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Ranking the best conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) supplements of 2020

Ranking the best conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) supplements of 2020
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Conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA for short, is a weight loss and health-promoting supplement that’s derived from a type of protein that’s in dairy and meat.  

It’s safe, biologically active, and popular among both weight loss and body-building enthusiasts.  

We researched the best CLA supplements on the market and here’s what we came up with.

Rankings

1. VitaBalance CLA 2000

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The benefits may sound too good to be true, but they’re not…

CLA has been shown to reduce body fat and preserve muscle tissue—including stubborn belly fat—even for people who didn’t change their diet.

Is that even possible?

Yes! CLA helps your body become more efficient at converting food into energy. And according to experts, “It keeps a little fat cell from getting bigger.” But that’s just the beginning. CLA boosts muscle strength and stamina while lowering rates of breast, colon, and prostate cancer.

All good, right? Trouble is, your body doesn’t produce CLA on its own, which means you must take a supplement to enjoy all these benefits.

That’s why our #1 pick for CLA is VitaBalance CLA 2000.

This all-natural formula gives you a full 2,000mg of conjugated linoleic acid from safflower seed oil. No other formula is this powerful—so you the CLA you need without having to clog your veins with a lot of red meat or dairy products.

No harmful additives. No impurities. Made in an FDA registered facility that follows GMP guidelines.

The all-around conjugated linoleic acid winner of 2020.

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2. NatureWise Elite CLA 1300

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If you want a pure CLA supplement you can trust, NatureWise is the way to go.  The NatureWise CLA supplement delivers 1300 mg of 95% pure conjugated linoleic acid per capsule, so it really packs a punch.  

It’s certified non-GMO, so it doesn’t use genetically modified ingredients, and is guaranteed to be free of common food allergens.  It uses a gelatin softgel, so strict vegetarians and vegans will have to look elsewhere.  

The amount of capsules per bottle is only sixty, so you’ll have to reorder often if you are regularly taking multi-gram doses.

3. Sports Research Max Potency CLA 1250

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Sports Research offers two forms of CLA, but the kind you want to get is the Max Potency version. It’s got 95% pure conjugated linoleic acid per capsule, derived from non-GMO safflower oil, and it comes in a veggie cellulose capsule.  

Each serving provides 1187 mg of actual CLA (95% of 1250).  It also has no extraneous oils or fillers; you are getting pretty much pure conjugated linoleic acid, save for a few binders and stabilizers.  

If all you care about is high-dose CLA, this is one of the best products on the market.

4. aSquared Nutrition CLA 1250

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aSquared Nutrition’s MO is focusing on popular weight loss supplements and delivering them to the masses.  This is pretty much the story with their conjugated linoleic acid supplement.  

It’s solid, but nothing special.  It delivers 1250 mg of CLA per capsule, but it’s only 80% pure versus the 95% of some of the other top brands on the market.  The good news is that it doesn’t include any extra oils to pad the fatty acid content on the label, so you know exactly what you’re paying for.

5. GNC Total Lean CLA

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You might not expect the old-school brick and mortar supplement company GNC to be on top of their game when it comes to new supplements, but their CLA offering is pretty good.  

It’s a high-dose, no-nonsense conjugated linoleic acid supplement that provides 1000 mg of CLA per capsule, along with another 250 mg of unspecified other oils.  It’s nothing special – it’s neither the most pure nor the highest-dose CLA supplement out there, but it will get the job done.

6. Vitamorph Labs CLA 3000

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Vitamorph markets itself as the highest-dose CLA supplement out there, but there’s a little more to it than that.  Each serving has 3000 mg of fatty acids in it, but a serving is two softgels, not one.  And it’s only 80% pure, not the 95% that’s the standard among the top-tier CLA supplements.  

Now, all that being said, it’s still not bad—the dose is plenty high enough to get the job done.  But don’t let the number on the label trick you: this isn’t your best bet when it comes to big doses.

7. NatureWise CLA 1250

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In addition to its “Elite” CLA supplement, NatureWise also makes a lower-dose, less pure version that is their mass-market CLA offering.  Though it’s labled “1250,” each capsule only actually contains 780 mg of conjugated linoleic acids; other fatty acids make up the rest of the balance to get to 1250.

Still, despite this, NatureWise CLA 1250 is immensely popular and well-reviewed, and some people appreciate the presence of the other fats like (unconjugated) linoleic acid and oleic acid, as these have purported health benefits as well.  If you want these extras, or if you want a dosage closer to 800 mg of CLA per capsule, NatureWise CLA 1250 is a good choice; otherwise, the Elite version is probably better.

8. Nature’s Design CLA

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Though it sells well, Nature’s Design is pretty mediocre when it comes to CLA content.  Each capsule delivers 780 mg of CLA, alongside some other fatty acids like oleic aid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid.  Even at this dosage, however, there are higher-quality supplements out there that are a better call.  

