Should Americans throw away their bathroom scales? Not necessarily. Is there a need to recalibrate thinking when it comes to body composition? Absolutely!
Consumers need to be educated on the often-misunderstood difference between losing weight and losing fat. This paradox presents an opportunity for brand owners to use science-based ingredients, including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), to stand apart in a competitive category comprising a cornucopia of products.
Traci Mann, a researcher who has studied diets for decades, and teaches psychology at the University of Minnesota, explained why diets don’t work in her new book, “Secrets from the Eating Lab." She cited neurological, hormonal and biological changes that make it “practically impossible to keep weight off."
CLA was launched in dietary supplements in the 1990s when consumers were largely focused on dieting. Fast forward to today when sports nutrition aisles are taking over space once reserved for weight loss products.
Are today’s consumers looking more to the mirror than the scale to measure results? Not quite yet. More education is needed.
Start from the Beginning
Body composition refers to body fat, lean body mass (muscle), body water and minerals such as phosphorus and potassium that comprise one's body. Of these, fat is the lightest whereas muscle is relatively heavy because it contains water. Exercise increases the percentage of skeletal muscle which is why vigorous exercise often leads to weight gain, not weight loss. On the other hand, dieting to reduce weight can result in the loss of both muscle and fat. Accordingly, for healthy people who are moderately overweight, the focus should be on managing body compositionthat is, reducing body fat while maintaining or increasing muscle mass, rather than on losing weight per se. CLA research shows how a dietary supplement can safely and effectively benefit body composition.
A Holistic Approach
A pioneer of CLA research, Michael Pariza, Ph.D., said: “When it comes to body fat, there are only two things you can do with it: store it or burn it." This is where CLA can play a role. In Pariza’s research, he has shown supplementing with a “healthy" polyunsaturated fat affects how we store and burn fat in the body. He calls this a “huge paradigm shift for research and for nutrition."
How CLA Burns Reduces Fat
Research showed CLA has two main sites of action: the fat cells, or adipocytes (the principal site where fat is stored); and the skeletal muscle cells (where fat is burned for energy). CLA decreases the number and size of adipocytes, lowering body fat mass (Food Research International. 2007;40(3):311-323). It does this in two ways: 1) CLA increases apoptosis, the rate at which fat cells die, thus reducing the number of existing fat cells in your body, and 2) CLA decreases the activity of transporter enzymes (known as lipoprotein lipase), which help move fats into fat cells. With regular use of CLA, less fat gets stored. Instead, more gets burned. CLA increases activity of the muscle enzyme CPT (carnitine palmitoyltransferase), so fat is burned faster, leaving less of it in the body (Lipids. 2016;51(2):159-178).
Credible science should be fundamental to any product development and is especially true in the case of CLA in terms of body composition. Consumers want products that work and deliver sustainable benefits.
In 18 separate clinical studies, one branded CLA ingredient (as Tonalin®, from BASF) was consistently well-tolerated with no adverse effects using the recommended amount. For example, a two-year clinical study reported sustainable body fat reduction and no serious adverse effects with long-term Tonalin® CLA supplementation (J Nutr. 2005;135(4):778-84).
So, how does the industry help consumers better understand the benefits of fat reduction versus weight reduction? Media can help by focusing more on body composition instead of weight loss, so industry needs to educate journalists. Health care practitioners, from dietitians to physicians, with the right information, can help communicate this important difference to their patients. Once consumers are ready to purchase products, industry needs to help retailers become better informed so they can direct their customers to credible products that will deliver sustainable results.
Joseph Moritz, Ph.D., is the scientific manager, and Abhijit Natu is the global marketing manager at BASF Nutrition & Health.