Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and weight loss?

Originally Published: June 3, 2005
Share this
Alice,

I am trying fairly unsuccessfully to lose weight. I think I gained weight as a result of taking Paxil. Now that I am Paxil-free, I am looking for something to help me lose weight. What do you know about CLA (conjugated linoleic acid)? It seem like it should help. Do you know anything about it? Are there any side effects? Is it beneficial?

Thanks!

Dear Reader,

The weight gain you've struggled with is one possible side effect of psychotropic medications, such as Paxil. As you work to get back to your pre-Paxil weight, there will be the temptation to try extreme diets and supplements that are advertised with the promise of quick and easy weight loss. Many popular diets are so restrictive that they are difficult to follow, and these diets and weight loss supplements can also be unsafe. Sustained weight loss will require lifestyle changes that you can stick with, such as moderate reduction in calorie intake and increased physical activity. These weight loss strategies have been proven to be safe and can also raise your energy level, help to relieve stress, and decrease risk of chronic disease. You can see the Related Q&As listed below for additional information on healthy weight loss options.

Ads for Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) promote this fatty compound as a supplement that will aid weight loss efforts. In nature, CLA is formed by bacteria that live within the digestive tract of grazing animals, such as cows. When these bacteria encounter the omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid, they make small structural changes to create the conjugated form, i.e., CLA. We take in CLA from the diet through consumption of meat and dairy products, though the amount in foods is much less than in supplement sources.

Weight loss claims related to CLA supplementation are based largely on animal studies. In these studies, CLA use resulted in a combination of fat loss and muscle gain. Far fewer studies have actually examined the effects of CLA supplementation in humans, and the results have not been nearly as positive or as consistent as the animal studies. While some studies have yielded the desired result of fat mass loss, others showed negligible changes, or even increased fat mass. In addition to conflicting research conclusions, the quality of many of the human studies has been called into question.

Safety is the most important issue to consider related to taking a supplement. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't test these products to verify the claims listed on manufacturers' labels. Given that, neither the FDA nor the product's manufacturers need to prove that the product is effective or even safe to take. At this point in time, the available research leaves question as to whether long-term use of CLA supplements by humans is safe. Therefore, the general public needs to be cautious when using CLA supplements, and pregnant or lactating women need to avoid taking them altogether.

Though CLA once seemed to have great potential for treating human overweight and obesity, this hot research topic has not yet yielded enough evidence to prove or disprove its usefulness as a weight loss aid. Instead of unproven weight loss methods, continue to pursue your weight loss goals by consuming fewer calories and doing more exercise. Since you have had a hard time losing weight on your own, you may want to enlist the help of a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and/or a personal trainer. These specialists will work with you to achieve your health goals by helping you to identify and manage nutrition and fitness challenges. Columbia University students can set up an appointment with a nutritionist through Primary Care Medical Services (x4-2284). Trainers and an exercise physiologist are available at Columbia University's Dodge Physical Fitness Center. Dietitians can also be found by doing a search through the American Dietetic Association website.

Alice