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Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

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Can Fat Make You Thin?

Obesity is becoming a prevalent condition in our society... even more so in the United States than in other countries. Our increased consumption of sugar and greasy, fried, fast foods doesn't help, but this is fairly prevalent in other countries as well. One thing that we may have overlooked is the dramatic decrease in our consumption of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).

Until a few years ago, CLA was an unrecognized nutrient. It's so new, very few medical and nutritional texts even mention it. However, CLA is an essential component for good health. It's found in beef, lamb, turkey, and some milk products. Ruminants (cud-chewing animals such as cows, sheep, goats, buffalo, deer, etc.) have a form of bacteria in their stomachs that converts the fatty acid linoleic acid into conjugated linoleic acid. This same bacteria has been detected in the human intestinal tract, but for some reason our bodies aren't capable of producing significant quantities of CLA. We must get it from our diet. [J Nutr OO;130(8):2036-9]

A couple of decades ago, CLA deficiencies were probably uncommon. But with the relatively recent changes in the way the above foods are being produced and the changes in our dietary preferences, CLA intake has dropped dramatically. As a result, the incidence of obesity and other related health problems has steadily increased.

No one knows exactly how CLA works. But we do know that the body must be able to transport dietary fat into cells where it can be converted to energy or used to build muscle tissue. Without CLA, your body stores fat in new fat cells instead of burning it or converting it to muscle.

The two primary sources of CLA in the American diet are beef and milk, both of which have fallen out of favor recently because of their saturated fat content. To make matters worse, the CLA content of both beef and milk has been steadily falling for the last 40 years or so. Compared to past generations, our diets are severely deficient in CLA.

In the early 1960s, the CLA content in milk was almost 3%. By the 1990s, the CLA content was less than 1%. The percentage of CLA in beef has also been dwindling as a direct result of cattle being fed prepared feeds in feedlot environments, rather than being fattened by grazing on natural grass pastures. Cattle and milk producers discovered that feedlot cattle and cattle fed prepared feeds gained far more weight much quicker than, or produced almost twice the amount of milk of, cattle fed pasture grasses.

Obviously the CLA content of the end product isn't a primary concern for the beef and milk producers. There are studies indicating that the CLA content in the milk of cows eating prepared feeds dropped to less than half that of grass-fed cows (4.6 milligrams of CLA per gram of milk compared to 10.9 milligrams, respectively). [J Dairy Sci 98;81(6);1630-6]

Nutritional pioneer Dr. Weston Price studied, among other things, the diets of primitive peoples around the world and their propensity to develop various diseases. Based on his research, he found that butter was an extremely important and beneficial food for many of these groups, particularly for children and expectant mothers. The greatest value was placed on the rich, dark yellow butter produced by cows on spring pastureland. He attributed many of its beneficial properties to the fat-soluble vitamins it contains, particularly vitamin A. Based on this new research, could it be the higher CLA content of spring butter might also have been a major factor?

Even to this day, the rich butter produced by pasture-fed cattle in both New Zealand and Australia is far superior to anything in the USA. Australian pasture-fed beef contains as much as four times the CLA of our American beef but the rumor is it may also be high in DDT since they did not ban the use of that chemical until 1989.  Based on these findings, we face a real dilemma. Even if we increase our intake of milk and beef, we're not likely to get as much CLA as people did just a few years ago. This is particularly true if you drink non-fat or skim varieties of milk, which are essentially devoid of any fat -- especially CLA.

Increasing our levels of CLA can have a dramatic impact on our overall health as well. But before I list it's other benefits, let me first share some more information on the weight reduction studies of this previously unknown nutrient.

Weight Loss and Reduction of Body Fat

In 1998, researchers in Louisiana found that when CLA was included in the diet of mice, there was a 43% to 88% reduction in body fat in just six weeks. Even more encouraging, the area that appeared most sensitive to CLA was the fat in the abdominal region. [Am J Physiol 98;275(3 Pt 2):R667-72]

CLA triggered the loss of body fat by increasing the metabolic rate, decreasing the appetite, and causing more body-fat cells to be used for energy production.

