The Fatty Acid Reunion
by Cy Willson

Well, it's been years since the various fatty acids have met to catch up on old times. The last time, CLA, an isomer of linoleic acid, was the man. His relatives, linoleic acid and the monounsaturated fatty acids weren't in the limelight as much and alpha linolenic acid, was only starting to become popular. Yep, CLA enjoyed riches, fame, countless beautiful women, the whole shebang. Why? Well, apparently it was able to significantly reduce body fat while increasing lean body mass. Well,as I and many others had discovered, something was amiss. We took the correct dosages, kept a consistent caloric intake, trained correctly, yet, nothing happened. What was going on here? It had worked for damn near every animal beginning with the letters A through Z, but not for us. AHD, well, it must fall in the category of once promising supplements and potential drugs that couldn't reproduce the same results in humans as they did animal models. So, we swept it under the rug and forgot about it. Since then, the omega 3 fatty acids, in the form of flax and fish oil have enjoyed prosperity because of their reputations for allowing a greater and/or quicker loss of body fat stores, while also providing some benefits to muscle tissue, hormone levels, health, and insulin sensitivity as well. So what happened to CLA? Why didn't it reproduce the magnificent results seen in the laboratory when given to humans? Stick with me, and I'll explain the whole story, as well as give you a rundown on the rest of the various fatty acids and why you should be consuming them, if you aren't already. If you are consuming the correct fatty acids, the following should serve as an interesting report to affirm your wise decision.

CLA (A Case of Mistaken Identity?)

CLA, or Conjugated Linoleic Acid, was once thought to be one of the best supplement in terms of it's possible effects on what bodybuilders were seeking, more specifically, more muscle and less fat. Not only this, but it was also thought to posses some pretty powerful anti-carcinogenic properties as well. Well, as discussed earlier, CLA's effects on muscle and fat tissue, as seen with animal models, were not being duplicated in the real world. The problem? Manufacturers were "jumping the gun" so to speak. You see, CLA consists of two main isomers. One being cis-9, trans-11 and the other trans-10, cis-12. The researchers, at the time, weren't exactly sure which isomer was responsible for what effect. What they did know, was that CLA, when given to their animal models, was producing some pretty dramatic effects as far as increases in muscle mass and decreases of body fat, without altering the diets. So, the manufacturers rushed to get CLA to the market, and consequently were guessing at which isomer was mainly responsible. According to most analyses and statements, the cis-9, trans-11 isomer was the main component of the marketed CLA products. Well, as we all know, that wasn't the correct isomer, at least in terms of increased muscle mass and decreased fat mass. So, was it indeed the trans-10, cis-12 isomer that was responsible for turning those chubby, cute animals into ripped mass monsters? According to a large amount of current research, the answer is a resounding yes! Now, of course, I'll give you some of this "evidence". In one study, mice were given three different preparations of CLA. Each contained a different percentage of the two isomers. The mice fed the highest percentage of the trans-10, cis-12 isomer (79.2%) lost almost double the fat percentage when compared to the preparation that contained around 72.4% of cis-9, trans-11 isomer. The mice fed the higher concentration of the trans-10, cis-12 isomer also possessed the highest percentage of muscle or protein content as well(1). Similar findings were found in hamsters(2). The same researchers that performed this study also decided to put cultured 3T3-L1 mouse adipocytes together with both the cis-9, trans-11 and the trans-10, cis-12 isomer and see what happened in terms of biochemical markers. The markers measured were lipoprotein lipase (a key component in fat production) and intracellular triacylglycerol and glycerol. Basically, the lower these markers are, the smaller the fat cells become, hence the more fat we lose. Well, the t-10, c-12 isomer reduced activity of lipoprotein lipase and concentrations of both triacylglycerol and glycerol levels. All the while, the c-9, t-11 isomer did nothing(3). Would you like some more? It was also found that the t-10,c-12 isomer decreased the activity of stearoyl-CoA desaturase enzyme, which also displays an ability to decrease fat production. It was found to inhibit the mRNA expression of the enzyme's gene. In other words, it's able stop production of this lipogenic enzyme at the genetic level. However, the c-9, t-11 isomer had no effect in this regard(4,5,6). Another study found the t-10, c-12 isomer inhibited milk fat synthesis, whereas, the c-9, t-11 had no effect(7). So, is the cis-9, trans-11 isomer useless? Not necessarily. It has some potent anti-carcinogenic properties for those concerned with health(8.)

So, to recap, the trans-10, cis-12 isomer is likely the one responsible for the reductions in body fat and increased muscle tissue,despite an unaltered caloric intake. Activating PPAR alpha may at least partially explain these anti-lipogenic effects. The cis-9,trans-11 still has some "healthy" qualities in terms of possibly reducing glucose levels via its PPAR gamma activation as well as being destructive to certain cancers by this same activation. Now the only thing left to do is wait for someone to produce a CLA product with at high (80-95%) concentration of the trans-10, cis-12 isomer. Then, we shall see the truth.

