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Do CLA Supplements Work For Weight Loss?

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: April 23, 2021

A regular gym-goer is familiar with supplements that help them bulk up and increase strength. But, when it comes to supplements for leaning and boosting the metabolism, there's a lot of confusion.

While there isn’t one ideal supplement that'll help you magically lose weight, you can give your losing weight effort a helping hand.

Due to its recent increase in popularity, I've studied all things CLA, and here's my answer if it works.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid - What It Is And Does It Work?

Close up photo of CLA label

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a fatty acid that occurs naturally in meat and dairy products.

Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid, which our body needs for good health.

Because our bodies can’t make linoleic acid on their own, we need to get them from the food we eat.

Conjugated refers to the bond between molecules. Some researchers believe that animal’s diet, breed, and age affect how many CLAs are in the food we eat.

There are different kinds of conjugated linoleic acid:

  • C9, t11 — Most commonly found in food.
  • C12 t10 — Most commonly found in CLA supplements and associated with weight loss.

If we can get CLAs from food sources, why do we need CLA supplementation?

Because CLA supplements have a larger amount of conjugated linoleic acid than what’s found in food.

Note: Both of these have trans fats. While trans fats found in nature are good for you, the ones in artificial products can lead to heart disease. Because it’s not in the manufacturer’s business interest to disclose this, don’t trust the ads, but research product development.

CLA supplements first became popular about 20 years ago, as media websites hailed it as a weight-loss miracle drug after positive results in animal studies.

Since that time, the effects of these Omega 6 fatty acids have been studied not only on animals but also on humans.

“The mechanism(s) by which CLAs decreases body fat mass and increases lean muscle mass is not completely understood. CLA is known to accumulate in tissues of animals and humans where it is readily metabolized.”

 

- Jean-Michel Gaullier, Ph.D., with the Scandinavian Clinical Research Group

Studies on CLA

Supplements with a note on its side

Claim 1: CLA Supplements Lead To Weight Loss

A study was done on obese men, who were treated with 3.4 g/day of CLAs or a placebo, short-term.

The results found increased insulin resistance and glycemia and reduced HDL cholesterol, but there weren’t any significant weight loss results and body fat changes between the groups. (1)

Another study was done on obese women, who were given a higher dosage of CLA — 6.4g for 36 weeks. The study concluded that CLA lowers the body mass index and reduces body fat loss in women. (2)

Claim 2: CLA Supplements Boost Metabolism

Another claim is that CLA supplement boosts metabolism by increasing the rate at which the body burns calories and fat.

A trial was done on 23 obese but otherwise healthy people. They were given a 3.2g CLA supplement.

The study concluded that the people who took the CLA had a higher fat loss, burned more energy while sleeping, and retained muscle mass compared to the placebo group. (3)

One more study was done on 44 healthy subjects, who gave their consent and agreed to use either 3.76g CLA or a placebo for 14 weeks.

The results showed that CLA increased energy burning and fat burning, which resulted in lowered body weight, and changes in adipose tissue.

Both studies concluded that the effects of CLA on metabolism are beneficial for weight loss, as the metabolism is modestly increased and energy stores are used more efficiently. (4)

Claim 3: CLA Supplements Decrease Fat Stores and Body Fat

Because weight loss doesn’t have to mean fat loss but can be muscle breakdown, or fluid reduction, a trial tested 180 volunteers who were given a 4.5g CLA fat loss supplement for a year.

It was concluded that the group taking CLA lost 9% — 5.5. pounds in a year — more body fat than the placebo group. (5)

One more long-term study tested the two-year supplementation impact of taking 3.4 CLA on 157 volunteers.

The research included data use and health information from the above year-long trial and concluded that subjects who had weight loss were able to keep it off for the second year and averaged 6 pounds of lost body fat. (6)

These studies concluded that there are modest health benefits for a weight loss program and body fat mass when using CLA supplements.

More importantly, both studies agreed that taking a CLA supplement helps keep off the fat in the following years.

Pros and Cons of CLA

I’ve established that studies found moderate success of conjugated linoleic acid supplementation on weight loss and fat body composition.

Other moderate positive CLA health effects include:

However, there are also cons to using CLAs:

Pros
  • Good for the common cold
  • Helps with allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
  • Helps treat asthma
Cons
  • Can lead to an increase in body inflammation
  • Can store fat in the liver, which leads to diabetes
  • Can slow blood clotting
  • Decrease in HDL cholesterol

FAQs

Green supplements coming out from a bottle

How many CLAs should I take?

You should take a minimum of 3g per day for fat loss and other health benefits. This is also the dose most commonly used in research.

Don’t start with a dose higher than this, but you can start slow and work your way up to a higher dose.

Does CLA have side effects?

Yes, CLA can have side effects, such as nausea, fatigue, or headache. To avoid these, start with a small dose, or take CLA through food and not supplements.

What foods are rich in CLAs?

Foods that are rich in CLAs are:

  • Butter
  • Yogurt
  • Sour cream
  • Cheese — mozzarella and cottage
  • Beef
  • Lamb

Should You Try CLA?

CLAs are beneficial in giving your metabolism a boost, and there's a chance they will help you lose weight, but there's also a chance you won't notice a difference at all.

Whatever you decide, don't disregard the importance of a healthy balanced diet and workouts.

Also, don’t believe the ads you see, but check the supplement profile menu and read about the privacy terms to ensure the content is healthy and good for your diet.

Let me know in the comments below your decision and experience with CLAs.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12196420/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19535429/
  3. https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.993.2146&rep=rep1&type=pdf
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17298695/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15159244/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15795434/

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