CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid): Benefits, Uses & Review

cla supplement

CLA Introduction

One of the truly healthier versions of omega-6 fatty acid is conjugated linoleic acid, a very close derivative of linoleic acid. The only difference between that two is the unique arrangement of its double bonds and placement of its constituent fatty acids. CLA is described as being both a cis- and a trans- fatty acid with the differences occurring at the 12th and 10th bond in the fatty acid chain. Many health experts believe that the cis- bond is what gives CLA its many health benefits. To date, CLA is primarily indicated for its known use in the management of obesity, hypercholesterolemia, certain cancers, and diabetes.

Oil Sources

Conjugated linoleic acid is found in food products that come from grass-fed ruminants such as cows, sheep, and goat. This is not to say that grain-fed cattle and other livestock do not contain CLA. They still do. However, studies show that animals that have been fed with grass have 300 to 500 percent more CLA values than those animals which were fed on different products such as grain, hay, and silage. Chicken that have been fed with CLA-fortified feeds have been shown to produce eggs that are also naturally rich in conjugated linoleic acids.

Health Properties

Compared to the natural linoleic acid which requires careful balancing in the diet to achieve the kind of health benefit one would expect, conjugated linoleic acid is pure and simple a miracle essential oil, to say the least. In fact, it has been one of the most well-studied lean body mass-promoting and fat body mass-reducing substances in the planet today. Its many benefits are derived from the following health properties.

Antiatherogenic – may help in the prevention of the formation and development of atherosclerotic plaques or lesions by lowering total cholesterol and LDL in order to prevent coronary events and myocardial infarction

Anticarcinogenic – helps in the inhibition of cancer cell proliferation and the activity of immune markers and other procarcinogenic substances and process to help prevent the development or deterioration of malignant melanomas, breast cancer, or colorectal cancer

Antidiabetic – help sensitizes certain insulin receptors to improve insulin sensitivity among individuals with type II diabetes mellitus

Antihyperlipidemic – decreases overall circulating cholesterol and low density lipoproteins, including triglycerides to help lower the risk of developing atherosclerotic plaques and lesions

Cardioprotective – its cholesterol and lipid lowering effects can help prevent fatal cardiovascular events such as fatal myocardial infarction and heart failure

Immunoprotective – enhances the protective functions of the immune system by enhancing cellular immune markers which can pay an important role in the prevention of certain cancers

Lipolytic – increases the rate of destruction of adipocytes as well as the faster oxidation of fat cells to produce leaner body mass and an overall reduction in fat body mass

Health Benefits

The different health properties of CLA allow it to provide a host of benefits in the areas of cancer and coronary events prevention, diabetes control and management, and obesity management.

Prevents the development and/or proliferation of cancer – Studies have shown that CLA can have a variety of beneficial effects on cancer cells either through direct alteration of cancer cells themselves or the changing of the different physiologic processes that affect cancer cell development. Either way, animal studies have shown great promise in the management of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and malignant melanomas.

Helps protect the heart – The antihyperlipidemic and antihypercholesterolemic effects of CLA make it a very useful essential oil in the continuing fight against heart disease. By lowering LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and total cholesterol, the risk of developing coronary events secondary to atherosclerosis is also reduced significantly. Furthermore, CLA’s action on increasing lean muscle mass and decreasing overall fat body mass by speeding up the rate of fat oxidation, can help lessen the impact of obesity on the cardiovascular system.

Provide more reliable control of diabetes – While CLA may only stimulate a particular insulin receptor, studies show that this is often enough to elicit a favorable response in terms of insulin sensitivity and increased glucose tolerance.

Excellent way to lose fat and build lean mass – One of the most important health benefits of CLA today is its ability to increase the rate of lipolysis – the breakdown of fat. This helps in achieving a leaner body mass as well as a healthier weight profile.


One of the most promising and most often sought benefit of CLAs is its antiobesity and weight reduction effects. In a 1997 study at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, researchers found out that CLA can effectively reduce the rate of fat deposition in tissues while at the same time increasing the rate of destruction of adipocytes in a process known as lipolysis. Additionally, the same study posited that the lipolytic action of conjugated linoleic acids is enhanced many times over by the raid oxidation of fatty acids found in both adipocytes and muscle cells. The overall result is a leaner body mass. Animal studies show that CLA can reduce total body fat by as much as 60 percent and increase lean body mass by as much as 14 percent. While these results were obtained from murine studies, it nevertheless highlights the fat-oxidizing effects of CLAs.

In 2000, Blankson and her colleagues at the Scandinavian Clinical Research AS in Norway studied the effects of CLA on the reduction of body fat mass in human subjects, particularly those who were either overweight or obese. The study showed body fat mass can be effectively reduced with a daily dose of CLA not larger than 3.4 grams for 12 weeks. While the effects on body fat mass closely resembled those of animal studies, it did not show the same effects on lean body mass, serum lipids, and body mass index. Nevertheless, the point is quite clear that CLA can be a very effective dietary supplement for weight loss and fat loss.

Conjugated linoleic acids have also been proven to reduce the risk of coronary events by reducing the risk of developing atherosclerosis. Studies show that CLA, when included in the diet, can lead to significantly lower levels of low density lipoproteins (LDL-cholesterol), triglycerides, and total serum cholesterol. The ratio between LDL and HDL was also reduced. More importantly, studies confirm that CLA-fed subjects showed lesser lesions of atherosclerotic nature in the major arteries especially the aorta.

