Conjugated Linoleic Acid: Health Benefits and Grass-Fed Beef

If you are steering away from red meat due to the negative press on saturated fats, you may be happy to hear that a very powerful fatty acid primarily found in beef and dairy products has been linked to long-term weight management and optimal health. This potent nutrient is called conjugated linoleic acid or CLA. Some of the best possible sources of CLA are grass-fed beef and raw dairy products that come from grass-fed cattle.

Many ranchers are responding to the call by U.S. consumers by shifting from traditional, factory-farmed, grain-fed methods of raising cattle to a free-range, all-grass diet. Even the USDA is waking up to the consumer demand for grass-fed products. Their June 2010 publication of Livestock, Poultry, and Dairy Outlooki indicates that grass-fed beef represents three percent of the total U.S. beef production and has been growing about 20 percent for several years.

conjugated linoleic acid

CLA Benefits Across the Board

A host of research has been conducted on animals, under microscopes, and with humans to determine the impact of CLA on disease. Results have shown CLA to be a potent ally for combating:

Animal studies show that as little as 0.5 percent CLA in your diet could reduce tumors by over 50 percent, including the following types of cancer:
  • Breast
  • Colorectal
  • Lung
  • Skin
  • Stomach
Individuals get asthma when they produce much higher levels of leukotrienes, which are fatty molecules of the immune system and at least 1000 times more potent than histamine at causing bronchial constriction. These highly inflammatory leukotrienes are produced when an enzyme known as 5-lipoxygenase (5-lipox) acts on a particular fat called arachidonic acid (AA).

CLA helps fight 5-lipox and AA inflammation without harming your arteries. CLA does this by converting inside your body to both DHA and EPA, both of which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

Cardiovascular disease

High blood pressure

High cholesterol and triglycerides

CLA’s actions actually mimic the effect of synthetic diabetic drugs. Testing on mice with type 2 diabetes has shown CLA to improve insulin action and reduce circulating glucose. Even better, the early results from human trials are just as positive when consuming CLA for longer than eight weeks.


Immune system invaders

Food-induced allergic reactions

Body Composition:
Exciting research on humansii has shown that CLA has been beneficial in lowering body fat, with even greater improvement in those who combine exercise with regular dietary intake of CLA. Animal research has been even more promising,iii with significant improvements seen in both reducing body fat and increasing lean body mass. Previous studies have shown that CLA reduces body fat while preserving muscle tissue, and may also increase your metabolic rate. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutritioniv found that individuals who took 3.2 grams of CLA per day had a drop in fat mass of about 0.2 pounds each week (that’s about one pound a month) compared to those given a placebo.

Since CLA cannot be manufactured in the human body, you must get it from your diet by consuming high-quality dietary sources such as grass-fed beef.

What’s the Deal with Grass-Fed Beef?

The natural diet for ruminant animals, such as cattle, is grass. When left to feed on grass-only diets, levels of CLA are three to five times more than those fed grain-based diets. And that’s just the start.

A joint effort between the USDA and Clemson University researchers in 2009 determined a total of 10 key areas where grass-fed is better than grain-fed beef for human health.

In a side-by-side comparison, they determined that grass-fed beef was:

  1. Lower in total fat
  2. Higher in beta-carotene
  3. Higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
  4. Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin
  5. Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium
  6. Higher in total omega-3s
  7. A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs 4.84)
  8. Higher in CLA (cis-9 trans-11), a potential cancer fighter
  9. Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)
  10. Lower in the saturated fats linked with heart disease

The Bull We've Been Fed – Dangers of Grain-Fed Cattle

If you’ve been reading my articles with any frequency, you’ll know that my dietary recommendations are largely based on scientific literature that clearly spells out the types of foods that human beings were naturally designed to eat.

This is no different for a cow.

When a ruminant is left to eat on its own, it doesn’t choose corn or soy to munch on… it selects grass. Therefore, when a cow grazes on natural grass pastures, its body composition is affected accordingly: the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is slightly above two. In other words, two parts omega-6 to one part omega-3, which is very close to the ideal ratio between these two fats.

Conventionally raised cattle, on the other hand, are shipped to giant feed lots and fed corn to fatten them up, this has an impact on your health as well as theirs.

When a cow’s diet primarily consists of grains, its body’s composition (and subsequently yours) changes. In fact, previous studies on grain-fed steer found the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats was between 5-to-1 and 13-to-1, which is far from the ideal. 

Since you are what you eat, the beneficial effects of eating grass-fed beef and dairy products with the proper balance of fatty acids are translated into health benefits for you. These foods are rich in all the fats now proven to be health-enhancing, and low in the fats that have been linked with disease.

