Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a mixture of different isomers, or chemical forms, of linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid—a type of fat that your body needs for optimum health.

Based on preliminary evidence, CLA has been promoted as a "fat-burning" supplement and as a treatment for diabetes. However, there is little evidence that it works and growing evidence that CLA might actually worsen blood sugar control in people who are overweight.



Although linoleic acid itself is an important nutritional source of essential fatty acids, there is no evidence that you need to get conjugated linoleic acid in your diet. CLA does occur in food, but it would be very difficult to get the recommended dose that way. Supplements are the only practical source.

Therapeutic Dosages

The typical dosage of CLA ranges from 3 to 5 g daily. As with all supplements taken at this high a dosage, it is important to purchase a reputable brand, as even very small amounts of a toxic contaminant could quickly add up.

Therapeutic Uses

While CLA is often recommended for aiding weight loss or improving body composition (ratio of muscle to fat), evidence from studies is conflicting. 1-4,8-10,15-19,24-26,30,32,35,36]]> One meta-analysis (systematic statistical review) of all the data found minimal benefits at most. ]]>27]]> Another meta-analysis concluded that, when taken at a dose of 3.2 grams per day, CLA slightly reduces body fat levels. ]]>33]]> Finally, in one study, a combination of CLA and ]]>chromium]]> failed to improve body composition. ]]>34]]>

Note : Some, but not all studies have raised concerns that use of CLA by overweight people could raise insulin resistance and therefore increase risk of diabetes. In addition, it might increase cardiovascular risk in other ways, as described in the ]]>Safety Issues]]> .

One study failed to find that CLA-enriched milk is helpful for ]]>metabolic syndrome]]> , a condition associated with increased risk of heart disease. ]]>35]]>

A 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 40 subjects tested CLA as a treatment for people with allergies to birch pollen (a common cause of ]]>hay fever]]> ), and found some evidence of benefit. ]]>37]]>

A small double-blind trial found weak evidence that CLA might be useful for high cholesterol. ]]>13]]>

Some animal and test tube studies suggest that CLA might help ]]>prevent cancer]]> , but the evidence is preliminary and inconsistent. ]]>7,11]]>

One study failed to find that CLA can enhance immune function. ]]>28]]>


Safety Issues

CLA appears to be a generally safe nutritional substance. 20]]> However, there are some concerns with its use.

During the course of investigations into its effect on fat, CLA was found to act somewhat similarly to some oral medications used for ]]>diabetes]]> . This led to research into the possible usefulness of CLA as a treatment for diabetes. In one study, CLA reduced blood sugar levels in diabetic rats as effectively as a standard diabetes treatment. ]]>5]]> The same researchers also performed a small, ]]>double-blind, placebo-controlled]]> trial in humans. The results indicated that CLA improved insulin responsiveness in people with type 2 (adult onset) diabetes. However, several subsequent studies found opposite and rather alarming results: Use of CLA by people with diabetes may worsen blood sugar control; in overweight people without diabetes, CLA might decrease insulin sensitivity, creating a prediabetic state. ]]>14,21-23]]> In contrast, a study using the most precise method of measuring insulin sensitivity failed to find any harmful effect. ]]>31]]> Nonetheless, at present, individuals with diabetes or who are at risk for it should not use CLA except under physician supervision.

One study found that CLA impairs endothelial function and another that it increases levels of C-reactive protein; both of these effects suggest a possible increase in cardiovascular risk. ]]>29,32]]>

Concerns have also been raised regarding use of CLA by nursing mothers. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study indicates that use of CLA reduces the fat content of human breast milk. ]]>12]]> Since infants depend on the fat in breast milk to provide adequate calories and on certain fats to aid proper growth and development, it is probably prudent for nursing mothers to avoid CLA supplements.

Maximum safe dosages of CLA for young children, pregnant women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease have not been determined.