DHA Blunts Negative Side Effects of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) W/out Hampering Its Effects on Body Fat Loss & the Expression of Obesity Genes

She already knew what scientists have recently discovered and now confirmed: You better stack CLA and DHA if you want lean and health offspring ;-)
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is not only an omega-6 fatty acid, it's also a trans-fat (though a natural one) and still even scientists believe that it could contribute to the solution of the diabesity epidemic, if it (a) finally yielded the same extreme fat loss (yep, just the blubber, nothing else) results in human beings as in rodents (cf. "CLA Annihilates Body Fat and Increases Endurance") and (b) anywhere near appropriate doses would not hold he risk of inducing fatty liver disease and insulin resistance (Clément. 2002). At least with respect to (b) a "bodybuilding approach" to CLA supplementation which is based on the "if hammering your head against the wall hurts, you better make sure you wear a helmet" principle of stacking CLA and PUFAs, esp. the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid DHA, has already yielded some promising results in a study that has been published earlier this year (Fedor. 2012a).

Since, the deposition of fat in the liver in response to CLA supplementation is in the end only the logical consequence of CLA's lipolytic (=fat releasing) and anti-lipogenic (=inhibition of fat storage) effects in the adipose tissue, the absence of adequate data on the amount of fat in adipose tissue and muscle or the fatty acid composition of liver, adipose tissue, and muscle, nor did we monitor the changes in the expression of genes involved in fatty acid metabolism in adipose tissue and muscle in the respective study did not allow for the conclusion that the co-supplementation of DHA would not blunt the beneficial fat loss effects of CLA, as well.

Is it possible that high dose DHA blunts the negative and the positive effects of CLA?

In a paper that's going to be published in the next issue of Metabolic Syndrome And Related Disorders Dawn M. Fedor et al. describe the results of a follow up study, which dealt with this very question and I guess I am not giving away more than what you will already inferred from the headline of this post, when I tell you that the answer to the question in the subheading is "No, DHA does not blunt the beneficial effects of conjugated linoleic acid on adipose tissue!"
Figure 1: Relative body weight, liver weight, periuterine fat mass, muscle weigh, liver total lipid weight, adipose total lipid weight, and muscle total lipid content of the mice after 4 weeks on a 0.5% CLA, 0.5% CLA + 1.5% DHA or 1.5% DHA diets expressed relative to respective data from mice on the standard chow (Fedor. 2012b)
If you take a closer look at the data in figure 1 you will realize that the provision of a diet that contained 0.5% CLA (only the "active", but potentially hazardous t10, c12 isomer was used in the study) and 1.5% DHA did not blunt the beneficial effects on total and periuterine body fat mass in eight-week-old, pathogen-free female C57BL/6N mice. On the other hand, it did mitigate the negative effects on liver weight and (and this is actually quite remarkable) had identical beneficial effects on liver fat as the DHA only diet.

DHA + CLA = perfect synergists

Although the "equation" above may sound as if I had taken it right from one of those shiny adds in a muscle mags, it does in fact look, as if the combination of CLA + DHA was the silver bullet for healthy body fat (and I repeat only body fat not lean mass!) reductions in the absence of any dietary and/or exercise interventions.
Figure 2: Expression of selected genes involved in the synthesis, storage and release of fatty acids from the adipose tissue; the respective values (in a.u.) of the control group were all 100, so you can thing of these as percentages, as well (Fedor. 2012)
Moreover, the analyses of the expression of pro- and anti-obesity genes in the adipose tissue does actually support this claim:
"CLA significantly decreased the expression of LXRb, PGC1a, PPARg, SREBP1C, ACOX1, and CD36 adipose mRNA when compared to the control group. We also observed a trend for CLA to decrease the expression of HSL (P=0.08). DHA was not able to prevent any of these decreases in gene expression. CLA significantly increased UCP2 mRNA expression when compared to control group; DHA again had no effect." (Fedor. 2012b)
If we translate all these acronyms the scientists use to describe the data I've plotted for you in figure 2 into plain cause and effect relations, we could simply state: CLA induced changes in the expression of genes in the adipose tissue of the rodents that would prevent the maturation of adipocytes and the synthesis and accumulation of fatty acids, while increasing their release into circulation,  and DHA did not effect these changes.

DHA takes care of the energy that's released / not stored in fat cells

What the co-administration of DHA did, however, was to prevent the deposition of the energy that was released, respectively not even stored in the adipocytes in the liver -- and it did that so effectively that the overall weight of the liver of the mice in the CLA + DHA group was not greater than the the liver weight of the rodents in the control group.
Figure 3: Liver fatty acid composition (µmol/g) and omega-3 : omega-6 ratio after 4 weeks on regular (control), 0.5% CLA, 0.5% CLA + 1.5% DHA and 1.5% DHA diets (Fedor. 2012b)
In fact, the co-administration of conjugated linoleic acid and DHA did even reduce the total fatty acid content of the liver (not to a statistically significant degree, though) and brought about profound changes in its fatty acid content - most prominently, a whopping +975% increase in the omega-3 : omega-6 ratio (see small graph in figure 3) that were even slightly more pronounced in the CLA + DHA group than in the DHA only group (you do remember that CLA is an omega-6 trans-fat, right?).

Finally a stack that works -- but will it work in humans, as well? 

I don't know if it dawned on you, already, but dairy and butter from grass cows already has both CLA and DHA in it - what a lucky coincidence, isn't it? Still, there is one downside: You simply cannot eat enough of it to get anywhere close to the human equivalents of the amounts that are used in rodent studies.
Now, although both the changes in body fat levels in the CLA + DHA group were consistent with those observed in the CLA only group and the effects of the combination treatment on the changes in hepatic fatty acid composition were consistent with those observed in the DHA only group, there is still one question we have to answer: Are we going to see similar esults in humans?

To be honest, I still cannot answer this question, but if you take into consideration that no previous human trial used dosages in the 20-30g range simply because that would be unethical given the associated side effects, we may soon get an answer to this question - as soon as scientists dare to slowly escalate the dosage, trusting on the ability of supplemental DHA to blunt the negative, while conserving the beneficial effects of CLA.

  • Clément L, Poirier H, Niot I, Bocher V, Guerre-Millo M, Krief S, Staels B, Besnard P. Dietary trans-10,cis-12 conjugated linoleic acid induces hyperinsulinemia and fatty liver in the mouse. J Lipid Res. 2002 Sep;43(9):1400-9.
  • Fedor DM, Adkins Y, Mackey BE, et al. Docosahexaenoic Acid prevents trans-10, cis-12-conjugated linoleic Acid-induced nonalcoholic Fatty liver disease in mice by altering expression of hepatic genes regulating fatty acid synthesis and oxidation.Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2012a;10:175–180
  • Fedor DM, Adkins Y, Newman JW, Mackey BE, Kelley DS. The Effect of Docosahexaenoic Acid on t10, c12-Conjugated Linoleic Acid-Induced Changes in Fatty Acid Composition of Mouse Liver, Adipose, and Muscle. Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2012b Nov 21.
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