Since meat from grass-fed animals is lower in fat than meat from grain-fed animals, this means that it is lower in calories as well. By switching to lean grass-fed beef, it is estimated that the average person in the U.S. could reduce intake up to 17,000 calories a year, which is equal to losing about six pounds! Imagine how this could impact the national epidemic of obesity.

The Madness of Sick Cows

Another troubling aspect of grain-fed cattle involves the well-being of the animal and, consequently, the health effect this has on you. Factory farming and feedlot conditions result in unhealthy animals. 

A list of these consequencesv from includes:

  1. Acidosis. During the normal digestive process, bacteria in the rumen of cattle produce a variety of acids. Saliva neutralizes the acidity from grass-based diets, but grain-based eating in feedlots prohibits saliva production. The net result is "acid indigestion."

    Animals with this condition are plagued with diarrhea, go off their feed, pant, salivate excessively, kick at their bellies, and eat dirt. Over time, acidosis can lead to a condition called "rumenitis," and inflammatory response to too much acid and too little roughage and results in inefficient nutrient absorption.
  2. Liver abscesses. From 15 to 30 percent of feedlot cattle have liver abscesses, which results when bacteria leak out through ulcerated rumen in cattle and are ultimately transported to the liver.

  3. Bloat. During digestion, cows produce gas and when they are on pasture, they belch up the gas without any difficulty.  Grain-based feeding causes these gasses to become trapped, and results in bloat. In more serious cases of bloat, the rumen becomes so distended with gas that the animal is unable to breathe and dies from asphyxiation.

  4. Feedlot polio. A highly acidic digestive environment results in the production of an enzyme called thiaminase, which destroys vitamin B1, starving the brain of energy and creating paralysis.

  5. Dust pneumonia. In dry weather, the feedlot can become a dust bowl which springs the cattle's immune system into action and keeps it running on a constant basis, ultimately resulting in respiratory ailments and even death.

In addition, BSE or mad cow diseasevi results when cows are fed bone meal and waste products from other cattle infected with the disease. 

Factory Farming Produces Inferior Food

In addition to everything already mentioned, factory farming has further health consequences: 

Higher Incidence of Bacteria Growth

Factory-farmed, commercially-produced animals carry a greater risk of spreading E. coli infection to humans due to the higher incidence of harmful bacteria growth in grain-fed animals, and fecal contamination in feedlots and on kill floors.

This is an extremely rare problem with grass-fed, organically-raised cattle, as cows that graze on grasses naturally maintain the proper ratios of healthy bacteria in their guts.

Heavy Metal, Pharmaceutical, and Pesticide Contamination

In addition, you might not suspect that factory farmed steak to be a source of heavy metals, pesticides, and an array of potentially harmful drugs, but that’s exactly what you get.

Conventionally-raised meats contain residues of everything the animal was exposed to, which includes veterinary drugs, heavy metal residues, and pesticides from their grain-based diet.

Drugs such as growth hormones are given to cattle to increase growth and reduce illness, but invariably enter the food system when producers slaughter animals that still have these toxins in their system.

The use of growth hormones is becoming of particular concern as we’re now clearly noticing the dramatic effects they’re having both on growing youngsters and adults.

Many children are now entering puberty at the age of 9! And although this poses emotional challenges, the long-term health effects of this include an increased risk of heart disease and estrogen-sensitive cancers, for example. Leading scientists have also linked hormone-laced foods (plus other endocrine-disrupting chemicals) to falling sperm counts and fertility problems in adults.

The Rise of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Aside from dangerous growth hormones, antibiotic overuse is becoming a significant problem. For those who aren’t aware, about 80 percent of all the antibiotics produced are used in agriculture – not only to fight infection, but to promote unhealthy (though profitable) weight gain.

Unfortunately, this practice is also contributing to the alarming spread of antibiotic-resistant disease – a serious problem that the FDA acknowledged in a 2010 draft guidance, which also proposed that livestock produces STOP using “subtherapeutic” or small doses of antibiotics in animal feed.

Although the use of antibiotics in agriculture has been banned in the European Union and other countries for years, U.S. CAFOs continue to use them indiscriminately with no government interference. In fact, in December 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quietly posted a notice in the Federal Register that it was effectively reneging on its plan to reduce the use of antibiotics in agricultural animal feed – a plan it has been touting since 1977.

With virtually no public announcement, the FDA decided it would continue to allow industrial livestock producers to use the drugs in feed, unabated – a move that is threatening food safety by contributing to the spread of new, antibiotic-resistant "super-germs."

Environmental Pollution

Lastly, environmental pollution from organic waste produced by cattle, and the enormous amounts of petrochemical fertilizers used to produce feed crops is out of control. 

