CLA : A Few Things You May Not Know About Conjugated Linoleic Acid

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is one of the most misunderstood supplements on the market today. Not many people realise that CLA offers far more benefit to the body than just supporting fat loss! If you speak to any bodybuilder or fitness enthusiast worth their salt they will have heard of CLA and most will likely tell you about its fat loss capabilities. Many have tried CLA, and many have seen the benefit it can bring to your fat loss regimen, but few have fully appreciated the health and wellbeing benefits it can bring too.

How CLA may help to protect you

The potential protective nature of CLA has been the subject of several investigations, with the main focus being on its antioxidant properties. CLA was originally thought to protect the body against certain cancers and atherosclerosis, the thickening of the arteries that if left untreated, may lead to heart disease. CLA has antioxidant and pro-oxidant properties meaning it may both protect against cell damage and contribute to it…this may sound concerning to some people, but the risk of damage is slim and isn’t generally a problem in otherwise healthy individuals.

The balance between CLA’s antioxidant and pro-oxidant capacity is a complex function that appears to depend on a number of complex factors including LDL levels (bad cholesterol levels) and oxygen partial pressure. Basically, CLA is believed to have some antioxidant properties in otherwise fit and healthy individuals but the mechanisms are not fully understood and the health promoting role may be more heavily attributed to the part it has to play in burning fat. However it is believed that the antioxidant enzymes catalase and glutathione peroxidise are the main mediators in CLA’s protective function in the body.

CLA’s potential in battling the ‘Big C’

Cancer effects 1 in 3 of us, but mercifully science is developing at a rate that means one day we may defeat this life changing disease. CLA isn’t the final answer in cancer prevention, but it may have some protective properties in certain types of cancer. Akoh, (2008) explains how the consumption of CLA may help to reduce the amount of PhIP- or IQ induced tumors in the mammary glands (breast) and colon. The in’s and out’s of CLA and cancer prevention is extremely complex and beyond the scope of this article, but what is clear is that studies have been promising and continue to demonstrate anti-carcinogenic potential. More recent focus has been on the up-regulation of a tumor- suppressing gene known as protein tyrosinephosphatase, receptor type, G) PTPRG, but the exact mode of action is still not clear (Akoh, 2008).

CLA’s ability to burn fat

CLA is a prime example of a metabolism booster meaning it increases the amount of energy your body expends, as well as increasing insulin sensitivity meaning more fat can go from your blood stream and into your muscles, reducing the amount stored as adiposity (fat). An increased metabolic rate associated with CLA has been seen to improve lean mass to fat ratios resulting in reduced fat deposition, especially around your mid-section (Llewellyn, W, 2009).

How much CLA should I take?

The average diet in the UK delivers between 15-174mg of CLA a day, a good CLA supplement will provide around 1000mg (1g) per single serving with a recommendation of 3 servings a day (approx 3g). Llewellyn, (2009) suggests that an effective dosage is around 5- 6g per day, ideally with a variety of isomers for best results.

What’s with these isomers?

Researchers have realised that the effects of CLA is isomer dependant. Isomers are molecules that have the same molecular formula but varied chemical structures, meaning their function in the body is different. Consequently certain isomers can be beneficial to fat loss, as well as inhibitory (reduce their benefit), this is because certain isomers (t10 and c12- CLA) are responsible for increasing fat oxidation (fat burning) and increasing lean mass deposition, but at the same time increases insulin resistance which may hinder fat metabolism to energy. The two most abundant isomers in CLA are c9, t11-CLA and t10, c12-CLA, and interestingly the c9, t11-CLA isomer is actually thought to reduce insulin sensitivity, making it more favourable when trying to burn fat. Therefore theoretically a combination of these two isomers seem to illicit the best fat burning results.


Akoh, C, C., Min, D, B. (2008). Food Lipids: Chemistry, Nutrition, and Biotechnology. 3rd Ed. Biochemical and Physiological Actions. NW: CRC Press.

Llewellyn, W. (2009). Sport supplement reference guide. Conjugated Linoleic Acid. FL: Molecular Nutrition.

About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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