NPF Science Update: CLA
Posted Thursday, May 9, 2013

The NPF Science Update brings you news about scientific advances in the field of natural products. The Science Update features contributions from scientists, academics, doctors, healthcare professionals, industry veterans and other experts.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA): Beyond Weight Loss

By Rebecca Schauer, RD  

Conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) are naturally occurring free fatty acids derived from the tissues and milk of ruminant animals such as cows.

Supplemental CLA has made a name for itself as a body fat reducer and weight loss aid under the brand Tonalin® CLA. In this capacity, CLA blocks the enzyme lipoprotein lipase that assists in fat storage of dietary fats and helps divert unused fat to muscle cells. CLA then activates another enzyme that helps muscles to burn this fat, especially during exercise.

Research, however, has shown that CLA supplements have good potential beyond the weight loss market.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a digestive condition triggered by consumption of the protein gluten, which is primarily found in foods containing wheat, barley, or rye. People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients.

According to research in mice, supplementation with CLA may be beneficial in fighting oxidative stress associated with celiac disease. In a 2011 study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, scientists identified a novel mechanism by which gluten disturbs several pivotal intestinal defenses, and discovered the potential therapeutic efficacy of CLA against gluten-mediated toxicity. This beneficial effect of CLA against the depletion of crucial intestinal cell-protective defenses indicates a novel nutritional approach for the treatment of intestinal disease. 

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is a digestive condition marked by inflammation and irritation in the intestines. Symptoms include pain, bloating, and diarrhea, and the condition may lead to narrowing of the digestive tract as result of scar tissue build up. Diseased areas of the gut tend not to absorb nutrients efficiently, leading to malnutrition. The exact cause of Crohn’s is unknown, although hereditary and immune factors appear to play a role.

In conventional medicine, Crohn’s is treated with anti-inflammatory drugs that suppress the immune system such as steroids; thus effective natural remedies for Crohn’s are greatly needed.

A study published in Clinical Nutrition and conducted by researchers at Virginia Tech found that Crohn’s patients who took supplementary CLA at 6 grams daily for 12 weeks had significant improvements in both quality of life and in disease activity. It has been shown that CLA has anti-inflammatory effects, which explains its benefits in Crohn’s patients. CLA does this by converting to DHA and EPA inside the body, both of which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. 


Asthma symptoms are caused by irritation and inflammation of the airways. Asthmatics get asthma because they produce much higher levels of leukotriene compounds - highly inflammatory compounds naturally produced by the immune system.

In a study published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy, a dose of 4.5 grams of CLA per day improved airway hyper-reactivity in asthmatics.  It also had favorable effects on body weight, which may have a secondary effect on improving asthma symptoms.

In Summary

Average intake of CLA has fallen over the years due to changes in the Western diet, making supplementation of interest to many. CLA has multiple biological properties apart from roles in metabolism and weight loss, including regulation of immune processes as well as tissue inflammation.

About Natural Products FoundationNPF is a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit corporation. For more information visit the Foundation online:

Story Source: Rebecca Schauer, RD, is the Supplement Technical Director for Vitamer and VitaCeutical Labs, divisions of Nexgen Pharma, Inc., and providers of high quality private label dietary supplements to retail outlets including grocery and natural food stores.

References: MacRedmond, R., et al (2010), Conjugated linoleic acid improves airway hyper-reactivity in overweight mild asthmatics. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 40: 1071–1078. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2010.03531.x.

Bergamo, P., et al (2011), Conjugated linoleic acid protects against gliadin-induced depletion of intestinal defenses. Mol. Nutr. Food Res., 55: S248–S256. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201100295.

Bassaganya-Riera, J., et al (2012), Conjugated linoleic acid modulates immune responses in patients with mild to moderately active Crohn’s disease. Clinical Nutrition, 31: 721-727. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2012.03.002.



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