CLA is an extremely well-studied supplement that has been shown to help with weight loss and metabolic function.
CLA works by modulating your appetite, increasing the amount of energy that you consume and by preventing your fat cells from getting bigger.
Learn more about how to use this fatty acid safely and correctly for weight loss in this guide:
What is CLA and Will it Work?
CLA is short for "conjugated linoleic acid" and is really just a group of fats that define the shape of linoleic acid (I'll just refer to it as CLA for this article to make things easier).
Humans primarily get CLA through the consumption of certain foods, primarily dairy and meat products.
CLA stands alone among supplements in that it has virtually hundreds of studies showing that it can be helpful in treating a variety of conditions.
Studies have shown that taking CLA can improve cholesterol, promote the death of cancer cells, improve immune function (1) and help with weight loss.
In this article, we are going to focus on the weight loss component, but just realize that CLA may help other areas as well (most weight loss supplements that work have a similar effect).
But just because studies show that CLA helps with weight loss does that mean it will actually work?
This is a great question and worth exploring briefly.
The problem with the studies on CLA is that the majority of the studies that show CLA helps with weight loss have been done on animals.
Animal studies can be used to help understand how certain nutrients work, but they don't always translate 100% to humans.
Many of the studies with CLA in humans have been discordant (meaning they are somewhat conflicting).
Some studies show that CLA does indeed help with weight loss while others show that there is no difference between CLA and placebo.
Does this mean that CLA doesn't work or that you shouldn't try it at all?
These types of findings are quite common among nutrients and supplements for several reasons.
One of the most important is that the mechanism for weight gain is different among individuals.
If you gather a group of 100 people who are all overweight, the cause of weight gain in each individual is going to be different.
Some may be overweight due to overeating, some may be overweight due to hormonal problems, some may be overweight from excessive yo-yo dieting, etc.
It's also important to realize that each study uses a different dose of CLA and a different length of time.
The studies that use higher doses of CLA (2) (more on that below) and for longer periods of time, tend to have better results.
And that shouldn't really be surprising.
So this sort of discordance is not necessarily uncommon among clinical studies.
The important point to make here is that CLA probably won't help EVERYONE lose weight but it most likely will help a certain group of people.
So how do you know if you fall into that category?
The best way to find out is to figure out how exactly CLA may help with weight loss by breaking down its mechanism of action...
5 Proven Ways CLA May Help with Weight Loss
Because CLA has been well studied we actually have a lot of good information about how it works in the body (both in animals and humans).
In this section, I'm going to go over what the science shows and how this may explain why CLA helps certain people with weight loss.
This doesn't mean that CLA will do all of these things in your body, but what we do know is that CLA CAN make some of these things happen.
#1. Increases Metabolism
Back in 1997 CLA was shown to have anti-obesity properties (3) and since then the science has exploded.
Among the potential ways that CLA helps with weight loss is its ability to augment your metabolism.
In clinical studies, this measurement is known as energy expenditure and it represents the total amount of energy that you use to simply survive day to day.
Science has shown us that the measure of energy expenditure is one of the most important metrics when determining IF someone is going to lose weight and IF they are going to keep weight off after they lose it.
For this reason supplements (or other therapies) that increase energy expenditure (also known as your metabolism) are among the most powerful and most effective therapies that we have for weight loss.
The amount of energy that you produce is a combined measurement of your basal metabolic rate combined with the amount of heat that you produce and also your physical activity.
In studies, CLA has been shown to increase energy expenditure by increasing basal metabolic rate, promoting increased heat and energy production and by increasing the number of fat that you burn at rest (also known as lipid oxidation).
By increasing these 3 areas CLA may help promote weight loss by increasing the amount of calories that you burn at rest.
Like other areas, some studies show the results to be "mixed" in this area - meaning some studies show that energy expenditure increases while other studies show no change.
The reason for this discrepancy seems to be related to 3 main areas: the dose of CLA used, the length of treatment and the gender/metabolic status of the patients being tested.
People who obtain better results tend to use a higher dose of CLA (up to 4 grams daily) for a minimum of 12 weeks and they tend to have some metabolic damage at baseline (meaning their metabolism is slightly slower than normal).
You can begin to see that if you don't have metabolic damage, or if you take a small dose, or if you only use CLA for 30 days how your results may vary.
#2. Reduces Fat Cell Synthesis
In addition to increasing the number of calories that you burn, CLA may help your body prevent the creation of new fat cells (4).
This occurs through activation of certain transcription factors which upregulate PPAR gamma and certain enhancer binding proteins.
You can read more about the science if you are interested in the link above, but the main point here is that the activation of these special factors results in suppression of fat cell generation.
You probably already know that certain foods help promote either the use or the storage of energy in your body.
For this reason, certain foods are said to help promote weight loss by increasing energy consumption and reducing fat storage.
This is one of the reasons that MCT oil (and coconut oil) helps promote weight loss.
The point here is that consuming CLA may help you burn fat indirectly by preventing your body from storing it in the first place!
Another important point worth mentioning is that even if CLA doesn't help you burn fat directly it may actually prevent you from gaining weight, which can be beneficial on its own.
#3. Reduces Inflammation & Systemic Inflammatory Markers
Inflammation is at the heart of many serious diseases ranging from cancer to weight gain.
Because of this, there is special attention given to certain therapies that can help reduce or cut off the inflammatory cascade.
CLA has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties (5) that may help to explain its anti-cancer and anti-cholesterol effects.
CLA has also been shown to help reduce enteric (or intestinal) inflammation (6) as well as systemic (whole body) inflammation.
You may also be aware that many disease states begin or are perpetuated by intestinal inflammatory states, which makes reducing intestinal inflammation key.
