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May 20, 2004 -- Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a contender for the weight-loss miracle pill. One group of overweight women lost 9% body fat in one year's time. Not bad, since they didn't change their lifestyle or eating habits.

"We really believe this is promising," lead researcher Jean-Michel Gaullier, PhD, with the Scandinavian Clinical Research Group, tells WebMD. His study appears in the June issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"It is the first time we have looked at the effects of CLA on body composition to get unequivocal results," he says.

But here's one concern: The volunteers taking CLA had changes in certain heart disease risk factors. But Gaullier tells WebMD that the changes seen in cholesterol level and blood sugar levels were not significant.

However, the findings warrant further investigation, says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, director of nutrition therapy at The Cleveland Clinic and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. She agreed to comment on Gaullier's findings.

"The impact [of CLA] on heart disease and diabetes needs to be investigated further," Moore tells WebMD. "This is what science is all about, piecing together studies that provide the bigger, broader picture."

What Is CLA?

CLA is a naturally occurring fatty acid found in meat and dairy products. It is also a popular dietary supplement that is sold with claims of helping people lose fat, maintain weight loss, retain lean muscle mass, and control type 2 diabetes -- the type of diabetes that is often associated with obesity.

In health food stores, CLA is sold as a pill or as a syrup. The syrup tastes pretty good and can be mixed with food, Gaullier tells WebMD. "But if you break the capsules apart and try to mix it with yogurt, it tastes very bad. It has a very bitter taste."

CLA comes in varying concentrations. Be sure to buy a product containing 80% CLA to get maximum weight-loss results, he says.

In small studies involving animals, CLA has been shown to prevent heart disease and several types of cancer, Gaullier says. It also appears to enhance the immune system.

Smaller studies of CLA's effectiveness in weight loss have shown some contradictory results -- possibly because they used body fat scales to measure improvements, and those scales are not very accurate, he tells WebMD. In his study, Gaullier used a body-scanning technology called DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry). "It is very accurate in measuring body fat," he tells WebMD.

His is the first long-term study of CLA's safety and effectiveness in weight loss.

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