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MoonDragon's Health & Wellness
Nutrition Basics

Amino Acids


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  • CLA Description
  • CLA Uses, Health Benefits & Scientific Evidence
  • CLA Dosage Information
  • CLA Safety, Cautions & Interactions
  • CLA Supplement Products



    Conjugated Linoleic Acid is a derivative of linoleic acid, which is an essential fatty acid. Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA) are a family of at least 28 isomers of linoleic acid found mostly in the meat and dairy products derived from ruminants. CLAs can be either cis- or trans-fats and the double bonds of CLAs are conjugated and separated by a single bond between them. Dr. Michael W. Pariza at the University of Wisconsin first discovered Conjugated Linoleic Acid, also called CLA, in 1978. Dr. Pariza was studying a piece of grilled beef that contained anti-mutagen properties when he stumbled across this CLA compound. He did not identify the compound CLA until 1987.


    In 1979, researchers from the University of Wisconsin applied a beef extract to mice skin. The mice were then exposed to a strong carcinogen. When the researchers counted the number of tumors developed by the mice 16 weeks later, they found to their surprise that the mice exposed to the beef extract had 20% fewer tumors. The identity of this anticarcinogen was not discovered until almost a decade later, in 1987. Michael Pariza, the scientist who discovered CLA, later remarked that "few anticarcinogens, and certainly no other known fatty acids, are as effective as CLA in inhibiting carcinogenesis in these models." Although CLA is known for its anticancer properties, researchers have also found that the cis-9, trans-11 form of CLA can reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and help fight inflammation.

    The Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory (NIMML) demonstrated that oral CLA treatment prevents or ameliorates inflammatory bowel disease by activating the nuclear receptor peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPAR gamma). In 2012, NIMML conducted a human clinical trial administering 6 grams/day of a CLA supplement to Crohn's disease patients and reported a remarkable improvement in Crohn's disease activity index and quality of life measures. These clinical improvements paralleled modulation of T cell responses in blood subjects that received CLA supplement.

    CLA is also known for its body weight management properties, which include reducing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass. Over 30 clinical studies have been published investigating the effect of CLA on weight management. The trials have quite variable designs, which leads to inconsistency. However a meta-analysis conducted in 2007 concluded CLA has a small impact on fat mass.

    The United States Food and Drug Administration categorizes CLA as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status for certain food categories, including fluid milk, yogurt, meal replacement shakes, nutritional bars, fruit juices and soy milk. With GRAS status, food companies are able to add CLA to products in these food categories.


    Most studies of CLAs have used a mixture of isomers wherein the isomers c9,t11-CLA and t10,c12-CLA were the most abundant. More recent studies using individual isomers indicate that the two isomers have very different health effects.

    Conjugated Linoleic Acid is both a trans fatty acid and a cis fatty acid. The cis bond causes a lower melting point and ostensibly also the observed beneficial health effects. Unlike other trans fatty acids, it may have beneficial effects on human health. CLA is conjugated, and in the United States, trans linkages in a conjugated system are not counted as trans fats for the purposes of nutritional regulations and labeling. CLA and some trans isomers of oleic acid are produced by microorganisms in the rumens of ruminants. Non-ruminants, including humans, produce certain isomers of CLA from trans isomers of oleic acid, such as vaccenic acid, which is converted to CLA by delta-9-desaturase.


    Early studies has shown CLA Conjugated Linoleic Acid to be a potent cancer fighter. During animal studies, small amounts of CLA blocked all three stages of cancer, initiation, promotion, and metastasis. Other anti-cancer agents only block one of these stages. CLA Conjugated Linoleic Acid is also used as part of a weight management program to help reduce fat and maintain muscle mass. CLA has also been shown to retard the growth of many types of tumors, including cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, and skin. Tests in humans are still in the beginning stages but are showing the same benefits. Conjugated Linoleic Acid can also be used as part of a weight management program to help reduce fat and maintain muscle mass. CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) derived from safflower oil, while Tonalin CLA offers the highest potency of CLA available. In 2006 there was a study presented at Digestive Disease Week that showed CLA supplements induce a change in body fat distribution, with the greatest fat reductions occurring in the abdomen and legs. Meanwhile, body weight and body mass index are essentially unaffected. The study stated that the changes that were found were independent of diet and exercise. A Dr. Einerhand stated that, “fat mass decreases and muscle mass increases.

    Reuters Health of New York reported in Nov of 06 that high intakes of high fat dairy foods and CLA might reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. This news came from a report in the October American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. "High-fat dairy, and not only low-fat dairy, may be beneficial," Dr. Susanna C. Larsson from Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden told Reuters Health. The cancer risk reduction was most pronounced for the incidence of cancer in the distal colon. Intake of CLA was also related to colorectal cancer risk, the investigators observed, with the highest consumption of CLA produced a 29-percent risk reduction.


    Anticancer properties have been attributed to CLA, and studies on mice and rats show encouraging results in hindering the growth of tumors in mammary (except Her2 breast cancer), skin, and colon tissues. It has been reported that CLA can up-regulate the tumor suppressor gene PTPRG, and may have anticancer properties.

    A European team led by the Swiss scientist Lukas Rist has found that mothers consuming mostly organic milk and meat products have about 50% higher levels of rumenic acid in their breast milk.

    According to studies that targeted the effects of conjugated linoleic acid on the belly firmness and fatty acid composition of genetically lean pigs, the supplemental CLA usage had a positive effect on the improvement of belly firmness and may provide a nutritional solution to carcass fat and belly firmness problems.

