Ideal ingredient calling card: conjugated linoleic acid

Ideal ingredient calling card: conjugated linoleic acid

Should you consider conjugated linoleic acid for your next formulation? Get some facts on this fatty acid.

What it is

  • Full name: c9, t11 conjugated linoleic acid
  • A collective term for isomers of linoleic acid—a polyunsaturated fatty acid
  • Two major isomers—cis-9, trans-11 and trans-10, cis-12 CLA—show distinctive biological activities
  • It is also known as bovinic acid and rumenic acid

Where it's found

  • Discovered in ground beef extract in 1979 by Michael Pariza at the University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Occurs naturally in products and byproducts of ruminant animals: meat and dairy products; also in vegetable oils and seafood
  • Ruminant animals produce CLA from linoleic acid via biohydrogenation
  • Commercially produced from safflower oil
  • Leading brands: Stepan Lipid Nutrition's Clarinol and BASF/Cognis' Tonalin

Food or medicine?

  • An essential nutrient, CLA is necessary for the conversion of dietary fat into muscle
  • It inhibits carcinogenesis, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and obesity
  • CLA increases lean body mass and limits food allergy reactions
  • Its powerful and unparalleled anticarcinogenic activity was discovered in 1987 by Michael Pariza
  • Oral CLA treatment alleviates inflammatory bowel disease (Nutritional Immunology & Molecular Medicine Laboratory)
  • An average diet supplies 15-174 mg of conjugated linoleic acid daily

Manufacturing pluses

  • Self-affirmed GRAS status in the US since 2008 for foods and beverages
  • CLA is still popular in performance foods and beverages
  • Can be mixed into pastes and bases for creamy dessert, chocolate, and nutritional bar applications
  • Used in high added-value foods, beverages, and supplements for performance and fat-loss functionalities

Manufacturing minuses

  • Research on exercise performance enhancement is mixed
  • Fat-soluble and relies on emulsifiers for dispersion in water-based applications such as shots, smoothies, shakes

Market drivers

  • Growing popularity of grass-fed meat and dairy and their health halo of CLA feed consumer desire for authentically good-for-you foods
  • Market for CLA biggest in US and Europe; combined total projected to exceed $200 million by 2017
  • Asia-Pacific market growth is projected to exceed 18 percent (CAGR) through 2017 (Global Industry Analysts, CA)
  • In Europe, CLA usage in food products relies solely on the “Novel Food” approval issued by EFSA
  • Anticarcinogenic properties are bolstering new medical food products

Physiological effects

  • Helps reduce body fat while maintaining or increasing lean body mass
  • CLA might help improve immune function
  • While there is no proven effective dose for CLA, the dosing for obesity/weight loss is 3.4-6.8 grams per day

Surprising fact

  • Grass-fed ruminants (e.g. mutton and beef) produce 300-500 percent more CLA than silage- and grain-fed cattle. Kangaroo meat has the highest concentration of CLA, almost 10 times that of grain-fed ruminants

Resource: Yeonhwa Park. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA): Good or bad trans fat? Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, 22S (2009) S4–S12

Kantha Shelke, PhD, is a principal at Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago-based food science and nutrition firm that specializes in competitive intelligence and expert witness services. Contact her at [email protected] or 312-951-5810.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.