Conjugated Linoleic Acid: Do You Need this Pill to Lose Weight?

Research reveals the costs, risks and effectiveness of this popular diet pill

pills on a plate
Find out if CLA supplements can help you lose weight.. David Malan/Photographers Choice/Getty Images

If you are in the market for a weight loss supplement, you’ve probably seen ads for CLA or conjugated linoleic acid.  Some experts will tell you that CLA can help you lose weight.  But many of those experts are trying to sell you the pills.  So can their advice be trusted?

It’s important to separate the facts from the sales pitch.  Before you get out your wallet and pay for the pills, find out what independent research has discovered about the benefits and drawbacks of taking CLA for weight loss

What Is CLA?

CLA stands for conjugated linoleic acid.  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.  

But what if you’ve cut back on beef and dairy? According to the NYU Langone Medical Center, there is no evidence that you need to take 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?

Should I Take a CLA Supplement to Lose Weight?

Many dieters take CLA to slim down based on ads they see that boast scientific evidence.  Certainly, conjugated linoleic acid has been studied extensively, but the weight loss results have been mixed.

Many of the studies that showed significant weight loss were done on mice.

  So if you have a mouse that needs to lose weight, CLA might be a good investment.  But studies done on humans have been less clear.  Studies that showed weight loss or fat loss generally showed a very small change.  And many studies showed no weight loss at all.

So what about those ads that claim scientific proof?

It’s important to remember that when research demonstrates a “statistically significant” result, that doesn’t necessarily mean a dieter will notice any benefit in a real world setting.  A small result (like a fraction of a pound) might mean a lot to a scientist in a laboratory, but the tiny result could mean nothing to you when you are at home trying to zip up your skinny jeans.  So before you decide to invest in CLA supplements, find out how much weight you’ll lose with CLA pills

How Much Does CLA Cost?

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.

 Are There Any Side Effects or Risks Associated with CLA?

According to several medical sources, there are risks associated with taking these diet pills.  Both NYU and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center report 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.

Bottom Line: Are CLA Supplements Worth the Money?

There are significant costs associated with taking CLA supplements, not only financially, but also medically.  In addition, when some people take a supplement it shifts their focus away from more effective forms of weight loss – like diet and exercise.  If it were me, I’d take my $600 and invest in a few sessions with a registered dietitian and maybe even a personal trainer. But the final decision is up to you. If you consider taking the pill, talk to your doctor first and get all the facts based on your personal health history.


Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Conjugated Linoleic Acid. Integrative Medicine. Accessed: May 4, 2014.

NYU Langone Medical Center. Conjugated Linoleic Acid. Accessed: May 4, 2014.

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