Several studies now show that CLA can have an anticarcinogenic potential. In a few animal studies, it has been shown that conjugated linoleic acids can help inhibit the growth and proliferation of cancer cells such as those found in breast cancer, malignant melanoma, and colorectal cancer. In rat studies, CLA was shown to decrease the overall size of the terminal end bud of breast cancer cells by as much as 30 percent while at the same time suppressing the proliferation of these cancerous cells also by 30 percent. The same study revealed that CLA man inhibit the mammary tumor yield by as much as 53 percent. While these are from murine studies, the implications to human cancer therapy is nonetheless, profound. There have been a few hypotheses on how CLA can help fight cancer. These can include the induction of cellular apoptosis, reduction or inhibition of cancer cell proliferation, modulation of immunity markers, alteration of cancer cell cycle components, and modulation of eicosanoid formation.

Diabetic individuals often have faulty insulin regulation mechanisms, the most important of which is decreased insulin sensitivity. In such cases, the individual may have adequate circulating insulin but the receptors are simply not working to help move glucose molecules inside the cells. Studies now show that conjugated linoleic acids may help increase the sensitivity of insulin to make it more effective and efficient in glucose metabolism. The 1998 study of Houseknecht and her colleagues posited that CLA can activate the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor to increase insulin sensitivity and normalize grossly impaired or faulty glucose tolerance. The study revealed that CLA can be a very important dietary component in the management, treatment, and prevention of non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus or type II diabetes.


Conjugated linoleic acids have been primarily used in the enhancement of weight loss efforts although some are still skeptical about its true potential in the management of obesity. Nevertheless, the following are the uses of CLA today.

Management of obesity – Its lipolytic property can enhance fat burning processes to help achieve weight loss by increasing the rate of oxidation of body fat. The more you burn, the greater the weight loss. Additionally, there have been studies reporting CLA to have an effect on the satiety center which can suppress hunger.

Adjunct to control of blood pressure – When used in combination with ramipril or any other angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, CLA has been shown to produce more dramatic reductions in blood pressure than using the antihypertensive alone.

Cancer prevention – While it is true that the anticancer benefits of CLA have been derived mostly from animal studies, its implications in human cancer formation and management is simply remarkable. Nevertheless, there have been anecdotal reports of individuals going through remissions for a significantly longer periods of time after taking CLA. Whether these are directly related to the anticarcinogenic potential of CLA or not, the decision is basically up to the consumer.

Prevention of heart disease – CLA may help in the prevention of heart disease because of its antihyperlipidemic profile and excellent lipolytic properties.

Nutritional Information

CLA is fundamentally a specialized type of linoleic acid.

Side Effects

CLA is generally considered safe. Among hypersensitive individuals, they may experience nausea, stomach upsets, and diarrhea.


1. Belury, M. A. (2002). Dietary conjugated linoleic acid in health: physiological effects and mechanisms of action. Annual Review of Nutrition. 22: 505-531.
2. Belury, M. A. (2002). Inhibition of carcinogenesis by conjugated linoleic acid: potential mechanism of action. The Journal of Nutrition. 132(10): 2995-2998.
3. Blankson, H., Stakkestad, J. A., Fagertun, H., Thom, E., Wadstein, J., and Gudmundsen, O. (2000). Conjugated linoleic acid reduces body fat mass in overweight and obese humans. The Journal of Nutrition. 130(12): 2943-2948.
4. Evans, M., Geigerman, C., Cook, J., Curtis, L., Buebler, B., and McIntosh, M. (2000). Conjugated linoleic acid suppresses triglyceride accumulation and induces apoptosis in 3T3-L1 preadipocytes. Lipids. 35(8): 899-910.
5. Houseknecht, K. L., Heuvel, J. P. V., Camarena, S. Y. M., Portocarrero, C. P., and Peck, L. W., et al (1998). Dietary conjugated linoleic acid normalizes impaired glucose tolerance in the Zucker diabetic fatty fa/fa rat. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. 244(3): 678-682.
6. Ip, C., Banni, S., Angioni, E., Carta, G., and McGinley, J., et al (1999). Conjugated linoleic acid-enriched butter fat alters mammary gland morphogenesis and reduces cancer risk in rats. The Journal of Nutrition. 129(12): 2135-2142.
7. Ip, C., Singh, M., Thompson, H. J., and Scimeca, J. A. (1994). Conjugated linoleic acid suppresses mammary carcinogenesis and proliferative activity of the mammary gland in the rat. Cancer Research. 54(5)
8. Lee, k. N., Kritchevsky, D., and Parizaa, M. W. (1994). Conjugated linoleic acid and atherosclerosis in rabbits. Atherosclerosis. 108(1): 19-25.
9. MacDonald, H. B. (2000). Conjugated linoleic acid and disease prevention: a review of current knowledge. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 19(S2): 111S-118S.
10. Nicolosi, R. J., Rogers, E. J., Kritchevsky, D., Scimeca, J. A., and Huth, P. J. (1997). Dietary conjugated linoleic acid reduces plasma lipoproteins and early aortic atherosclerosis in hypercholesterolemic hamsters. Artery. 22(5): 266-277.

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Claire Cross
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