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New CLA study targets promise to battle obesity and related conditions

Edmonton, Alta., June 9, 2010: Help in battling the 'globesity' epidemic could come from a natural component of dairy and beef products.

A new study led by University of Alberta researchers is looking into the promise of natural conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) to fight obesity and related conditions such as type-2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome. Vaccenic acid (VA), a natural CLA 'precursor' that shows similar and related potential benefits, will also be evaluated.

"The knowledge from this study will give us a clearer picture not only of the benefits of natural CLA and related VA but also the mechanisms that underlie those benefits," says Dr. Spencer Proctor, Director of the Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases Laboratory at the Alberta Institute for Human Nutrition (AIHN). "This is a critical step toward strategies to take advantage of these benefits. It will also strengthen the foundation of science to support future human clinical trials."

Proctor is Science Lead of the CLA Network, a Canada-based multi-disciplinary network focused on understanding the health potential of natural CLA and other beneficial dairy and beef fatty acids or lipids. Proctor and other members of the AIHN research team were recently in Europe presenting the latest findings from their program to international colleagues at the International Symposium on Chylomicrons in Disease (ISCD) and at the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL).

The incidence of obesity and associated metabolic disorders has reached epidemic proportions in Canada and in many parts of the world - a trend coined the "globesity epidemic." With approximately $4.3 billion per year spent on obesity and obesity related diseases in Canada alone, it's easy to see why progress in understanding CLA's potential to guard against obesity is one of the most important areas of CLA research.

CLA and related VA in their natural forms are produced only by ruminant animals such as dairy and beef cattle. A portion of CLA and VA is naturally present in the milk and meat from these animals and a growing body of research points to these components as healthy fats with a variety of potential benefits for battling chronic diseases.

One of these potential advantages supported in recent findings by AIHN and others is that natural CLA and related VA play a beneficial role in body weight regulation, which protects against obesity and related chronic conditions. However, there is limited information on exactly how this happens – in other words, what the mechanisms are.

Proctor and colleagues have a head start on the scientific detective work. Research to date has established that the effects of CLA on modulating body fat are mainly linked to increased energy expenditure and improved lipid metabolism. This points toward CLA having an effect on certain neurological pathways that are known to regulate these areas.

"This is the theory we plan to test," says Proctor. "If we can show this is the case and understand more specifically how it happens, this will provide a major leap forward in the science. It would open up a lot of opportunity, including potential for CLA-enriched products to carry health claims as functional foods to reduce the risk of both type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases."

The research team will use an animal model it has established as leading model for evaluating the potential of dietary CLA and VA, which will be supplied in the form of CLA-enriched dairy products.

"The findings of this study have the potential to directly establish additional health benefits of dairy products and provide a more complete picture of the role of these products in human health," says Proctor.

Notably, a study was recently published that examined CLA in overweight children for seven months with some positive benefits on weight (Racine et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2010).

The new AIHN study will strengthen this steadily expanding body of knowledge. It is supported in part by the Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC). In addition to DFC, livestock industry support for CLA Network human health research to date has also been provided by Alberta Milk and the Beef Information Centre (BIC). As well, major support for a large portion of Proctor's ongoing CLA and VA research is provided through funding originally awarded through the Alberta Livestock Industry Development Fund (ALIDF) and now managed through the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA). More information on CLA Network progress is available at

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