Nature’s Design claims it’s “100% natural” but this isn’t a strict or regulated term like “non-GMO” or “organic.”  It also claims that it guarantees its purity, but it doesn’t back this up with any independent laboratory testing.

9. Evlution Leanmode

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This CLA supplement takes the unique approach of combining CLA with several other weight-loss and fat-burning supplements.  Whether this is right for you depends entirely on your supplementation philosophy and your degree of trust in the company’s chemists and nutritionists.  

Evlution Leanmode combines CLA with garcinia cambogia, green tea extract, green coffee bean extract, and acetyl-L-carnitine.  These ingredients have a wide variation in their projected efficacy, from very good (green tea extract) to more up-in-the-air (garcinia cambogia).

10. MusclePharm CLA Core

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MusclePharm’s CLA supplement is clearly marketed for the bodybuilding crowd.  With a target of reducing fat mass without reducing muscle mass, CLA is a bodybuilder’s dream.  

The CLA supplement from MusclePharm combines conjugated linoleic acid, olive oil, and avocado oil.  Each capsule delivers 1000 mg of oils, but because this is a “proprietary blend,” we can’t actually see what the proportion of each ingredient is.  

CLA is listed first, meaning it’s the highest-concentration ingredient, but for all we know, each capsule could contain as little as 400 mg of actual CL.  This lack of transparency makes it hard to tell what you’re getting, so if you want to monitor your supplement routine, it’s tricky with this supplement.

10. The Vitamin Shoppe Tonalin CLA

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The Vitamin Shoppe makes a pretty basic CLA supplement that provides 780 mg of actual CLA per softgel. It’s a solid option, though it doesn’t really distinguish itself in any particular way, which lands it near the bottom of the rankings.

Who should buy CLA?

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is useful for reducing body fat, improving immunity, and reducing certain risk factors for cardiovascular disease (specifically blood lipids).

Thanks to these potential benefits, CLA is a good fit if you are looking to cut fat, gain muscle, or improve your long-term health. CLA is a unique supplement in that it’s popular both among serious athletes and bodybuilders, as well as among regular people who just want to lose weight.

CLA is quite safe, especially among weight loss supplements, which is why it’s widely regarded as one of the best natural supplements for weight loss, beating out better-known compounds like raspberry ketones or caffeine. CLA is an easy addition to your supplementation routine, and helps both short-term and long term health goals.

CLA works best for people who are working on dropping body fat, especially if they’re already eating reasonably well and getting exercise—both of which also help with CLA’s primary health effects, which are dropping body fat, boosting immunity, and lowering blood lipids. If these are your goals, CLA is a great supplement. 

How we ranked

CLA is a pretty simple compound. So, to formulate our rankings of the best brands of CLA available, we applied some pretty strict criteria. First off, we only included supplements whose primary active ingredients included CLA.

Many generic weight loss pills use CLA, but it’s positioned far down in a laundry list of different ingredients for weight loss. We didn’t even consider these products for our rankings.

By a wide margin, we had a strong preference for products that were 100% CLA. A few supplements geared towards weight loss, like Evlution Leanmode, had multiple ingredients but still included an effective dose of CLA.

We left these in consideration for the time being. We evaluated the remaining products on their dosage, and the ease with which you could use them to match the doses used in clinical research (between three and six grams).

Since CLA is soluble in oil, we also looked to see if the capsules supplied a high quality oil as a delivery mechanism for the CLA.

We had to weigh the oil content against the purity of the capsule; in some cases, it made more sense to just go with pure CLA. In other cases, the presence of high-quality oils like olive oil made it worth the loss in CLA content per unit mass.

Finally, we applied our usual criteria for purity and clean supplement design: we looked for products that used good manufacturing processes and ideally products that were tested for purity by a third-party independent laboratory.

We penalized or completely eliminated products that had extra binders and fillers. After these stratification and elimination steps, we were left with our rankings of the highest quality CLA supplements available right now. 

Benefits

You can find CLA naturally in beef and dairy. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a fatty acid naturally occurring in dairy products and beef that has powerful positive health benefits. (1)

Among the most popular weight loss supplements used worldwide, CLA may also reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cancer. (2, 3, 4)

Large amounts of linoleic acid can be found in vegetable oils, and smaller amounts are found in other foods. Linoleic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid, and the most common of the omega-6 fatty acids.

But CLA has a different molecular structure: “conjugated” refers to the way the double bonds are arranged. For those of us who aren’t chemists, understanding how molecular bonds affect the way our bodies react to a substance can be a tough call, but just like with words, colors and facial features, arrangement is everything.

There are two different kinds of double bonds in CLA on the fatty acid chain. The placement of one of these types of bonds is structured in a way that classifies CLA as a trans fat, although it’s natural, and therefore not dangerous like industrially created trans fats that can cause damage in our bodies. (5, 6, 7)

Dietary CLA comes from the meat and dairy products of ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep and goats. The amount of CLA contained in these foods depends entirely on what the animals consumed. (8)

Keep in mind that the majority of animals meeting modern commercial demand for these foods are born and raised in industrial settings, eating mostly grains and soy products. In contrast, dairy animals of past times grazed and foraged, eating what they could find in their environment, including dried grasses and small amounts of grain during cold seasons.