The Omega Brothers

The omega 3 fatty acids seem to have the most advantages in terms of fat loss and increases in muscle mass. Although there are about as many ideas on why this is as there are pimples on a boy in the middle of puberty, I'll give you a quick rundown.

In terms of benefits derived from these fatty acids, it seems limitless. Currently, it's known that omega 3's limit the mass of adipose tissue, by regulating the hypertrophy of fat cells(9,10,11,12). What's even better is their ability to specifically limit the hypertrophy of white adipose tissue (The stuff that covers your muscles)(13). Not only will they limit or prevent accumulation of fat, they've been shown to increase oxidation of fat, leading to a reduced amount of fat weight (14,15,16). The reasons these effects occur are thought to be because of increased uncoupling protein activity (which increases thermogenesis), limiting the various lipogenic enzymes by suppressing the transcription of their genes as well as reducing insulin stimulated glucose transport into fat cells by lowering the binding capacity of the insulin receptors on the adipocytes (16,17,18). Some more benefits? Sure! While reducing the sensitivity of insulin in fat cells, omega 3's increase sensitivity in muscle tissue (18). It's also been shown to increase fat cells' sensitivity to adrenergic stimulation, causing a greater lipolytic response and consequently increasing the effectiveness of agents (ephedrine, norephedrine, caffeine) that are used in order to reduce body fat.

Still not satisfied? How about their ability to protect against certain cancers, like prostate(19). Don't forget, they can reduce aldosterone levels as well, which can lead to less water retention(20). Furthermore, they've developed quite a reputation amongst bodybuilders for their anti-inflammatory properties. People that suffer from joint pain have found omega 3's to greatly reduce the amount of pain experienced while training. They have also been shown to be of benefit to conditions such as septicemia, Alzheimer's disease,Parkinson's disease, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes mellitus, essential hypertension and atherosclerosis (21). Not only do these fatty acids benefit fat loss as mentioned previously but they also posses anti-catabolic properties as well.(22,23)

To recap, these guys will allow you to decrease body fat,increase muscle mass, increase insulin sensitivity, and a whole other host of goodies. If you're not supplementing your diet with these already, start consuming some flax or fish oil.

Omega 6

Although the omega 6's aren't as exciting as their omega 3 counterparts, they still are very important and provide some similar effects to the omega 3's, although not to the same extent. Omega 6 fatty acid shave also been shown to inhibit lipogenesis by inhibiting transcription of genes for key lipogenic enzymes(24). It's also been shown to have the highest rating of post-ingestive satiety, which would be good for someone who is dieting(25). It's also the key component for the production of the PGE2, which is prostaglandin involved in the production of testosterone. Some good sources for omega 6's are sunflower and safflower oil.

It's important that you not neglect these fatty acids, as they too, play an important role in many aspects involved in your bodybuilding goals.

Omega 9

Although the omega 9 fatty acids haven't received a lot of press in the past, they are slowly but surely starting to shame some of the respect that the other two fatty acids share. These fatty acids share similar protective properties with omega 3's in terms of cancer protection. They have also been shown to decrease satiety by the least when compared to the other fatty acids(26). This can benefit those "hypertrophy challenged" guys who just can't seem to eat enough by allowing them to ingest more calories while allowing them to "stay hungry" at the same time. It was also found to have a higher diet induced thermogenesis when compared to saturated fatty acids. Omega 9's have also been shown to have a positive effect on HL levels, which could lead to an elevation of testosterone levels, based on a correlation.(27,28,29). Some good sources of omega 9's are peanuts, olive oil,high oleic acid safflower oil, and pistachios.

Saturated Fat

Now, I'm sure you all know to stay away from this pudgy kid. But, just to make sure, it's been shown to increase fat cell size dramatically as well as decrease insulin sensitivity as well as only having a mediocre effect on satiety, not being more filling than omega 6's and being just as filling as the omega 9's. So, guys with the racy metabolisms better stick with the omega 9's.

Try to consume as little of this type of fat as possible. At one time, it was found that it could slightly increase testosterone levels. However, the omega 9's may be just as if not more effective in increasing t-levels while actually benefiting you in terms of health and insulin sensitivity. Saturated fat, on the other hand, can clog arterial walls and lead to an increase in low density lipo proteins.


Well, this is probably the only reunion that actually benefited your gains in muscle and loss of body fat, since they're usually laced with crappy foods. Plus, the type of fat you got to see wasn't the kind hanging off someone's ass! The key points to take away are that if you aren't already consuming some omega 3,6, and 9 fatty acids, you should definitely start. Minimize saturated fat intake. As far as CLA goes, I'm anxious to get my hands on some with a high proportion of the trans-10, cis-12 isomer.


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