Man holding his big fat belly, belly fat

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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  1. Wheelwoman

    I do not drink any soda type drinks, have eaten a Mediterranean diet most of my life (it didn’t have a name when I was growing up), and dislike anything very sweet, but exercise at this point is another matter. Up until 3+ years ago, I did three aerobic classes a week, mat exercises every day, and walked briskly every evening after dinner, weather permitting. Then I developed RILP (radiation induced lumbar plexopathy) and am completely wheelchair dependent (basically paraplegic). While I still am within normal weight range for my age at 125 lbs, I have developed the dreaded “quad belly” and now have a 38″ waist measurement. How will this affect my overall health? am I at higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure?

  2. Julie

    What about exercise? It’s good for reducing fat, increasing muscle mass, improving bone health, improving mood. One heals faster from injuries and surgery. These magic potions are a little crazy.

  3. Jim

    Simply using one type of food ingredient will not result in weight loss. Our body is too complex to think that any one product will result in weight loss. Most of these claims are made to sell products. What we need is to educate everyone of all the unhealthy food choices and not just because we want to lose weight, but because we want to help the healthy maintenance of our bodies. If you follow that goal you will not need to worry about being overweight.

  4. Dee
    Houston, TX

    I have belly fat due to steroids taken to combat an autoimmune disease. My doctor said getting rid of a steroid belly is impossible. I will watch for comments.

  5. Jane
    St. Louis, MO

    After reading the article about the PURE study with 136,000 volunteers (re: saturated fat in dairy products being good for you), I contacted my cardiologist and asked what he would recommend for his patients. I always purchased either fat-free or low fat dairy products. He said to keep eating only low fat or fat-free dairy products. I think the study was a hoax. In fact it mentioned that the study tok place over 21 countries in “9” continents. Interesting, since thee are not 9 continents.

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