What Is CLA? Should You Be Taking It?

Your first thought when opening this article may well be, what does CLA stand for? If that is a question on your mind, then the answer is Conjugated Linoleic Acid. The question we’ll be focusing on in this article is, Can It Help You Lose Weight?

With obesity worryingly becoming more and more common in the world today, it’s hardly surprising that we are searching for more and more ways to find a ‘quick fix’ to this worldwide dilemma. Sometimes this comes in the form of new starvation type diets, sometimes in the forms of a new ‘wonder supplement’. These supplements are usually ancient traditional herbs or foreign compounds, and once one study finds a hint of fat loss benefits, companies jump to produce and sell it.

This is what happened with Raspberry Ketones, Green Tea Extract, and Garcinia Cambogia, to name just a few. All were relatively unknown until they became features on a certain doctor’s popular TV show, giving many the conclusion that these supplements work like miracles without much (or flat out wrong) research to back them up.

I bring up these other supplements because today’s article topic, conjugated linoleic acid (or CLA), is in the same boat. Claims have been made that this supplement has the power to lower body fat, increase insulin sensitivity, increase lean mass, alongside a number of other benefits, the question is: Does the science back the claims up?


What is CLA and Does It Actually Work?

Understanding what CLA is will give some insight into whether the fat loss speculation is justifiable. This compound is a formation of fatty acids in the structure of linoleic acid. This fat is primarily polyunsaturated (or omega-6), but some are actually trans-fat. Our bodies cannot create linoleic acid meaning we need to get it primarily from our diet. Meat, cheese, butter, as well as certain types of mushrooms contain CLA in small amounts. It is estimated that 0.5 to one gram of CLA can produce the supposed optimal benefits from food, but getting a higher amount usually requires supplementation.

So will this compound help you lose weight? The main reason cited in studies is CLA’s ability to bind to and activate the Peroxisome Proliferator-activated Receptor alpha (PPARa), usually expressed by the liver, kidneys and heart. This PPARa has been shown in animal studies to increase fat burning in the liver. What’s important to understand is that most studies on CLA have been done on either animal, or in vitro, and more than likely these results will not produce the same results in human beings.


Almost all of the studies done on CLA that involve actual human subject (and there aren’t many) can be disputed or contradicted by another study. For example, some studies prove that supplementing with CLA will increase the metabolic rate, effectively inducing fat burn. One study found that obese individuals increased their metabolic rate as much as 35% when supplemented with 3.76 grams of CLA daily for 14 weeks. While another study only saw an increase of 4%, with no weight loss recorded over 14 weeks. And even more puzzling is the existence of many studies that showed absolutely no change in metabolic rate when CLA was supplemented for 12 weeks in overweight individuals at a dosing of four grams daily.

Unfortunately, all other benefits that companies state CLA can do have equally mixed reviews. What this means for anybody thinking of supplementing with CLA is, it might work, but also it might not work. To put it simply, this supplement might help you lose a little bit of fat or gain a little bit of muscle, or maybe the placebo effect will, or nothing might happen. One proven positive of CLA is that there are no negative side effects that we know of, so if you can spare the money (luckily it is quite cheap), go ahead and try CLA with an open mind, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t see any results.

Take Home Message

So where should we stand on CLA? It’s not quite snake oil, but it’s definitely no miracle pill (nothing is). Like most other “fat burners” out there, we all read reviews that some claim it helped them, some claim they wasted their money. In this writer’s opinion, I believe that the positive reviews are from those who actively started to exercise and change their diet to go along with their new supplement, which leads to them losing the weight, and the fat burner supplemented this change rather than brought on the change.

Those who write negative reviews about fat burners expect them to “raise your metabolism” or “activate fat cells for energy” without making any change to their diet or adding exercise. Some may even decide to eat more believing the supplement will work miracles and mean they don’t put on any extra weight. No matter what you read or hear, an individual’s diet and exercise comprises 100% of their potential to lose weight (although some ingredients can help marginally).

Even with fat burners that do work, a proper caloric deficit and exercise routine will be critical to weight loss. There are no shortcuts! Put in the work and I promise you will see the results you want!

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Billy Galipeault

Billy Galipeault

Writer and expert

Billy is passionate about all things fitness and nutrition, with an emphasis on muscle and strength building. He's currently serving active duty in the air force, while building his body muscle by muscle in his free time.