Is a CLA Supplement Effective for Fat Loss?

A Review CLA Weight Loss Pills and Powders

Conjugated Linoleic Acid weight loss results
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Conjugated linoleic acid, also known as CLA, is a supplement that some dieters take to lose weight faster. It's a common ingredient in many weight loss aids that you see advertised online and in stores. But is a CLA supplement worth taking if your goal is to slim down? Before you open your wallet to pay for the pills, you should learn more about CLA weight loss results in scientific studies and the potential benefits and drawbacks of this supplement.

What Is CLA? 

Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid. Essential fatty acids are fats that your body needs for good health, but since your body doesn’t make them you need to get them from the food you eat. Common sources of linoleic acid include beef and dairy products.

The word "conjugated" refers to the type of bond between molecules. Some researchers believe that an animal's diet, its age, breed and other seasonal factors may affect how much CLA is in the food you consume. 

But what if you’ve cut back on beef and dairy as a part of your diet? Many experts believe that there isn't enough evidence to support taking a conjugated linoleic acid supplement for good health even if you don't get enough from the food you eat. But what about taking it for weight loss?

CLA Weight Loss Results

Many ads for CLA supplements say that there is scientific proof that conjugated linoleic acid helps you burn body fat and slim down. The ads aren’t necessarily incorrect. But the sources usually don’t tell you how much you’ll lose. And that’s where things get tricky.

There have been some very promising studies indicating that CLA can improve body composition and weight loss. But many of the early studies were done on mice. Some were also done on pigs. When researchers tried the same experiments on people, the results were not as clear. 

In the studies that demonstrated weight loss in humans, the amount of weight lost with CLA is usually fairly small. For example, a study published in the journal Nutrition demonstrated that over a 12-week period, people taking CLA lost about one pound more than those not taking CLA. That’s less than a tenth of a pound per week. The decrease in body fat percent was very small as well. People taking a CLA supplement saw a decrease in body fat that was less than a half percentage point lower than those not taking the pill.

Other studies had similar results. In a 2007 report, researchers evaluated the results from eighteen studies where participants took the supplement for a longer period of time (6 months to 2 years). The scientists reported that on average, the people who took a CLA supplement lost more fat than those not taking CLA, but the amount averaged less than a quarter of a pound per week.  

There are also many studies that demonstrate no long-term weight loss and/or no fat loss in human participants.

CLA Supplement Costs

As with most diet pills and supplements, you’ll find a wide range of prices for conjugated linoleic acid supplements. You’ll see 90-pill bottles for as little as $15 online. But you’ll also see similarly sized bottles of popular brands for $50 or more.

To calculate the total cost of taking CLA, make sure you take dosage into account. For example, many pills contain 1 gram or less of CLA per pill. Since the standard dose is 3.4 grams per day, you have to plan to take 3 pills per day. So a 90-pill bottle will last one month. If you buy the more expensive supplement, your total cost per year could be as high as $600.

CLA Supplement Side Effects and Risks

According to several medical sources, there are risks associated with taking these diet pills. Some studies have indicated that taking a conjugated linoleic acid supplement may increase insulin resistance. This could be a concern for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes. They also report some people taking CLA supplements experienced a decrease in HDL cholesterol. HDL is what we refer to as “good” cholesterol, so a decrease in HDL is not a good thing.

A Word From Verywell

Whether or not you take a conjugated linoleic acid supplement is up to you. But make sure you understand the real facts before you buy. There is a possibility that conjugated linoleic acid will help you lose weight, but there is also a chance that it will make no noticeable difference at all. Always talk to your doctor first to make sure the pill is safe for you, then make a decision based on the facts.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Benjamin S, Prakasan P, Sreedharan S, Wright AD, Spener F. Pros and cons of CLA consumption: an insight from clinical evidencesNutr Metab (Lond). 2015;12:4. 2015 Feb 3. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-12-4

  3. Chen SC, Lin YH, Huang HP, Hsu WL, Houng JY, Huang CK. Effect of conjugated linoleic acid supplementation on weight loss and body fat composition in a Chinese population. Nutrition. 2012;28(5):559-65. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2011.09.008

  4. Whigham L, Watras A, Schoeller D, Efficacy of conjugated linoleic acid for reducing fat mass: a meta-analysis in humansThe American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007;85(5):1203-1211. doi:10.1093/ajcn/85.5.1203

  5. Kamphuis MM, Lejeune MP, Saris WH, Westerterp-plantenga MS. The effect of conjugated linoleic acid supplementation after weight loss on body weight regain, body composition, and resting metabolic rate in overweight subjects. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003;27(7):840-7. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0802304

  6. Moloney F, Yeow TP, Mullen A, Nolan JJ, Roche HM. Conjugated linoleic acid supplementation, insulin sensitivity, and lipoprotein metabolism in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Oct;80(4):887-95. doi:10.1093/ajcn/80.4.887

Additional Reading

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.