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CLA: Will it Provide a Major Market for Sun Oil?

Friday, January 1, 1999
filed under: Utilization/Trade

"A growing body of data indicates that CLA is a newly recognized nutrient that functions to regulate energy retention and metabolism." - Dr. Michael Pariza, Director - Food Research Institute,University of Wisconsin

As the sunflower industry looks to NuSun™ hybrids and oil as the "cause of the future," a potential development for traditional linoleic sunflower could mean new demand for that oil as well in the domestic market. The key to this intriguing market possibility for linoleic

sunflower is the nutrient CLA.

"CLA" stands for "conjugated linoleic acid" - a fatty acid identified in the 1970s by Dr. Michael Pariza, researcher and director of the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It is a form of linoleic acid with a differing arrangement of bonds within the molecule - hence the "conjugation."

Pariza had been investigating carcino-genic effects in ground beef when he instead discovered a compound that retarded cancer-causing cell behavior. Further research indicated that CLA not only suppresses cancer cell development, but also helps prevent heart disease, boosts the immune system, builds lean muscles and diminishes body fat in animals.

Conjugated linoleic acid is a naturally occurring substance in the guts of ruminant or cud-chewing animals and is present in meat and dairy products. It also exists in human blood, tissues and breast milk. Researchers believe that humans today are consuming less CLA in their diets because of current trends toward less saturated fat and a corresponding lower intake of red meat and high-fat dairy products.

Conjugated linoleic acid can be produced synthetically from pure linoleic acid. While other vegetable oils may be used for this purpose, traditional sunflower oil - with its linoleic content of 68-69 percent - appears to be the best candidate. It is a simple process to alter the

molecular structure through heat and hydrolysis of the linoleic acid portion of the sunflower oil, thus resulting in the creation of CLA.

Additional research by Pariza and his colleagues showed CLA to be effective in reducing the incidence of tumors in laboratory rats. Research conducted by Dr. Ip at the Rosswell Park Cancer Institute in Rochester, N.Y., indicated suppression of cancer cells in human cell lines.

Work with hamsters and rabbits at Philadelphia's Wistar Institute found that adding CLA at one percent of dietary intake decreased LDL levels (the "bad" kind) of blood cholesterol and reduced athero-sclerosis. (Atherosclerosis is the thickening of and loss of elasticity in the inner walls of arteries, accompanied by the formation on nodules on those inner walls.) Researchers also noted the inhibition of weight loss under immune system stress.

Pariza suggested that his colleague, Dr. Mark Cook, investigate the effects of CLA on animal immune systems and meta-bolism. Cook's work confirmed a reduction in body fat, an increase in muscle and increased efficiency in feed ratios.

In a swine trial conducted by Dr. Cook, the results showed firm bellies and less backfat. Carcass analysis showed no negative effects of feeding CLA; in fact, animals fed CLA-enhanced diets seemed to better tolerate immune-system stress such as vaccinations. In speaking at the National Sunflower Association's annual research forum last January, Cook listed the following figures when discussing the potential market for CLA derived from sunflower oil:

o If CLA was used as a food ingredient for all market swine in this nation, it would require 700 million pounds of sunflower oil - which in turn translates into the production from roughly 1.16 million acres.

o If fed to sows, turkeys and poultry, demand for CLA could reach as high as 1.7 billion pounds of sunflower oil annually, thereby requiring 2.8 million acres of sunflower seed production.

To producers, this is an exciting new development representing potential new demand in the domestic market," says Larry Kleingartner, NSA's executive director. "If CLA is widely accepted, the demand could be significant.

"It's interesting to note that linoleic acid levels in sunflower tend to increase the further north it is produced," Kleingartner adds. "Theoretically, high-linoleic sunflower production in southern Canada, northern North Dakota and Minnesota could be contracted for the production of CLA."

Additional hog studies on CLA at various universities are attracting the attention of major pork packers. A recent article in the National Hog Farmer magazine compared research results from the University of Wisconsin, Iowa State, Kansas State, Purdue and the LaCombe Research

Centre in Alberta. The research confirmed the earlier findings of Drs. Pariza and Cook, i.e., that CLA-enhanced diets result in a carcass that has less body fat, firmer underbellies in pork and an enhanced weight gain-versus-feed ratio.

Other CLA studies have been funded by such major entities as Kraft Foods, the National Cattleman's Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council.

CLA patents have been issued through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Founda-tion to various companies for the purpose of commercial development and use. One company that holds several patents for CLA as an animal feed ingredient is located in west central Minnesota. (The

company presently prefers to not be identified.) Among its reasons for locating in that area is the proximity to feedlots and to the main sunflower production region.

A spokes-person for the Minnesota firm says it is moving ahead with the commercialization of a feed-grade fat. They expect to have product within two to four months. The company has been looking for a domestic source of product so that it can be ready for large-scale production.

Conjugated linoleic acid is readily available as a human food supplement, as evidenced by a quick Internet search or a visit to a major nutritional chain store. A September 1997 article in Health magazine reported that "CLA has nutritionists more excited than any fatty acid since fish oil."

The promise of potential loss of body fat and more muscle mass is appealing to consumers. Pilot human studies conducted in Norway indicated a 20-percent reduction in body fat.

CLA also is billed as a powerful antioxidant. Additionally, a former CLA researcher has reported the dairy industry is looking into the supplementation of feed rations with CLA-enhanced products.

Conjugated linoleic acid shows many possibilities for the improvement of food and feeds, as well as pharmaceutical uses. It also represents an exciting prospect for traditional (high-linoleic) sunflower oil. Should demand become significant, it could help firm not only consumers'

waist lines, but the bottom line of sunflower producers as well. - Ruth


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