CLA: Conjugated Linoleic Acid

What is CLA?

Is it possible that cheeseburgers and milk shakes might actually be good for you-that they might possibly even reduce fat? Well, we won't take it that far, but considering they are laced with conjugated linoleic acid-one of the hottest new fat-burning supplements on the market-our wishful thinking may not be too far off (...if it just wasn't for all the saturated fat!). Conjugated linoleic acid (CIA) is a naturally-occurring fatty acid that has been shown in research and clinical studies to reduce body fat. But this isn't the only benefit that CIA provides. Studies also show the fatty-acid to improve muscle tone, improve nutrient usage, exhibit antioxidant activity and potential as an anticarcinogen.

In fact, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison first discovered CIA while looking for cancer-causing agents in fried hamburger meat in 1978. What they found-to their surprisewas an "extract" acting in the opposite capacity as a cancer inhibitor. It was not until years later, in 1987, that this "extract" was identified as CIA.

According to information from Lake Bluff, IL-based PharmaNutrients, in 1996, another group of scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison "studying the effects of CIAsupplemented diets noticed that lab animals ate less and had lower body fat percentages when their diets included CIA." The scientists also noted that "this fatty acid affectively reduces the appetite by improving the way the body extracts more energy from less food." Thus, they concluded that "CIA is a potent regulator of body fat accumulation and retention."

CIA is present in all foods, though it is found primarily in dairy and beef products, as well as other foods derived from ruminative animals. As accessible as CIA seems, however, experts believe that most Americans aren't getting enough in their diets.

According to the company, there are two possible explanations for this decline. "One, consumption of beef and dairy fat by the population has reduced markedly." Today's Americans are trading in their CIA-rich whole milk for the lowfat and skim varieties. And, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Survey Research Group, our consumption of beef has been cut in half over the past 20 years.

One PharmaNutrients executive is quoted as saying, "We have systematically eliminated fats from our diets, which has a negative effect on the amount of CIA we get." In fact, the company explains, "some estimate as much as an 80% reduction in CIA [intake] compared to 20 years ago."

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention report that "the number of Americans who are at least 20 pounds overweight has grown from 25% in 1985 to 34% today."

The second explanation for this CIA-deficiency is the change in feed given to cattle, which has resulted in lower CIA production. "Cattle and other multi-stomached animals convert linoleic acid, which is abundant in grass, in their stomachs," explains information provided by PharmaNuh-ients. But, "the grain diets that cattle are now fed have low levels of linoleic acid, which affects the CIA content of beef and dairy products." So, not only are we eating less of these products, but those we do ingest have less of the CIA we may need.

"Theoretically, a person could get the recommended dose of CIA from eating meats and cheeses," explains a quote from one PharmaNutrients executive. "But practically, a person would have to eat enormous amounts of these foods and any health benefits would be overwhelmed by the sheer caloric intake."

Still, the Mayo Clinic has reported that "high levels of body fat have been implicated as a cause of serious medical conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, degenerative arthritis and even early death." Considering this-in addition to all of the other health benefits associated with CIA, getting sufficient amounts of this fatty acid seems to be a good idea. "We have a fatty acid that can help people trim down," adds the PharmaNutrients executive. "Their clothes will fit better and they will feel healthier." But downing cheeseburger after cheeseburger just isn't the way to go. In fact, taking in too much saturated fat will simply negate the fat-burning effects of CIA by burdening the fatty acid with even more fat to burn.

According to PharmaNutrients, to get the same amount of CIA contained in a 4,000 mg supplement, "a person would have to eat six pounds of hamburger meat, 50 one-ounce slices of American processed cheese or 42 four-ounce servings of ice cream every day" Rather than making your mouth water, however, the thought of downing all of that in a 24-hour period should make your stomach turn.

The fact of the matter is that CIA appears to be an extremely beneficial nutrient, shown to have antioxidant, anticarcinogenic and fat-burning properties. But, unfortunately, food sources are just not a plausible means of ingestion. So, put down that cheeseburger and milk shake and try supplements-you'll get the CIA your body needs to stay trim, without the indigestion.

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