Almost everything you’ve read or heard about weight loss is probably wrong. No kidding. If you are overweight, like 111,000,000 Americans (55 percent of the U.S. adult population), it’s not only because you’re under-exercising or overeating. It may also be due to a dietary factor that you never suspected: a deficiency in the right kinds of fats that promote the use of stored fat for energy and supercharge your metabolism. Exciting new research has provided the key to weight loss—consuming more essential fatty acids in the form of gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
GLA for total health
For more than twenty years, there has been ongoing research regarding the use of GLA in the prevention and treatment of a wide variety of ailments including rheumatoid arthritis, PMS, high blood pressure, and skin conditions. Medical studies demonstrate that practically every area of the body can benefit from GLA supplementation.
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 due to 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, all of which affect the body’s ability to convert linoleic acid into GLA.
However, GLA is also found naturally in seed oils such as borage, evening primrose and black currant. When these oils are consumed, no conversion is required because the GLA is already present in a usable form. A typical dose of GLA is 500 to 700 mg daily. To obtain that level of GLA, take 2 to 3 capsules of borage oil or 5 to 9 capsules of evening primrose oil daily.
GLA for weight control
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 New England Journal of Medicine, that focused on GLA as a natural aid to weight reduction. Scientists identified two calorie-burning mechanisms that GLA helps to regulate. The first involves a metabolically active fat known as brown adipose tissue (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. The sodium pump can use up nearly 50 percent of the body’s total calories.
In one study involving GLA, individuals lost from 9.6 to 11.4 pounds over a six-week period. Researcher David 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, interfering with the burning of excess calories. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition confirmed that dietary GLA could reduce body fat by increasing the metabolism of BAT, and that GLA may affect enzymes involved in the metabolism of fat and glucose. Perhaps most interesting is the hypothesis that GLA has the potential to elevate levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that contributes to the feeling of fullness. By elevating serotonin, you feel satiated sooner and eat less.
The CLA breakthrough
CLA, the latest fatty acid to be discovered, has profound healing and fat-depleting benefits and is a necessary fatty acid for cell growth. It’s also a building block of cell membranes. CLA, a naturally occurring fatty acid found in dairy foods and grass-fed beef and lamb, was discovered in 1978 by 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 percent. Luckily, CLA is available today as a dietary supplement—dosages range from 3 to 6 g daily.
There are more than 500 published studies on this previously unrecognized nutrient. The first human clinical trial using CLA, published in the Journal of Nutrition, was conducted in Norway in 1997. This ninety-day double-blind clinical study showed a 20 percent 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 little change in overall body weight due to the increase in lean muscle mass.
In August 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. In the clinical trial, eighty 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—an impressive result when you consider that the control group regained the weight at a ratio of 75 percent fat to 25 percent muscle.
Ann Louise Gittleman, N.D., M.S., C.N.S., is one of the foremost nutritionists in the United States. She is the author of The Fat Flush Plan (McGraw Hill, 2001), Eat Fat, Lose Weight (Keats, 1999) and Why Am I Always So Tired? (Harper San Francisco, 1999).