Summary of eRumor:
Claims that safflower oil and/or conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) supplements can help you lose weight, particularly in the belly area, have been circulating for years.
There’s not enough scientific data to determine whether or not claims that CLA safflower oil promotes weight loss, and “busts belly fat” — but available research casts serious doubt on those claims.
Most safflower oil weight loss claims are based on a single study from 2009. The study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, compared how safflower oil and CLA helped 55 obese, post-menopausal women lose weight over a 36-week period.
Researchers concluded safflower oil (identified as SAF in the paper) led to an average 6.3% reduction in the trunk region, or belly, and that ” this magnitude of reduction has not been reported in an intervention that used a linoleic acid–rich oil.” The weight loss, the researchers concluded, occurred without diet or activity changes. The overall conclusion was that both safflower oil and CLA “may be beneficial for weight loss, glycemic control, or both.”
It’s important to note, however, that the study concluded that CLA safflower oil may help promote weight loss — not that it actually does.
That distinction was raised by Dr. Russel H. Greenfield in a blog post that appeared at Dr. Oz’s website in 2012 under the headline “Safflower Oil: Use a Fat to Lose Fat?” Greenfield notes that the 2009 study raised questions about safflower oil’s weight loss capabilities — but the study didn’t attempt to answer them:
Keep in mind that good research is very hard to do. The researchers behind these data are applauded and honored for their efforts – they have generated a hypothesis that can (and should) be tested. That is not the same, however, as saying the results imply that anyone interested in losing abdominal fat should begin taking a safflower oil supplement.
Dr. Greenfield also notes the study’s limitations, particularly that it only studied 55 subjects and that all of them were post-menopausal women who were obese and suffering from type 2 diabetes. There’s no indication of what impact the safflower oil could have on weight loss in younger women, or those without diabetes:
All the people involved were postmenopausal women with type II diabetes, begging the question of what the effects might be in men or younger women. Adverse effects occurred but were not specified. In addition, safflower oil was compared to CLA, an agent that has been reported to increase insulin resistance – the comparison may thus not be fair from the get-go.
Beyond that, the approach calls into question some very basic assumptions about the types of fat in our diet. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential to our health, though they have been demonized in some circles due to the relative lack of omega-3 fatty acids in Western-style diets. It is important to get an adequate amount of omega-6s, found primarily in vegetable oils, as well as omega-3s, coming mainly from cold-water fish.
And a 2015 comprehensive review of previous studies that was undertaken to determine if claims about the health benefits of CLA safflower oil could be backed up by data didn’t yield encouraging results. The study, published in the scientific journal Nutrition & Metabolism, found that varying results among different studies show that “CLA is not eliciting significantly promising and consistent health effects so as to uphold it as neither a functional nor medical food”:
It seems that no consistent result was observed even in similar studies conducted at different laboratories, this may be due to variations in age, gender, racial and geographical disparities, coupled with type and dose of CLA supplemented. Thus, supposed promising results reported in mechanistic and pre-clinical studies cannot be extrapolated with humans, mainly due to the lack of inconsistency in analyses, prolonged intervention studies, follow-up studies and international co-ordination of concerted studies. Briefly, clinical evidences accumulated thus far show that CLA is not eliciting significantly promising and consistent health effects so as to uphold it as neither a functional nor a medical food.
Still, a simple Google search shows that many health and wellness outlets have latched onto the 2009 study and have marketed CLA safflower oil as a natural way to lose belly fat. There have also been claims that country singer Blake Shelton used safflower oil to lose over 90 pounds. Despite lots of unanswered questions on social media, we couldn’t find any official comments or statements to support those claims:
It’s important to remember that the FDA only reviews dietary supplements like CLA sufflower oil for safety, not effectiveness. That means products like CLA safflower oil might not do exactly what its manufacturers claim that it does, FDA explains:
The manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements are responsible for making sure their products are safe BEFORE they go to market.
If the dietary supplement contains a NEW ingredient, manufacturers must notify FDA about that ingredient prior to marketing. However, the notification will only be reviewed by FDA (not approved) and only for safety, not effectiveness.
So, CLA safflower oil weight loss claims have not been verified by the FDA, and available scientific research casts serious doubt on them. At this time, CLA safflower oil weight loss claims are unproven, and consumers should consult their physicians before taking any new dietary supplements.
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