Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) for Improved Fat Loss and Health?

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) for Improved Fat Loss and Health?

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) for Improved Fat Loss and Health?

0 comments 📅11 August 2015, 07:58
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By Brad Dieter (Asgard Fit)

Pick up any popular health or fitness magazine, scour a nutrition forum, or read a nutrition textbook you are guaranteed to read that trans-fats are bad for you. All the research has shown that trans-fats promote visceral fat accumulation and increase inflammation. What if I told you that is not entirely true and that not all trans-fats are created equal?

Conjugate Linoleic Acid (CLA) is a specific type of naturally occurring trans-fat that is touted to reduce body fat in overweight individuals. While fat loss is the targeted market for CLA, there is evidence that CLA may also reduce inflammation, and beneficially modulate immune function.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) for Improved Fat Loss and Health?

About Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

CLA is a general term that refers to fatty acids that are similar to lineoleic acid (omega-6) CLA supplements exist in two common isoforms c9t11 (cis-9, trans-11) and t10c12 (trans-10, cis-12). While all isoforms of CLA have been researched in the literature, it appears that the t10c12 isoform appears to be the most bioactive isoform.

CLA and its isomers

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) and it’s isomers. (Source: / Bas M ; CC Licence)

CLA and Body Fat Reduction

CLA: Is it effective for fat loss?

Does CLA really help with fat los and body composition impovement?(Source: Flickr / bark ; CC Licence)

CLA is widely touted as a fat burner and fat suppressor. When it was initially released in the 1990’s CLA was marketed exclusively as a fat burner. Research over the past few decades has shown that CLA does indeed aid in fat-loss in overweight individuals without any negative side effects. The most notable of these results were found in young, obese men. Not all studies have shown CLA to be an effective “fat burner” [1]. In fact, the results really are a mixed bag. Cherry pick your studies and you can draw whatever conclusion you want (but don’t do that around me… I hate cherry pickers)

Some of the discrepancies in the research lie in the fact that other aspects of diets were not well controlled and the supplementation protocols were not the same (both in the type of CLA and amount).

However, a recent meta-analysis of 15 randomized controlled trials have shown that long-term supplementation results in a 1.33 kg greater fat loss when compared to placebo [2]. While this number is not staggering, it is still an improvement suggesting CLA supplementation may be beneficial for fat loss but the effect size is quite small and it may not actually be effective.

CLA improves body composition

Mean (±SE) changes in body composition after 7 month of treatment with 3 g/d of an 80% conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) 50:50 mixture of cis-9,trans-11 and trans-10,cis-12 isomers in triglyceride form compared with a sunflower-oil placebo (Source: Racine et al. (2010))

Despite the conflicting findings, there is mechanistic evidence tying CLA to increase fat oxidation via activation of Peroxisome Proliferator activated Receptor alpha (PPARa) [3]. There is also evidence that CLA may actually suppress the proliferation of adipocytes and inhibit adipogenesis through inhibition of PPARγ in fat cells [4]. To be completely honest the research is not entirely conclusive, regarding CLA and weight loss. However, when you look at all the research conducted to date CLA presents extremely interesting properties and may have many potential benefits with regards to fat metabolism. Hopefully, more carefully designed studies in the future will narrow down CLA’s precise effects and magnitude of those effects.

As a supplement CLA appears that it MAY have potential for fat loss. Is it as effective as something like ephedrine? No it is not. Is it a whole lot safer than ephedrine? You bet.

Effect of CLA on Inflammation

Effects of 10-trans,12 CLA on fatty acids & glucose metabolism and IL-6 gene expression in isolated fat cells in the petri dish (Source: / Hartwig. 2013)

Effects of 10-trans,12 CLA on fatty acids & glucose metabolism and IL-6 gene expression in isolated fat cells in the petri dish (Source: / Hartwig. 2013)

Inflammation is a hot topic in the research world. Some levels of acute inflammation are required for making gains, as it is integral in the tissue repair process. However, too much chronic causes health issues and actually prevents the healing process. Researchers are currently trying to figure out what is the optimal balance, but I think it is safe to say that making an effort to reduce chronic inflammation, especially in those with disease or extremely high training loads, is highly beneficial to both health and recovery/performance.

While CLA is usually considered a “fat-burning” supplement, perhaps the most interesting aspect of CLA is its ability to modulate inflammation and the immune system. While there is mixed results in the research regarding the exact effect of CLA supplementation on inflammation, one clear theme appears in the research.