As a paper from a group of researchers led by Washington State University soil scientist John P. Reganold, published in Science, reported:vii

"Many modern agricultural practices have unintended negative consequences, or externalized costs of production, that are mostly unaccounted for in agricultural productivity measurements or by farm enterprise budgets."

This includes:

  • Large emission of greenhouse gases – Waste and waste treatment methods of grain-fed cattle are believed to be responsible for producing a significant portion of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide (the three major gases that are largely responsible for global warming), along with other harmful gases.
  • Loss of water quality through nitrogen and phosphorus contamination in rivers, streams, and ground water – This contributes to “dramatic shifts in aquatic ecosystems and hypoxic zones.”
  • Agricultural pesticide contamination to natural water sources – Not only are streams, ground water, and wells contaminated, but agricultural workers are also at risk for exposure and related health problems.
  • A decline in nutrient density of 43 garden crops (primarily vegetables) – This suggests possible tradeoffs between yield and nutrient content.
  • Negative impact on soil quality through such factors, such as erosion, compaction, pesticide application, and excessive fertilization.

In addition to this, fossil fuels are used in everything, from the fertilizers and pesticides that are sprayed onto the crop to the transportation of the feed.

Grass, on the other hand, does not require fossil fuels to grow (rotating pastures does the job instead), and other health-harming practices, such as injecting the livestock with hormones and antibiotics, are also not allowed in organic farming.

The inherent differences between these two farming practices are truly vast. They are two distinctly different industries with entirely different environmental impacts, producing what is, in the end, two distinctly different animals.

Grass-fed cows equate to healthier meat -- which leads to a healthier you -- and benefits the planet.

Processed Meats: Another Type of Meat to Avoid

As for processed meat, I am firmly convinced that they do increase the risk of disease and should be avoided at all costs. After reviewing more than 7,000 clinical studies examining the link between diet and cancer, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) concluded that processed meats should never be consumed.

Processed meats are preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or by adding chemical preservatives. Examples of processed meats are bacon, ham, pastrami, salami, pepperoni, hot dogs, sausages, and hamburgers (if they have been preserved with salt or chemical additives). Nitrates, a common chemical preservative added to processed meats, are converted to nitrosamines, which are associated to increased risks of certain cancers.

According to the WCRF, consuming one sausage a day can raise your risk of bowel cancer. More specifically, 1.8 ounces of processed meat daily (like one sausage or three pieces of bacon) will increase your risk of cancer by 20 percent. Other studies have found that processed meats can raise your risk of:

  • Colon cancer by 50 percent
  • Bladder cancer by 59 percent
  • Stomach cancer by 38 percent
  • Pancreatic cancer by 67 percent

Hot dogs, bacon, salami, and other processed meats can also raise your risk of diabetes by 50 percent, lower your lung function, and increase your risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Grass-Fed Trumps Organic Beef

There’s one final note I’d like to make regarding grass-fed beef. 

Oftentimes certified organic beef is misunderstood to be grass-fed; it’s not necessarily so. Beef products that are considered to be “organic” come from animals being fed organic grains, especially corn, which still results in most of the negative health problems that I have highlighted earlier. 

Don’t be fooled! 

Be sure to specifically seek out beef that is classified as grass-fed. Even if it is not labeled organic, most grass-fed cattle are fed on grasslands with limited pesticides, fertilizers, and other harmful chemicals, and will never see the inside of a feedlot.

You Can Taste the Difference

There is no question that the flavor, look, smell, and texture of grass-fed beef differ from those of grain-fed beef. I have been eating it since 2001, and personally enjoy the taste and all the health-giving benefits grass-fed beef delivers.

I encourage you to support small family farms in your area that respect the laws of nature and use the relationships between animals, plants, insects, soil, water, and habitat to create synergistic, self-supporting, non-polluting, GMO-free ecosystems.

You can do this not only by visiting the farm directly, if you have one nearby, but also by taking part in farmers markets and community-supported agriculture programs. Here are some great resources to obtain wholesome food that supports not only you but also the environment:

That said, the flavor, cooking method, and even the appearance will require a bit of an adjustment. Many of my patients from Europe – where grass-fed products are more prevalent – had a difficult time getting used to grain-fed beef products in the U.S. Once you make the shift, it is just a matter of time until you find the taste not only palatable but rather enjoyable.

Based on the research between grass-fed and grain-fed beef, the benefits of CLA in your diet, you owe it to yourself and to your family to make this switch.


Red Meat Can be Part of a Healthful Diet
There are vast differences between meat from concentration animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and organically-raised, grass-fed beef, both in terms of nutrient content and contamination.

