What is CLA?

CLA articleConjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a specific form of linoleic acid.  It is found in a variety of meat and dairy products coming from animals such as cattle and sheep.  CLA can also be found in some species of mushrooms.  While CLA is sometimes marketed as an anti-cancer supplement, there is no substantial evidence to back this claim.  There are also been claims that CLA increases muscle mass and metabolic rate, but no studies have proven these claims.

However, human studies exist showing conjugated linoleic acid likely plays a role in decreasing adipose tissue mass. A 2016 study followed 74 overweight and obese women for 12 weeks with one group receiving 3g/d of CLA and the other group received a placebo.  Although the results show no weight loss benefit for conjugated linoleic acid, the group receiving it did show a significant reduction in hip circumference.

An additional 2016 study in the Croatian medical journal investigated the affects of CLA supplementation in a group of patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).  In this study, the group receiving CLA showed improved insulin resistance and liver function.  This is exciting for patients with NAFLD.  It also shows that conjugated linoleic acid possesses a range of uses.


How does it work?

CLA How articleAlthough many theories exist about how conjugated linoleic acid works, the exact mechanism is not known.  Interference with lipid metabolism, the inflammatory process, or influencing regular fat to take on properties of brown fat are a few possibilities.

Brown fat is also not well understood, but it is known to contain a plethora of mitochondria, utilize energy, and provide heat.  This is in contrast to regular (white) fat, which stores energy.  Therefore, an increase in brown fat is expected to lead to increased energy expenditure, which may assist in weight loss.


Should You Take CLA?

Many anecdotal accounts attest that conjugated linoleic acid helps with weight loss.  It is likely that conjugated linoleic acid helps to reduce fat mass, although there is no proof it helps with weight loss. Depending on your goal, the cosmetic benefit of CLA may be worth the cost.

Research on CLA is in its infancy, and no definite harm from taking it has been shown.  However, there are studies showing an increase in inflammation after conjugated linoleic acid supplementation.  The long term implications of this are unknown.  Always consult your healthcare provider before beginning any medication or supplement.

A recurring theme in the vitamin and supplement world is a lack of evidence to support marketing claims.  While many substances seem harmless, research is lacking and they may have no benefit.  It is important to be aware of this when purchasing these products, because many of them are expensive and may yield little or no benefit.  Fortunately, the research on them continues to grow.  Hopefully this research continues to unveil new and exciting uses for items that are currently not well understood.

Looking for a CLA supplement?  Check out the links to a few below:


Ebrahimi-Mameghani M, Jamali H, Mahdavi R, Kakaei F, Abedi R, Kabir-Mamdooh B. Conjugated linoleic acid improves glycemic response, lipid profile, and oxidative stress in obese patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Croatian Medical Journal. 2016;57(4):331-341. doi:10.3325/cmj.2016.57.331.

Madry E, Chudzicka-Strugata I, Grabanska-Martynska K, Malikowska K. Twelve weeks CLA supplementation decreases the hip circumference in overweight and obese women. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. 2016;15(1):107-113.

Shen W, McIntosh M. Nutrient regulation: Conjugated linoleic acid’s inflammatory and browning properties in adipose tissue. 2016(36):183-210.

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