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mushroom grass

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 130 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

Recently, I have received a lot of questions about supplementing with CLA. For those that may be unaware, CLA stands for “conjugated linoleic acid.”

What Is Conjugated Linoleic Acid?

Basically, it’s a type of fat. For example, if you listen to my podcast, Optimal Health Daily, you have probably heard of saturated and trans fat. These are two different types of fat with different chemical structures. Because of this, our bodies respond to saturated fat differently when compared to trans fat. Same goes for CLA.

I should mention that CLA is actually found in a number of foods many of us eat on a regular basis. Foods like:

  • milk
  • meat
  • eggs
  • sunflower and safflower oils
  • even mushrooms contain a pretty decent amount of CLA

Grass-fed animals tend to have higher amounts of CLA. Low-fat and non-fat milk for example, won’t have much CLA, though – CLA is a fat, so it will get removed during processing.

Benefits (or Not) of Taking Conjugated Linoleic Acid

If it’s found in many of the common foods we eat, why would someone want to take it as a supplement? Some studies have found that those that supplement CLA may see an increase in their lean body mass (muscle). While supplement manufacturers like to quote these studies as proof that CLA can help you build muscle and lose fat, what they don’t often tell you is that those that took the supplement also saw increases in their LDL cholesterol (aka “bad” cholesterol) and a decrease in their HDL cholesterol (aka “good” cholesterol). So, it’s kind of a double-whammy here: you end up increasing the bad while decreasing the good!

CLA has also been marketed as a powerful antioxidant with claims that it may fight cancer cells. This doesn’t appear to be the case in reality. In fact, one study found that those taking CLA as a supplement had an increased risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Worldwide, there have also been cases of folks experiencing liver damage when taking CLA as a supplement. This may be because one of the liver’s functions is to help metabolize fatty acids. If we add more fat into the diet via supplementation, it may overwhelm the liver. You have heard me say this before – too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. So while CLA may have health benefits, if you get too much you can actually cause more harm than good.

What is the Right Dosage for Conjugated Linoleic Acid as a Supplement?

When we look at all of this data, it appears as though we have some conflicting evidence with CLA and its potential benefits. On the one hand, it seems to help build lean muscle. On the other, it may increase a person’s risk for developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and it may harm the liver. I imagine that this is partly due to the fact that we simply don’t know what the right supplement dosage should be. How much should you take in supplement form and how often? Should the CLA supplement be made of safflower or sunflower oil? Or should we extract the CLA from animal products? Or, mushrooms? We simply don’t know.

Should You Take Conjugated Linoleic Acid as a Supplement?

So, in my humble opinion, I would limit my use of CLA as a supplement until we have more information on the correct dosing. Instead, I would consider:

  1. Increasing the intensity of your gym routine
  2. Focus on consuming lean proteins
  3. Have 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day
  4. Eat whole grains

This will help build that lean muscle, get rid of body fat, and reduce your risk for chronic disease.

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 130 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

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Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik ("Dr. Neal") has a Doctorate in Public Health with emphases in disease prevention and nutrition. He is also a Registered Dietitian and Certified Health Education Specialist. He is currently an assistant professor at California State University, San Bernardino. Dr. Neal has published peer-reviewed scientific research and been featured as a nutrition and wellness expert in over 70 media outlets including Parade and The L.A. Times. Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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