Follow-up studies by this same group of researchers revealed that CLA's ability to help lower body fat worked on both high- and low-fat diets. In addition to the body-fat reduction, CLA also increased the muscle mass of the mice. [Am J Physiol 99;276(4 Pt 2):R1172-9]

Human studies testing CLA's ability to reduce body fat in obese individuals have just recently been completed. The results are truly amazing.

Body fat in obese individuals was reduced by 20 percent over a 12-week period simply by adding CLA supplements to the diet. The most recent study, conducted in Norway, investigated the effects of varying doses of CLA ranging from 1.7 grams to 6.8 grams per day, for 12 weeks, in 60 overweight individuals.

Body fat reductions were achieved by people taking both 3.4 grams per day and 6.8 grams per day. There was no significant difference in total fat loss or lean muscle mass accumulation between the two groups. [J Nnfr OO;130(12):2943-8]

From this latest research, we now know that we shouldn't have to take any more than 3.4 grams a day of CLA to achieve significant reductions in body fat levels. Keep in mind that these reductions were achieved without any changes in diet or exercise. We should see even better results when these areas are addressed. And, as I mentioned earlier, the benefits of increasing CLA levels aren't just limited to reducing body fat levels. Here are a few of the other important benefits CLA has been shown to provide.

Cancer

Although most of the published research involving CLA and cancer has been performed on animals, the results are very promising.

Early animal results indicate that CLA can help reduce tumor growth and development of both prostate and breast cancers. Particularly in breast cancer, CLA appears to play a protective role in preventing the formation of tumors in the first place.

In mice studies, CLA slowed breast cancer growth and prevented its metastasis to the lungs and bone marrow. CLA appears to work on several different fronts when it comes to cancer. It inhibits inflammatory compounds that trigger tumor growth, it interferes with tumor-growth factors, and it impedes uncontrolled cell division. (Anti-cancer Res 97;17(2A):969-73)

CLA appeared to have a lifelong protective effect when it was given to mice prior to the introduction of known carcinogens. [Cancer Res 97;57(22):5067-72]

Dr. Price was obviously on to something when he discovered the value of giving CLA-rich foods to children. And it should be a necessary supplement for any woman who has a family history of breast cancer.

Diabetes

CLA can play a role in preventing and treating diabetes through the reduction of obesity. Additionally, CLA facilitates the movement of glucose into cells, which, in turn, decreases the need for insulin and promotes lower insulin levels. When used in conjunction with a proper diet and supplementation program, CLA can help provide a method of preventing adult-onset diabetes. [Med Hypotheses OO;54(3):483-7]

 

Heart and Artery Disease

Several animal studies have confirmed that increasing dietary CLA can lower LDL-cholesterol levels and help prevent clogging of the arteries. As you may recall, LDL-cholesterol becomes a problem when it oxidizes and damages the lining of the arteries. With increased levels of CLA, LDL-cholesterol becomes more stable and less susceptible to oxidation.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the characteristics of CLA is its ability to facilitate the movement of dietary fat into cells where it can be utilized as energy. This is particularly important for heart cells. Unlike many other areas of the body, which utilize glucose (blood sugar) for energy, heart cells rely on fatty acids for their energy. By improving fat transport across cell membranes, CLA improves cardiac function at the most fundamental level.

Immune System

We're not exactly sure how CLA favorably alters immune function. However, from the preliminary research, it seems to help by balancing various compounds in the body. It seems to stimulate the production of both disease-fighting lymphocytes and interleukin-2, while inhibiting the allergy-causing immunoglobulin E. It also appears to help balance the levels of certain cytokines with the levels of the prostaglandins. In other words, it decreases allergic-type inflammation and improves the overall condition of your immune system.

 

Osteoporosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Bone Formation

Osteoporosis and inflammatory joint problems (arthritis) are becoming major problems throughout the world. Lower CLA levels in the diet could be a contributing factor.

CLA inhibits the production of certain inflammatory cytokines that stop the body's production of joint cartilage and lead to joint deterioration. CLA also helps stop the excess production of the prostaglandin PGE2, which has been linked to osteoporosis and arthritis.

