Thursday, May 17, 2007

CLA, the Next Big Thing?

In the press release, Increasing Incidence of Obesity Drives Demand in the Global CLA Markets, from Research and Markets, I learned of a new offering titled "Strategic Analysis of the Global CLA Markets;" an analysis of market dynamics and trends from Frost & Sullivan, a business research and consulting firm.

The topic at hand?

"Increasing scientific evidence on the efficiency of CLA [conjugated linoleic acid] in weight management and growing demand for fortified foods have encouraged food and beverage manufacturers to incorporate CLA in their products. Moreover, rising scientific evidence of the ability of CLA to alleviate conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases is likely to open up viable business opportunities for CLA."

Where the press release gets interesting is in the presentation of the potential for the market - if and when - the regulatory environment changes in a more favorable direction. Due to the current restrictions on use of CLA, "potential volumes in the food and beverage and animal feed sectors have been restricted," leaving CLA as mostly "a dietary supplement and its use in the food and beverage, as well as the animal feed industries is significantly hindered by regulatory issues. Nevertheless, these industries are potential application areas, which are likely to witness strong growth rates once legislative issues are resolved."

Earlier this week Dr. Mike Eades posted an article about CLA in breastmilk, explaining "CLA is collectively a group of isomers of the 18-carbon linoleic acid. (Isomers are different configurations of the same molecule.) CLA, as a group, have a trans configuration in their structure, making them trans fats, but healthful trans fats. Yes, there are such things. (We humans even make our own trans fats.) There is some controversy swirling around CLA because studies have shown both health advantages and disadvantages to taking them in supplement form. As research progresses more information is being gleaned as to which of the many isomers are the ones that are good for us. So far, it seems, (as might be expected) the natural forms of CLA, i.e., those found in the meat and dairy products of ruminant animals are the good ones."

His article pointed to a qualititative study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, that compared CLA levels in breastmilk among women who consumed organic dairy and meat versus conventionally produced foods in Switzerland. As Dr. Eades summed up "After analysis it was found that those mothers consuming the greatest percentage of their meat and dairy from organically produced sources had the highest levels of CLA in their breast milk with a decrease in levels as the consumption of organic meat and dairy fell."

So then, this now directly links back to the press release suggesting huge market potential - translate profits - for food and feed manufacturers if they integrate CLA in the food supply by fortifying food with added CLA.

Except there is no compelling reason to do it.

In fact a strong arguement can be made to not fortify food or feed with commercially manufactured CLA since it is an industrial trans-fat, but because it falls within the definition of a "conjugated system" which the FDA does not class as trans-fats for labeling purposes, it is not counted nor labeled as such in the United States on nutrition labels.

Simply put, commmerically manufactured CLA is treated the same for food labeling as the naturally occuring CLA in meat and dairy.

The biggest problem is we have absolutely no hard data on long-term exposure to commercially manufactured CLA, a completely foreign substance in the human diet until recently. In 1935 Booth et al identified CLA in milk fat, and in 1990 Pariza et al reviewed the evidence that suggested naturally occuring CLA was anticarcinogenic.

As is often the case, it was only a matter of time until manufacture of CLA was patented so we could make CLA, bypassing the need for consumption of animal fat (patents filed by none other than Dr. Pariza, who throughout the nineties, patented a number of processes to manufacture CLA along with patents on methods of use in foods and animal feed).

Some will argue that the two are the same, except one is from animal foods and the other from plant-based sources, and *we know* animal foods increase our risk for disease, therefore the plant-based source is better for our long-term health.

How many times are we going to lunge ahead in the thinking that we can do better than nature?

Have we still not learned from our experience with partially hydrogenated oils that now litter our food supply?

Let's not forget CLA is largely a product of microbial metabolism in the digestive tract of ruminant animals whose stomach has the required bacteria for the creation of CLA when the animal is consuming its natural, primarily a grass diet. As the study Dr. Eades pointed to shows, the diet an animal consumes influences production of CLA. Manufacturing CLA from oils, like safflower oil, is not the same. But, rather than encourage grass-feeding of ruminant animals we look to for food, we're going to make CLA and add it to foods where it was never intended to be.