How CLA reduces inflammation is not clear, and even some studies show that using CLA may increase CRP levels in certain individuals (7).
My experience suggests that plant sources of CLA reduce inflammation.
#4. Promotes Healthy Metabolic Function & Has Anti-Diabetic Properties
Many of you may be aware that insulin resistance is a major problem and cause of weight gain among many people in the United States.
Insulin resistance stems from inflammation, metabolic derangement and the over-consumption of sugary or carbohydrate-heavy foods.
Insulin is considered a "fat storage" hormone which promotes the storage of calories and energy as fat and adipose tissue in your body.
The presence of insulin resistance results in excessive serum insulin and the constant promotion of fat cells after eating.
Because of this mechanism and how common insulin resistance is (up to 50% of people have some element of insulin resistance), treating this condition is critical in managing weight loss.
CLA has been shown to have some anti-diabetic properties.
Daily CLA use has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity (8) (make insulin more effective) and daily use for 12 weeks has shown to increase proinsulin, c-peptide and adiponectin concentrations.
These changes are all consequences of insulin resistance and their reversal indicates a reversal of the underlying cause of insulin resistance.
Not all studies show the same benefit, however, which makes this therapy a poor monotherapy for the treatment of insulin resistance.
It is worth using CLA for weight loss, but I wouldn't recommend CLA for the sole purpose of treating insulin resistance.
#5. Suppresses Appetite
Daily CLA use has been shown to help reduce appetite and promote satiety or feelings of fullness (9).
While helping reduce your appetite may help some people lose weight, it's also important that you don't go overboard with appetite suppression.
Long term appetite suppression can actually lead to metabolic damage and weight gain over time.
CLA can be used to help prevent an intake of EXCESSIVE calories, but it should not be used to promote caloric restriction (less than 1,200 calories per day).
To help prevent appetite it's best to use CLA first thing in the morning which seems to help the most at reducing carbohydrate and sugar cravings.
It's also worth pointing out that appetite suppression is seen at higher doses (at least 3 grams per day).
You can read more about appetite suppression and how to do it correctly in this post.
How to use CLA correctly
If you want to give CLA a try for weight loss make sure that you use it the right way.
Plan to use 4,000mg per day for 3-6 months.
If CLA is going to help with weight loss, and if you use it as recommended here, then you might expect to lose around 4-10% of your total body weight (10) (including body fat) over a 12 week period.
CLA dosing for weight loss:
- 4 Capsules each day (4 capsules = 4,000mg).
- Use daily for 12 weeks and combine with exercise changes, dietary changes and other therapies directed at hormone imbalances in your body for optimal results.
In human studies, the dosing of CLA ranges from 1.2 grams up to 3.2 grams per day with the most beneficial effect seen at the higher dosages.
Based on these studies (11), and on my own experience, I recommend using at least 3.2 grams per day.
The supplement I recommend has 4 grams (of which 80% is CLA) for a total dose of 3.2 grams of CLA (plant sourced) per serving.
If you are serious about using CLA for weight loss and want to give it an honest try then you should plan to use dosing in this range.
Purchasing a lower dose will most likely NOT lead to weight loss.
Standard dosing for CLA is usually around 1,000mg per capsule which means that you will need to use up to 4 capsules per day to get this dose.
It's worth pointing out because you will need to be diligent about sticking to this dosing if you want the weight loss.
Can you get CLA from food?
You can get CLA from food but it's quite difficult to get the required dosing for weight loss with food alone.
You would need to consume around 24 pounds of beef per day or 10 and a 1/2 sticks of butter per day to get up to 4,000mg of CLA per day.
This kind of eating is obviously counterproductive if you are also interested in weight loss.
How long do you need to take it?
My experience, as well as clinical studies, suggest that in order to obtain optimal results you will want to use CLA daily for at least 12 weeks.
My experience suggests that taking it even longer (up to 6 months) is optimal.
If your weight is caused by metabolic changes (insulin resistance or other hormone imbalances) it can take months to resolve these issues.
If you don't allow time to resolve or improve these conditions then you may risk putting back on the weight once you stop using CLA.
How long will it take CLA to work and help with weight loss?
You should plan to use CLA daily (up to 4-5 grams per day) for at least 12 weeks.
Many people will want to continue to use it longer (up to 6 months or so) and should continue to take it as long as they experience weight loss while taking it.
If you continue to lose weight while using it then this is an indication that it may be working to reverse metabolic conditions causing weight gain.
Does CLA Have Side Effects?
CLA tends to be well tolerated with studies suggesting that up to 68% of people using it will experience "mild" symptoms.
These symptoms tend to center in the intestinal tract and range from mild abdominal discomfort to temporary diarrhea or mild nausea.
In various studies, these side effects were also seen in the placebo group suggesting that they may not be related to the use of CLA.
But either way, if you experience any side effects while taking CLA they are generally mild and tend to fade over time as your body adjusts to the supplement.
You should NOT experience serious side effects that lead to long term or long-lasting problems.
Back to you
The bottom line?
CLA is a special type of fatty acid that can be used in high doses to help promote weight loss by altering your metabolism, improving metabolic function and by reducing inflammation.
The trick to using CLA is to make sure that you use the right dose (up to 4,000mg per day), for the right length of time (at least 12 weeks) and to make sure your body will benefit from the mechanisms listed above.
If you use it correctly then you may lose up to 10% of body fat over this time period.
Just because CLA has been shown to work in clinical studies does not mean that it will work in every person.
Some individuals may take it for 12 weeks and not experience weight loss.
The good news is that it is well tolerated which means it doesn't have any negative side effects.
Now I want to hear from you:
Have you tried CLA before?
Did it help you with weight loss?
Why or why not?
Leave your comment below!
References (Click to Expand)