Many people are taking CLA supplements, also known as conjugated linoleic acid, in order to lose weight, increase their lean muscle mass, and protect against breast cancer. But a new look at the available evidence on CLA by the American Institute for Cancer Research brings up some important questions about whether CLA supplementation is beneficial.
One study showed that people taking CLA supplements lost an average of 2-4 pounds of body fat in one year without modifying their diets or level of physical exercise. In that same study, CLA supplementation also appeared to boost their lean muscle mass. Other studies have shown that CLA can protect against breast cancer and slow the growth of cancer cells. It may even be able to block the spread of established tumors. But controlled studies are apparently not in abundance on this topic, and the jury still seems to be out on CLA for protection against breast cancer.
Allow me give you a bigger picture on all of this. If you're looking to protect yourself against breast cancer, you can do a whole lot better than CLA supplements. Taking spirulina and chlorella on a daily basis in very high doses (because it is a food after all, not a drug) is well known to prevent the growth of breast cancer tumors. Superfoods offer an outstanding defense against breast cancer, and studies have even shown that people undergoing chemotherapy have a far greater long-term lifespan when they take chlorella supplements before the chemotherapy compared to those who take no such supplements.
There are a great many superfoods, nutritional supplements and medicinal herbs that can both prevent and reverse breast cancer. Licorice root is another outstanding herb. Garlic and ginger are also powerful anti-cancer herbs, and even at the grocery store you can find foods like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, almonds and onions that are powerful anti-cancer foods, especially when eaten in their raw form.
I've often said that raw broccoli is such a powerful anti-cancer food that if it could be patented and sold in capsules, pharmaceutical companies would charge patients $100 a plate for the same chemical compounds that you can get in broccoli florets. So if you're looking for a supplement that can help stop breast cancer, CLA is marginally effective, but it is way down on the list -- near the bottom of the list as far as I'm concerned -- of things that are effective at preventing and reversing breast cancer. Heck, even natural sunlight has a far more powerful preventive effect than CLA, and breast cancer is precisely one of the main diseases that appears in people who lack frequent exposure to natural sunlight (they have a sunlight deficiency).
Cancer is also addressed by consuming various sea vegetables. In fact, taking daily supplements of seaweed, kelp, and fucoidan extracts is well known to both prevent and even reverse breast cancer. Dulse is another outstanding sea vegetable, and of course, spirulina is harvested from the oceans as well and contains a powerful anti-cancer pigment chemical that both gives spirulina its cyan color and demonstrates powerful anti-tumor effects in clinical studies performed in Japan.
So, if you're looking to fight breast cancer, I would recommend looking elsewhere than CLA supplements. But now, let's talk about losing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass. In the study mentioned in this article, people who took CLA supplements for one year lost an average of 2-4 pounds of body fat. That is very close to being a zero result as far as I'm concerned.
Two to four pounds of fat in one year is a miserable record of weight loss. You can lose far more weight than that on a monthly basis by simply altering your lifestyle choices: avoiding refined carbohydrates, getting natural sunlight, engaging in regular physical exercise, and supplementing your diet with superfoods and other forms of outstanding nutrition. In fact, most people will lose 1-2 pounds of body fat per week by making these changes. So 2-4 pounds of body fat loss in a year is hardly something to get excited about.
Even if these results turn out to be verified and reproducible, I'm not at all excited about the weight-loss potential of CLA supplementation. I don't think it hurts anything, but it doesn't appear to help very much in comparison to other strategies.
There's another factor at work here, and that is the unfortunate fact that most people will look at CLA supplements as some sort of medication or drug. They will continue with their existing lifestyle of consuming processed foods and avoiding exercise, then simply take one or two CLA pills a day in the hope that a single supplement will somehow counteract all of the other obesity-promoting habits they pursue.
This is the mindset of too many American consumers who believe that they should be able to follow any lifestyle they choose and simply pop a pill every day to fix their health problems. Many people look at CLA supplementation in exactly this manner, and it is a very unhealthy way to look at supplements in general.
Supplements cannot counteract poor dietary choices and avoidance of physical exercise. At most, they can help leverage efforts you make on your own to alter your lifestyle and make permanent changes that result in weight loss. For example, if you're already exercising on a regular basis and choosing foods that are healthy while avoiding processed foods and manufactured foods, then, yes, perhaps CLA could help accelerate your weight-loss efforts a little bit more. But very few people consume supplements in this fashion. They typically want to shift responsibility for their health outcome to these supplements, and avoid having to do the hard work themselves.
There is no such thing as a miracle weight-loss pill, and CLA, even if it is proven to help people lose 2-4 pounds each year automatically each year without changing their lifestyle habits, is a weak weight-loss strategy. It doesn't mean CLA supplements are bad for you, it's just that there are far better ways to lose weight than popping CLA pills.