Oh yeah, that's the solution - it's got to be better than actually promoting grass-feeding of ruminant animals, or heaven forbid, consuming meat or whole dairy!

No thanks, I'd rather enjoy my grass-fed steak and whole milk yogurt, with its naturally occuring CLA in parallel with all the other nutrients these foods have, that are likely just as important as the CLA or co-factors to our utilization of the CLA in the food.

You see, we simply don't know exactly why naturally occuring CLA, despite being a trans-fat, seems beneficial in our diet.

My final thoughts - until we understand its role in our diet and whether its benefit is dependent on other factors within foods it naturally occurs in, I think we should pass on the manufactured CLA and stick with what occurs naturally in our meat and dairy foods.


  1. Anonymous12:04 PM

    Welcome Back! I missed your columns!

  2. Thanks!

    I was a bit slow getting back to writing after my many emails and stuff to read! I'm glad to be back too!

  3. Anonymous3:48 PM

    So glad you've always been there. You're a pleasure to read and I admire your diligence. Now watch what's doing to happen when these poor organic/grass-fed farmers try to get a foothold in the market--don't you think the opposition is going to be screaming, "oh, that grass-fed beef is full of trans-fats! Beware!"
    Hmm--maybe not--big corporations usually take the high road, right?;-)

  4. I didn't know CLA was a trans fat. See, without bloggers like you that spell this stuff out for the layman, stuff like that would be a mystery.

    So... meat has CLA? How does it compare to supplementation at the level research has been done at? (which showed reduction in torso adiposity as I recall?) I mean, how much meat or whatever dairy would you have to eat to get that amount?

    It's funny you know. So when there is absolutely, positively, no way to get around admitting that some aspect of eating meat/dairy is actually having GOOD research results, the solution? -- to find a way to artificially create it! Aside from 'saving cows' (to sacrifice people...) I'm not sure what the point of that is -- well, except money, of course.

    I have a brand new yogurt maker and yocheese maker and have never used them. I usually think of it when I'm on lowcarb and I think the carbs are too many in yogurt. It seems like a fairly healthy food though, shame!

    My little girl is getting chubby, and she loves yogurt. What do you think about a kid and carbs? I don't know that VLC is healthy for her, but aside from "no junk" and "normal meals" I don't really know what to do regarding her diet.

  5. Anonymous11:03 PM

    I don't see much organic or grass fed stuff in the stores. Do you think whitetail deer eat enough grass to do the job?

  6. I am so sick of them fortifying our foods and particulary animal feed which from what I understand applies to organic animal feed as well.

    Why can't we just feed them what they are meant to eat and just leave it at that *sigh*

  7. Regarding children and low carb; I don't see why not.

    An episode of a show on Discovery: Healthy related the story of a little boy who could not make the enzymes needed to utilize carbohydrates. Not that his body worked differently, mind you, it was that he lacked the cascade of enzymes and there was no way to supplement him.

    So he's been on a virtual No Carb diet since the age of two or so. And he's perfectly healthy as a result. He's got some nerve damage from lack of diagnosis for so long, but his doctors report no ill effect from the way he eats.

    Then there's the children with epilepsy who are treated with ketogenic diets, also with no ill effects.

    Just because it's the way we always ate doesn't mean it's the way we were designed to eat.

  8. Anonymous9:45 PM

    Until they sort out the full effects of lower glycemic load and metabolic types, I think most of the research trying to find magical substances (like CLA or antioxidants - witness the lycopene fiasco) is a waste of time, and likely to be confounded.

  9. Anonymous8:57 PM

    "until we understand its role in our diet and whether its benefit is dependent on other factors within foods it naturally occurs in, I think we should pass on the manufactured CLA and stick with what occurs naturally in our meat and dairy foods."

    I couldn't agree more what is it with all this quick fix fountain of youth mind set they seem to get hooked on anything that looks like a quick fix one size fits all solution to life.It is actually simpler than that. Just eat real unadulterated food.