The “Golden Beef” that Contains 3 to 5 Times More of This Cancer-Fighting Substance
Every person needs animal-based protein, and completely avoiding it has some health consequences. This article will tell you why, as well as show you healthful sources of animal protein – and they’re not organic meats!

Take 4.5 Grams of This Each Day to Prevent or Fight Asthma
Supplementing with CLA each day may prove to help asthmatics, rather than relying on inhalers and conventional treatments. Discover how and other natural ways to prevent asthma.

Is This the World’s Most Effortless Way to Slim Your Waistline?
Replacing factory-farmed, grain-fed meats with CLA-rich grass-fed meats and raw dairy products can lead to long-term weight management and good health.

Demonized Since the 1950s – Yet Still One of the Healthiest Foods Available
There is a great difference in the quality of raw milk obtained from organically-raised, grass-fed cows from the one obtained from conventionally-raised, grain-fed livestock.

The Ominous Beef Cover Up: The Hidden Truth Behind the Meat on Your Plate
While cows may be partly responsible for global warming, how they are raised is an important factor. This article will inform you why the method of farming is crucial in the quality and nutritional profile of meats.

This Vilified Daily Food Slashes Heart Attack Risk in Half…
This article covers information from the Weston A. Price Foundation that points out why butter is nutritionally superior than margarine, shortening, and spreads.

Appalling Video of Factory Farmed Cows
Not only are factory farms mass producing contaminated meats, but these confined animal feeding operations are also treating American dairy cows inhumanely. Unfortunately, these confined farms actually dominate the dairy production in the United States today.

Manmade Problem Turned Deadlier than AIDS – Is There Still Time to Correct Course?
Agricultural antibiotic has led to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and are affecting the quality of meats.

Avoid These 7 Foods and You’re Off to a Healthier New Year
Aside from learning about the foods you need to avoid, discover why grass-fed meat is the kind of meat you should be eating.

Growing Meat Without Animals … Would You Eat It?
Scientists are looking into growing lab meats, believing that these could eliminate contamination and environmental concerns that come with industrial livestock farming. However, there are many other options that promote healthful food sources, reduce environmental impact and promote humane treatment of livestock.

Ethical Meat and Unethical Hype – A Look at ‘All  Natural,’ ‘Grass-Fed’ and Other Half-Truths
Learn what “all-natural,” “grass-fed,” “free-range,” “organic,” and other terms often found on meat labels, and what products you should pick.

9 Hidden Toxins Lurking in Your Food
Groceries are often loaded with unhealthful and chemical-laden foods, like processed meats, canned foods, soda and artificial sweeteners, and other food products produced unnaturally. Learn about how you can reduce your toxic load and which foods are best to consume.

Two Dietary Oils, Two Sets of Benefits
A study compared two common dietary oil supplements, safflower oil and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). While both are composed primarily of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), CLA had more benefits, including its anti-cancer properties.

At Last, New Rules Set for Grass-Fed Meat
Grass-fed meat is clearly superior to grain-fed meats not only because of the way it is raised, but also of its CLA content.

The Growing Demand for Grass-Fed Beef in America
An increasing number of Americans are beginning to turn to grass-fed meat because of the health benefits associated to this type of meat.

The Beef Between Grass-Fed and Grain-Fed Cattle
Humans are designed to eat certain types of food for them to obtain optimal health. This is the same for cows too. Having them consume corn and grains are not a part of their natural diet.


What is a CAFO? | U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The EPA provides information on what animal feeding operations (AFOs) and confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are, and offers additional references on the topic.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The CDC provides some online resources that will help you understand how AFOs and CAFOs operate, as well as potential problems related to these operations.


CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories
CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories provides an insider look into the modern food production in the United States, and how this contributes to declining health and environmental turmoil.

Advances in Conjugated Linoleic Acid Research
By: Jean L. Sebedio, William W. Christie, R.O. Adlof
Advances in Conjugated Linoleic Acid Research is a book dedicated to the findings on conjugated fatty acids.


Added 04/29/2013

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French, P., E.G. O’Riordan, F.J. Monahan, P.F. Caffrey, and A.P. Moloney. Fatty acid composition of intra-muscular triacylglycerols of steers fed autumn grass and concentrates. Livestock Production Science. 2003. 81:307-317

Gaullier JM, Halse J, Høye K, Kristiansen K, Fagertun H, Vik H, Gudmundsen O. Conjugated linoleic acid supplementation for 1 y reduces body fat mass in healthy overweight humans. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004 Jun;79(6):1118-25.

Hubbard NE, Lim D, Erickson KL. Effect of separate conjugated linoleic acid isomers on murine mammary tumorigenesis. Cancer Letters. 2003 Feb 10;190(1):13-9.

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