The Good Fats That Protect Health And Fight Fat
Herbs for Health Magazine - 5/1/2001
Almost everything you have read or heard about weight loss is probably dead wrong. No kidding. If you are overweight, like 111,000,000 of us (or 55% of the U.S. adult population - including the 22.5% “clinically” obese) - it’s not only because you’re under-exercising or overeating all those processed carbohydrates and bad fats. The fact that your waist line is expanding may also be due to a dietary factor that you never suspected or considered before: a deficiency in the right kinds of fats that promotes the use of stored fat for energy and supercharges your metabolism. Exciting new research has provided the key to effortless weight loss – consuming more fatty acids in the form of gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
But first, let’s take a look at the multitude of benefits these superstar nutrients can deliver on the health front.
GLA for Total Health
For well over 20 years, there has been ongoing research regarding the use of GLA in the prevention and treatment of a wide variety of health ailments including rheumatoid arthritis, PMS, diabetic neuropathy, high blood pressure and skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis.1-9 Medical studies from around the world demonstrate that practically every area of the body can benefit from GLA supplementation.
During the no-to-low fat era of the 1980s and early 1990s, health experts seemed to ignore the role of essential fatty acids (like GLA) in health and well being. But today all of that has changed due to the overwhelming body of new research proving that GLA has a dramatic impact on overall health and the treatment of disease, including obesity.
So compelling is the GLA-health connection that an International Symposium on GLA was held in San Diego in April of 2000 as part of the annual meeting of the American Oil Chemists’ Society. Some of the highlights of the presentations included a research update from a French researcher regarding the potential of GLA for arterial hypertension; an update from a Belgian scientist about GLA (and other essential fats) for the treatment of cystic fibrosis; and a report from a Texas scientist discussing the ability of GLA to lessen the risks of atherosclerosis.
Where Does GLA Come From?
In a healthy body, GLA is synthesized from the raw material known as linoleic acid, which is found in certain oils, grains, and seeds. But most of us don’t properly utilize linoleic acid because there is a number of dietary and lifestyle factors that get in the way of the conversion. The main metabolic roadblocks are trans fats, sugar, smoking, alcohol, aging, and illnesses such as diabetes.
However, GLA is also found naturally in botanicals like borage oil (20-24% GLA), evening primrose oil (8-10% GLA), and black currant seed oil (about 15% GLA). When these oils are consumed, no conversion is required since the GLA is already present in a usable form.
A typical recommended dose of GLA is 500–700mg per day for general health. To obtain that level of GLA, 5-9 capsules of evening primrose would be required daily. However, since borage oil contains a much higher concentration of GLA, only 2-3 capsules would be required.
GLA for Weight Control
Surprisingly, GLA is showing definite promise in the battle of the bulge. In the 1980s there were many early reports published in several medical journals, such as the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine that focussed on GLA as a natural aid to weight reduction.12 Scientists like Dr. David Horrobin, a former professor of medicine at the University of Montreal, and Dr. M.A. Mir, a researcher and consultant at the Welsh National School of Medicine in Cardiff, identified two calorie-burning mechanisms that GLA helps to regulate.12,13 Simply put, the first involves a metabolically active fat known as brown adipose tissue (or BAT) – which is underactive in overweight people. GLA can activate BAT to burn calories. The second is the ATPase metabolic process, commonly referred to as the “sodium pump” which GLA also stimulates for more calorie burning. Amazingly, the sodium pump can use up nearly 50% of the body’s total calories.
In one study involving GLA, Dr. Mir reported that individuals lost from 9.6 to 11.4 pounds over a six-week period. Dr. Horrobin described GLA as “a safe, non-drug way to stimulate the body’s metabolic activity and burn off fat.” Horrobin believes that nearly one-third of all overweight people are metabolically impaired and this interferes with the burning of excess calories.
More recent published studies on animals confirm that GLA shows much promise in the weight-loss arena. These studies show that obesity is linked to low GLA levels, and supplementation can correct or normalize these levels. 14 Furthermore, supplementation in obese animals reduces food intake and weight gain.14 A researcher from Japan in a study published in the Journal of Nutrition confirmed that dietary GLA could reduce body fat by increasing the metabolism of brown fat and that GLA may affect enzymes involved in the metabolism of fat, as well as the metabolism of glucose.15 Perhaps most interesting of all is the hypothesis that GLA, like other fatty acids, has the potential to elevate levels of serotonin, a brain chemical which contributes to the feeling of fullness.16,17 By elevating serotonin, you will feel satiated sooner, eat less, and not be tempted to overindulge.
The CLA Breakthrough
The latest fatty acid to be discovered, CLA, has profound healing and fat loss benefits as well. CLA is considered a necessary fatty acid both for cell growth and as a building block of cell membranes. A naturally occurring fatty acid found in dairy foods and grass-fed beef and lamb, CLA was discovered at the University of Wisconsin in 1978 by Dr. Michael Pariza.
Before the 1970s, Americans got plenty of CLA by eating beef, lamb, and dairy products from grass-fed animals. But today we are getting virtually no CLA in our foods because livestock is no longer grass-fed, which decreases CLA levels by about 80% In addition, throughout the past 20 years, many misguided Americans on low-fat diets avoided the only dietary sources of CLA available – meats, and dairy products like whole milk, butter and cheese.
Luckily, CLA is available today as a convenient dietary supplement made by converting the linoleic acid from either sunflower or safflower oils into conjugated linoleic acid. Therapeutic dosages range from 3-6 grams, taken before or with meals.
To date, there are over 500 published studies on this previously unrecognized nutrient. Laboratory research over the past two decades has shown that CLA modulates the immune response, protects against heart disease (by reducing the risk of atherosclerosis), and inhibits the growth of various cancers such as breast, prostate, and colon cancer.
In several animal studies, CLA has demonstrated outstanding ability to prevent and control adult onset (type 2) diabetes, now considered to be America’s epidemic. Researchers from Purdue University in Indiana reported a dramatic improvement in serum insulin response in patients taking 6 grams of CLA daily.23 Over 80% of patients experienced an improvement in the levels of leptin – a hormone that regulates both insulin and obesity. CLA has also been found to aid in the prevention of bone loss, thus showing that it may be one of the most potent agents for preventing osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
The first human clinical trial using CLA was conducted in 1997 in Norway. This study was later published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2000. This 90-day double-blind clinical study showed a stunning 20% decrease in body fat, with an average loss of seven pounds of fat in the group taking CLA without changing their diet. In addition to its ability to reduce body fat, CLA has also been shown to increase lean muscle mass. In this study, although the participants lost body fat, they experienced very little change in overall body weight due to the increase in lean muscle mass.
In August of 2000, Pariza presented the long-awaited results of a clinical trial that was designed to assess the effects of CLA on the body composition of obese men and women.25 In the clinical trial, 80 overweight people dieted and then regained their weight. The CLA group put the pounds back on in a ratio of half fat to half muscle – a rather impressive result when you consider that the control group regained the weight at a ratio of 75% fat to 25% lean.
Clearly, research shows that both GLA and CLA can help fight disease and pare off the pounds. The fat loss benefits of these potent healing giants are just beginning to be acknowledged. Along with a balanced diet and daily exercise program, essential fatty acids may soon be a key component in any successful weight control program.