What is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)?

Lucette Talamas, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a term that groups various compounds (scientifically speaking, isomers) that linoleic acid may exist as. Linoleic acid is an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA, which is not be confused with omega-3 PUFA.
Linoleic acid is synthesized to CLA in the digestive tract of ruminant animals. CLA is found in ruminant animal food sources, such as beef, lamb, and dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt.
CLA is actually classified as a naturally occurring trans fat that is not to be mistaken for man-made trans fats that are formed during the processing of many packaged foods. CLA is believed to have beneficial effects on heart disease, diabetes, energy distribution and bone health, but this was mostly seen in studies on animals. So it should not be assumed that CLA supplements would have the same effect, either positive or negative, in humans
It is also not advised to purposely increase CLA intake through food sources as one would be increasing the intake of fatty foods. CLA may be may also be found as an ergogenic aid, a nutritional product that enhances performance. But it has not shown to enhance performance, according to the position paper on “Nutrition and Athletic Performance” by the Academy of Nutrition and dietetics, the American College of Sports Medicine, and Dietitians of Canada. 
Before taking any supplement, always discuss with your physician or health care professional the possible risks and benefits associated with the supplement.
Eva M. Selhub, MD
Internal Medicine

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is one of the good trans fats, which we get from beef or dairy products; it lowers the melting point for fat metabolism. Watch Eva Selhub, MD, explain how CLA works to increase your body's ability to burn fat faster.

Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a slightly altered form of the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid. It occurs naturally in meat and dairy products from grass-fed cows. It was discovered in 1978 when researchers at the University of Wisconsin were seeking to find possible cancer-causing compounds in meat that are produced with cooking. Instead, they found what appears to be the anticancer compound CLA. In preliminary animal and test-tube studies, CLA has shown evidence that it might reduce the risk of cancer at several sites, including the breast, the prostate, the colon, the lung, the skin, and the stomach. Whether CLA produces a similar protective effect in humans is yet to be determined.

Encyclopedia of Healing Foods

More About this Book

Encyclopedia of Healing Foods

From the bestselling authors of The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, the most comprehensive and practical guide available to the nutritional benefits and medicinal properties of virtually everything...

Continue Learning about Herbal Supplements

Herbal Supplements

Herbal Supplements

Herbal supplements are dietary supplements derived from nature. Herbal plants or parts of a plant are broken down and used for their scent, flavor and therapeutic benefits. When taken as a supplement, they can deliver strong benef...

its, however, herbal supplements are not regulated by the FDA and can have dangerous side effects. They act like drugs once in your system and can affect metabolism, circulation and excretion of other substances in your body. It is important to discuss with your doctor if you are on prescription medications, are breastfeeding or have chronic illnesses and want to add herbal supplements to your health regimen.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.