Belly fat (aka abdominal adiposity) is not just a matter of looking unattractive. A disproportionately large waistline can indicate excess visceral fat that increases the risk of  type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. To get rid of the extra pounds around the middle requires discipline, though. You have to avoid sugar-sweetened soft drinks, make exercise a regular habit and focus on vegetables as a mainstay of your diet. Could a supplement help you lose belly fat?

Will CLA Melt Off Your Belly Fat?

Q. I have been taking Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) three times a day for several years to combat belly fat. Could you tell me your thoughts on the effectiveness of this supplement? I am 67 years old and weigh 102 pounds, but I still have a good bit of belly fat. Am I wasting my money?

How Good Is CLA?

A. CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, is a naturally-occurring trans-fatty acid found in dairy products. It has gained quite a reputation as a weight loss supplement. But is there evidence to support this belief?

A systematic review of 13 randomized controlled trials comparing CLA to placebo for weight control concluded that this supplement has no significant effect on waist circumference, aka belly fat (Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, online April 19, 2018).  Such supplements can reduce weight and increase lean body mass in overweight people, but not by very much. A meta-analysis showed no impact on waist circumference or fasting blood sugar (Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders Drug Targets, 2017).

Is CLA Safe?

Moreover, research in rats suggests that CLA can increase insulin resistance, not a beneficial development (Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology & Diabetes, June 2018). Overweight volunteers who took CLA did not lose significant weight, but their blood vessels stiffened (Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, Feb. 2006). This might not be the whole story, since in mice CLA aids weight loss and protects against atherosclerosis (Nutrients, Oct. 3, 2018).

Given the weight of the evidence, however, it could be time to give up on CLA and find other ways to tackle your belly fat. Losing weight around the middle can improve cardiovascular markers, at least in men (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jan. 2017). In women, a combination of aerobic and resistance exercise improved cardiometabolic health (BMC Cardiovascular Disorders, July 10, 2014). Women who followed a low-carb diet lost belly fat and had healthier blood vessels (Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, May 2016).

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