Low doses of CLA supplementation have been shown to significantly reduce the ability of peripheral immune cells to produce pro-inflammatory cytokines [5]. What this means is that using low doses of CLA may help reduce chronic inflammation. This suggests that CLA supplement may benefit those athletes with nagging aches and pains may see some benefit from.

CLA May Improve Disease States

Butter from gras-fed stock is rich in CLA

Want to stock up on CLA naturally? Opt for grass-fed meat and dairy, including butter. (Source: Flickr / Nick Saltmarsh ; CC Licence)

Interestingly, CLA supplementation has also been used for therapy in diseased patients. Administration of low doses of CLA has been shown to decrease disease activity and increase the quality Chron’s disease and ulcerative colitis [6]. Interestingly, there is also animal evidence that reduced inflammation from CLA supplementation can prevent formation of colon tumors. While this research is specific to a disease, it provides evidence that CLA may indeed have some anti-inflammatory properties. Even the folks over at have acknowledge that CLA may be beneficial for symptom relief to inflammatory bowel disease.

The research surrounding CLA and inflammation is nascent, but it appears that CLA may be beneficial to individuals who suffer from any number of inflammatory bowel diseases.

The Wrap Up

CLA has interesting properties for inflammation and for people who are sick with inflammatory disease. As a fat burner, it may have a very modest effect but probably won’t make a substantial difference. You should probably spend your time and money focusing on other, more effective ways of losing fat.

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Picture sources: Flickr / Butz.2013 ; CC Licence

About the Author – Brad Dieter

Asgard Fit Brad DieterBrad Dieter owns Asgard Fit, a nutrition coaching and consulting company. His PhD training brings a level of scientific rigor to the nutrition industry while his practical experience gives him insight into what works in the real world. Visit to get a guide to the science and practical application of supplements.



References (Click to Expand)

[1] Kennedy, A., et al. (2009): Antiobesity mechanisms of action of conjugated linoleic acid. In: J Nutr Biol. URL:

[2] Evans, NP., et al. (2010): Conjugated linoleic acid ameliorates inflammation-induced colorectal cancer in mice through activation of PPARgamma.. In: J Nutr. URL:

[3] Racine, NM., et al. (2010): Effect of conjugated linoleic acid on body fat accretion in overweight or obese children. In: Am J Clin Nutr. URL:

[4] Joseph, SV., et al. (2011): Conjugated linoleic acid supplementation for 8 weeks does not affect body composition, lipid profile, or safety biomarkers in overweight, hyperlipidemic men. In: J Nutr. URL:

[5] Obsen, T., et al. (2012): Trans-10, cis-12 conjugated linoleic acid decreases de novo lipid synthesis in human adipocytes. In: J Nutr Biochem. URL:

[6] Venkatramanan, S., et al. (2010): Milk enriched with conjugated linoleic acid fails to alter blood lipids or body composition in moderately overweight, borderline hyperlipidemic individuals. In: J Am Coll Nutr. URL:

[7] Obsen, T., et al. (2012): Trans-10, cis-12 conjugated linoleic acid decreases de novo lipid synthesis in human adipocytes. In: J Nutr Biochem. URL:

[8] Smit, LA. / Baylin, A. / Campos, H. (2010): Conjugated linoleic acid in adipose tissue and risk of myocardial infarction. In: Am J Clin Nutr. URL:

[9] Laso, N., et al. (2007): Effects of milk supplementation with conjugated linoleic acid (isomers cis-9, trans-11 and trans-10, cis-12) on body composition and metabolic syndrome components. In: Br J Nutr. URL:

[10] Larsen, TM., et al. (2006): Conjugated linoleic acid supplementation for 1 y does not prevent weight or body fat regain. In: Am J Clin Nutr. URL:

[11] Brown, JM., et al. (2003): Isomer-specific regulation of metabolism and PPARγ signaling by CLA in human preadipocytes. In: J Lipid Res. URL:

[12] Brown, JM., et al .(2004): Conjugated linoleic acid induces human adipocyte delipidation: autocrine/paracrine regulation of MEK/ERK signaling by adipocytokines. In: J Biol Chem. URL:

[13] Onakpoya, IJ., et al. (2012): The efficacy of long-term conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) supplementation on body composition in overweight and obese individuals: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. In: Eur J Nutr. URL:

[14] Kennedy, A., et al. (2010): Antiobesity mechanisms of action of conjugated linoleic acid. In: J Nutr Biochem. URL:


Search terms for this article: CLA, Conjugated Linoleic Acid, CLA weight loss, CLA fat burner, CLA fat burning, CLA fat los, CLA cutting, CLA overview, CLA review.

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