When researchers fed animals butterfat and CLA supplements, the animals experienced less joint inflammation and an increased rate of new bone formation. The amount of bone formation was directly related to the levels of CLA in the diet. [JAm Coil Nutr OO;19(4):478S-4868]

From all indications thus far, it appears that CLA is one supplement that will be beneficial in helping to reverse osteoporosis, and in reducing the inflammation and cartilage loss associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Hundreds of CLA research studies are currently underway. Unfortunately CLA is one of those items that has been gradually removed from our food supply -- a victim of the low-fat craze. Could we have thrown the baby out with the bath water?

It will take years before the general public realizes that we actually require certain fats to remain healthy. Afrer being brainwashed into believing that all fat is bad, the public will probably be slow to accept the fact that certain essential fats and oils, such as CLA, are necessary for good health.

Where to Find CLA

CLA is very safe and non-toxic. It's possible that you are getting some CLA from your diet, but probably not enough. Whole milk, butter, beef, lamb and turkey are sources, as I've mentioned, but they are becoming less reliable. If you have a safe source of raw milk and cream, that's an especially good source of CLA. Other dairy products, such as cheese, also contain CLA.

In one evaluation of several varieties of cheese, the CLA content varied from 3.59 milligrams to 7.96 milligrams per gram of fat. Blue, Brie, Edam, and Swiss cheeses had the highest CLA content. Cheddar cheese also ranked fairly high, with the sharper cheddar having more CLA than the mild to medium varieties.

The CLA content of fermented dairy products ranged from 3.82 milligrams to 4.66 milligrams per gram of fat. Cultured buttermilk had the highest content. In this same study, the CLA content of regular milk varied from 3.38 milligrams to 6.39 milligrams per gram of fat. [J Dairy Sci 95:78(11):2358-65]

As you can see, it's very difficult to ingest anywhere near 3.4 grams of CLA per day strictly from your diet. Several researchers are working on ways to increase CLA levels in food through changes in animal diets but it may be years before any of these products ever come to market, and they may never get there. It seems the best we can do for now is to incorporate items like high-quality butter, buttermilk, "real" yogurt, organic beef, and CLA supplements into our diets.

CLA in Supplement Form

Much of the research on CLA has been done using a form of CLA called Tonalin. The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation holds the patent on Tonalin but several companies have been granted licenses to market the product. Looking for the Tonalin label is probably the most reliable way of insuring that you're getting a quality CLA product. There are some companies out there selling vegetable oil and calling it CLA. Tonalin CLA comes from safflower oil, but is a conjugated product that is quite different from common vegetable oil. Obviously, you won't get results by using vegetable oil.

If taking 3.4 grams of CLA per day is cost prohibitive, 2 to 2.4 grams might be enough. A healthy diet that includes moderate amounts of the foods mentioned previously might give you a gram of CLA each day.

CLA is availabte from most health food stores and from Mountain Home Nutritionals (800) 888-1415. The cost is $24.99 for a bottle containing 90 one-gram softgels. If you mention that you're an Alternatives subscriber and specify code E915-E, you'll receive a 10% discount on the purchase of three bottles.

As usual, one of the most basic nutrients is also one of the most important. Now that you know about it, make sure you get plenty of this fundamental nutrient in your diet. And if any of the health concerns mentioned in this artical are a particular concern for you, you may want to consider supplemental CLA also.

Damage Control with Tea or C

Taking vitamin C before eating a high-fat meal can temporarily help lessen your chances of suffering from a stroke or sudden heart attack.

High-fat meals set up a cascade of events that almost immediately keeps your arteries from dilating, which slows down your blood flow. Certain antioxidants, such as vitamin C, taken before the meal can help prevent this problem. New research has found that, if you don't have any vitamin C handy, you can achieve similar effects by drinking either green or black tea during the high-fat meal.

Researchers from the University of Maryland measured the changes in arteries of 30 individuals before and after eating a high-fat, fast-food breakfast that contained 50 grams of fat and 900 calories. Those drinking a placebo tea without antioxidants experienced a dramatic decrease in arterial blood flow.  Individuals who drank either green or black tea with the meal were spared many of the initial ill effects.

While tea won't protect you from the long-term effects of a high-fat diet, at least you'll be able to lower the chances that you'll suffer a heart attack or stroke during or immediately following such a meal. Drinking one of these teas with any meal can provide a significant degree of protection for those who already suffer from advanced heart disease.

 

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