    The most promising science around CLA concerns its effect on weight management. Thirty-five intervention studies have been conducted using CLA in humans to investigate the effects of CLA on weight management. These studies, which vary widely in CLA dose and duration, show the most significant effect of CLA on weight management is on body composition, a reduction in total body fat and an increase in lean body mass. The effect of CLA on fat mass is modest and at the recommended dosage of 3.2 grams per day produces a statistically significant 90 grams fat loss per week (about 1 pound in 5 weeks) as shown by a 2007 meta-analysis. Doses higher than the recommended 3.2 grams do not seem to have any additional effects on body fat reduction. Another meta-analysis found that CLA supplementation produces about 1-percent increased growth in targeted lean body mass per week with the simultaneous decrease in fat mass coupled with increases in lean body mass, often the net change in weight is small. However, the effects of CLA on body composition is a healthy effect, since the degree of fat mass is related to many causes of mortality and lean body mass burns more calories than fat mass, which may help to increase resting metabolic rates. CLA use itself is not an answer to the prevalence of obesity, but it can be a useful tool in addition to a healthy lifestyle and exercise program to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

    Some studies have found no significant effects of CLA supplementation on fat mass loss. CLA has also been used in combination with other ingredients which may skew results.


    There are concerns that the use of CLA supplements by extremely overweight people may tend to cause or to aggravate insulin resistance, which may increase their risk of developing diabetes. Commercially available supplements contain equal mixtures of two CLA isomers: the cis-9, trans-11 isomer (also known as rumenic acid, the predominant CLA isomer in milk and beef), as well as the trans-10, cis-12 (t10c12) isomer. All other isomers ratios found in the scientific literature are not commercially available. The trans-10, cis-12 isomer is linked to many adverse side effects. Research indicates that supplementation with t10c12 CLA dramatically increases rates of oxidative stress, to levels considerably higher than that observed in heavy smokers.[

    However, the evidence is controversial, and some studies using a mixture of c9t11 and t10c12 CLA showed no changes in insulin sensitivity. A study in 2007 used the euglycemic hyperinsulinemic clamp method, which is the gold standard, to evaluate insulin resistance. The study performed on 49 obese or overweight individuals taking 3.2 grams CLA per day for six months found no adverse effects on blood glucose management. In addition, the long-term studies of one and two years have found CLA supplementation to be well tolerated, but there was an increase in some markers associated with inflammation and cardiovascular disease risk, and two of 134 subjects had increased levels of transaminases. In one study, t10c12 CLA produced a 32-percent increase in biliary cholesterol concentration, which increases the chance of gallstone formation. In 2006, a study by the US Department of Agriculture suggested CLA can induce essential fatty acid redistribution in mice. Changes in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA) levels were observed in some organs. For instance, the t10,c12 CLA reduced the DHA content of heart tissue by 25-percent, while in the spleen, DHA content rose, and AA fell. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid important to cardiovascular health, and the dramatic reduction of DHA in heart tissue can have serious health consequences. In contrast, c9,t11 CLA did not alter DHA content in the heart, but did reduce spleen DHA slightly. A study of CLA supplementation (equal amounts of c9,t11 and t10,c12) in hatchling chicks showed high mortality and low hatchability rates among CLA-supplemented groups, and also a decrease in brain DHA levels of CLA-treated chicks. These studies raise the question of whether CLA may increase the risk of cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, but whether such changes occur in humans and are clinically relevant have yet to be established.

    The general consensus is that the use of this supplement should be carefully examined if the person using the supplement is greatly overweight.

    A CLA supplement containing the t10,c12 isomer may be deleterious to women whose breast epithelium or tumor overexpresses Her2/ErbB2, as well, potentially, to other women at risk for breast cancer.


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    11. II International Congress on CLA from Experimental Models to Human Application
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    29. Lukas Rist, Andre Mueller, Christiane Barthel, Bianca Snijders, Margje Jansen, A. Paula Simoes-Wust, Machteld Huber, Ischa Kummeling, Ursula von Mandach, Hans Steinhart, and Carel Thijs. (June 2007). "Influence of organic diet on the amount of conjugated linoleic acids in breast milk". British Journal of Nutrition.
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    Information Obtained From:



    In using a CLA supplement, it is important to read and follow product label directions. CLA supplements are available in tablets, capsules, softgels, and powder forms.

    Conjugated Linoleic Acid is found in meat and dairy products of grass-fed animals. Kangaroo meat may have the highest concentration of CLA. Food products from grass-fed ruminants (e.g. mutton and beef) are good sources of CLA, and contain much more of it than those from grain-fed animals. In fact, meat and dairy products from grass-fed animals can produce 300 to 500-percent more CLA than those of cattle fed the usual diet of 50-percent hay and silage, and 50-percent grain. Eggs are also rich in CLA, and CLA in eggs has been shown to survive the temperatures encountered during frying. Some mushrooms, such as Agaricus bisporus and Agaricus subrufescens, are rare nonanimal sources of CLA.

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    Some studies have shown that taking a synthetic version of CLA can have potentially serious side effects such as insulin resistance, raised glucose levels, and a reduction of HDL, or "good" cholesterol.

    Safety of using CLA in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease is not known.


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    Human clinical studies have shown that CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) plays a vital role in supporting the reduction of body fat and supporting lean body mass. As always, for best results include a healthy diet and exercise program.


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  • MoonDragon's Nutrition Basics Index
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