CLA - Conjugated Linoleic Acid
Q: Is CLA a supplement I can use when I'm trying to reduce my bodyfat? Isn't it a fat?Q: What exactly is CLA?
A: Actually, CLA is a naturally occurring fatty acid found in a number of foods. (Fatty acids are the molecules that make up a fat.) And contrary to popular belief, not all fats are "bad," in fact, some are downright magical! Studies show that CLA may indeed be an effective supplement for supporting fat loss and increases in lean body mass. Research suggests CLA can do this by altering the way the body uses and stores energy.
A: CLA stands for conjugated linoleic acid. It's a naturally occurring fatty acid in a number of foods. It was originally isolated in cooked ground beef, believe it or not, about ten years ago. Fatty acids are the molecules that make up a fat, in sort of the same way amino acids are the molecules that make up a protein. Examples of other fatty acids include linoleic acid and linoleic acid.
What exactly does conjugated mean? Well, it simply means the molecule has what's known as two double carbon bonds, separated by one single bond. You chemists out there will understand that perfectly, but for those of you who are experts in some other field, suffice it to say that those conjugated double bonds give it properties very different from regular linoleic acid (the kind found in flax oil or borage oil). CLA is not a drug. In fact, it's found in relatively large quantities in some foods like dairy products, beef and veal, and even turkey. The average person probably gets up to one gram a day just by eating regular foods. The trouble is, you'd probably have to eat more meat or more cheese than you ever dreamed of to get enough CLA to see any beneficial effects. For instance, cheeses have an average of between 2.9 mg and 7.1 mg of CLA per gram of fat. You'd have to eat cheese on the order of several pounds a day to get anywhere near the four-gram dosage that appears to be beneficial to humans. It makes more sense to consume CLA supplements that contain a high concentration of this unique fatty acid.Q: How could fat help you build muscle?
A: For many years, performance nutrition experts pretty much dismissed fats, thinking they didn't have any useful role in nutrition. Instead, we focused on the protein-sparing and energy-producing effects of carbohydrates, and we intensively studied how amino acids and various proteins might affect nitrogen retention, anabolism, and catabolism. Our "inquiring minds" were probably influenced by the mass media's "all-fat-is-bad" campaign. But now the scales are tipping in the other direction. Nutritional geniuses like Dr. Barry Sears (author of The Zone) have shown us how fatty acids are not only essential for proper health but also how the proper use of such compounds may have numerous positive effects. Dr. Sears is certain fatty acids directly influence the body's growth-promoting hormones.
Other sports nutrition experts believe that fats may not only be essential to muscle growth but may actually promote it. Some support for this theory can be found when observing athletes on extremely low-fat nutritional plans (less than 10% of total calories). Following an increase of certain fats in their nutritional programs, they sometimes gain strength and size. It's possible that these "mystical" effects of fats could be due in part to CLA and other EFA's.Q: What does CLA do?
A: Controlled scientific studies have shown CLA may promote growth in healthy animals, and it may slow the loss of muscle tissue in catabolic conditions. If you've been reading any of the fitness magazines over the past couple of years, you're certainly aware that one of the "hot topics" is anti-catabolism. Numerous experts believe if you can minimize the effects of catabolic hormones on muscle tissue, you may cause an increase in total body protein (muscle). Now, it's important to realize the body has numerous catabolic hormones; the most well known is cortisol. And, the body has a number of different mechanisms by which it builds up and breaks down protein; it's not just "black or white." It's very complicated stuff, much too complicated to discuss it all here. However, it is possible that CLA has potent anti-catabolic effects, effects that may not be the same as those of anti-catabolic compounds such as HMB and other amino-acid-like compounds. It's also possible that using CLA along with other anti-catabolic supplements might produce a "synergistic" effect that is, by combining CLA with these other supplements, it may produce results that are not just additive [1 + 1 = 2] but synergistic (1 + 1 could = 5).
Of course, to answer these questions, more research is needed. So, it's possible CLA may help promote muscle growth by minimizing catabolism. Another possible "mode of action" involves the nitrogen-sparing properties of certain fatty acids in general. It has been scientifically demonstrated that lipid (fat) infusion may influence the composition of cell membranes, thereby affecting essential functions like enzyme activities, transport receptors, and regulatory functions. And, because fitness buffs have typically been taught that too much fat is bad, it's not unlikely that many may be deficient in essential fatty acids. Particular fats, however, show unique protein-sparing abilities above and beyond their normal functions. This is where the "improved feed efficiency" noted in many CLA experiments might play a part. In other animal experiments, "structured lipids," or artificially made fats with which CLA shares many traits, have resulted in higher albumin concentration and nitrogen retention (both associated with increased muscle growth).
One experiment showed that certain fats related to CLA produced a significant increase in skeletal muscle protein synthesis rates. CLA, it seems, may very well possess unique protein-sparing abilities. Another theory as to how CLA might work relates to Dr. Barry Sears' (author of The Zone) discoveries of eicosanoids. Dr. Sears has long maintained that the proper consumption of fats can lead to the production of "good" eicosanoids, which are the cellular hormones that mediate production of all other hormones, including testosterone and growth hormone. Although borage oil (which includes gamma linoleic acid, not conjugated linoleic acid) and flaxseed oil (which includes plain linoleic acid) have their place, taking too much may lead to the production of arachidonic acid, which, according to Dr. Sears, can shut down the production of good eicosanoids. CLA, on the other hand, does not convert to arachidonic acid. In fact, one study reported reduced arachidonic-acid levels in skeletal muscle of animals given CLA.Q: Have there been any studies done on CLA?
A: CLA has been extensively studied by doctors and scientists. They have repeatedly shown that supplementing the food intake of animals with CLA may promote a number of positive effects, faster rates of growth being one of them. Another possible positive effect they have observed numerous times is that CLA seems to minimize catabolism. The scientists who have made these discoveries are so confident that CLA has numerous positive effects that they have patented the use of CLA for promoting growth, improving feed efficiency, and have also filed, and received, patents for the use of CLA in preventing muscle wasting due to high levels of catabolic hormones.Q: Does CLA cause any side effects?
A: CLA is a dietary supplement, not a drug. This compound occurs naturally in a variety of foods, and extensive research on CLA has shown no toxicity nor any adverse effects. At this time, CLA has no known side effects.