to help promote weight loss.

So, after eight years, we still have little to no new information on this drug- every experts’ advice ‘use at your own risk’.  Does CLA sound worth it to you? As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather sweat it out at the gym and make proper diet choices- this is one supplement my body can do without.


About SuzieSloth

I am a Certified Personal Trainer and Martial Arts Instructor with a passion for physical fitness and a background in public health. I love learning new things about the fitness world and about innovations in all health fields. I like to share tidbits that I find in magazines or on the internet with friends and clients. Please feel free to email me with questions or comments, or leave comments on any post on my blog. And make sure to stop by my website: View all posts by SuzieSloth

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