There is a huge difference between the amount of natural CLA found in commercially raised animals and dairy products and grass-fed animals. The CLA content of products from grass-fed cows, including the meat after butchering, delivers between 300% and 500% more CLA than products from animals eating grains. (9)

The estimated average amount of CLA in a typical American diet today is about 150 mg for women and 200 mg for men. (10)

Supplemental CLA is chemically created by altering the molecular bonds in sunflower and safflower oils. This process distorts the ratio of different CLA forms found in natural sources (11, 12), so supplements won’t have the same beneficial effects.

Natural CLA can support weight Loss – Researchers playing around with mice and CLA in 1987 found it helped fight cancer, (13) and years later, other scientists discovered it also contributed to the reduction of body fat in animals. (14)

Animal studies have found that CLA can reduce calorie consumption, increase calorie burning, boost fat oxidation, and inhibit the production of fat cells. (15, 16, 17, 18)

CLA may be able to fight obesity in humans. Subsequent human studies indicate CLA may have anti-obesity properties in humans as well. (19, 20)

Controlled randomized trials on the effects of CLA on weight loss show mixed results. Some indicate CLA can play a role in modifying body composition, reducing fat mass and sometimes even increasing muscle mass. (21, 22, 23) Other trials didn’t show any effect on participants’ weight. (24, 25, 26)

When researchers correlated data from 18 controlled trials, the results for participants added up to between anywhere between .02 and 3 pounds weight loss per week over a six-month period. (27)

Some side effects were reported, including soft stools, diarrhea and constipation. With the range of different results, it’s possible CLA may have more pronounced effects on some people than others.

Observational studies can’t deliver the same level of evidence-based proof than randomized, controlled trials because of variable factors; that being noted, a number of observational studies indicate people who eat foods containing high levels of natural CLA may enjoy a reduced risk of developing chronic diseases.

CLA consumption is associated with lower rates of diabetes and cancer. Type 2 diabetes appears to develop less frequently when the diet is rich in CLA, as well as a lower incidence of cancer. (28, 29, 30)

People living in countries where cows are grass-fed have higher levels of CLA in their bodies; observational studies confirm their chances of suffering from heart disease are significantly lower. (31)

Whether or not the difference in the incidence of chronic disease is due to adequate levels of CLA has not been established. Grass-fed animal products are also rich in other nutrients with proven health benefits, such as vitamin K2, which affects the distribution of calcium in the body and may prevent heart disease by protecting the arteries.

Evidence shows naturally-occurring CLA can provide health benefits ranging from supporting weight control to protecting against the development of chronic disease.

A number of participants in the studies experienced side effects including stomach pain, flatulence, diarrhea and nausea. (32) The chances you’ll experience similar side effects are higher when you take more CLA.

Side effects

Like many other supplements sourced from natural food products, CLA is quite safe. A few studies have reported diarrhea, nausea, and mild gastrointestinal disturbances like gas and bloating (33,34); aside from this, many other clinical trials have reported no negative side effects associated with CLA.

That’s a strong contrast with some other weight loss supplements that have been popular in the past, but turned out to have potentially dangerous side effects, like ephedra, ma huang, bitter orange peel, or synephrine. 

The fact that CLA can cause some mild gastrointestinal symptoms should not be surprising, since large doses of pretty much any fatty acid (like MCT oil) can cause stomach issues. Taking CLA at a moderate dosage, and splitting this dose up into two or three separate doses taken throughout the day, may be able to help with side effects. 

Recommended dosage

A lot of the research that’s been done on CLA has been in animal models, which make it difficult to extrapolate dosage information to humans. As such, the most reasonable estimates of appropriate CLA dosage have to come from human studies.

These human studies have used dosages ranging from below one gram per day to up to six grams per day. Several studies that found positive benefits to using CLA tended to use dosages of between three and six grams per day, which is a good place to start.

For reference, a typical CLA supplement might contain between 1.0 and 1.3 grams of CLA; for reference, one serving of grass-fed beef (the best natural source of CLA) might have about 0.5 grams of CLA. Dairy products tend to have lower levels of CLA; even consuming butter, you only get about .1 grams per serving tops (35, 36).

FAQ

Q: Is CLA a fat burner?

A: Much of the attention shined on CLA is the result of animal studies which have demonstrated remarkable fat burning effects.

One study published in 2000 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition summarized the results of several experiments (37): animals fed a diet that was high in CLA exhibited an increase in fat oxidation, but no synthesis of new fat molecules.

Inferring from these results, it must have been the case that CLA stimulated a “fat burning” effect in the animals. However, it’s more controversial whether these results translate to humans.

Some human trials have been successful, such as a study published in the Journal of Nutrition by researchers in Norway, which found that CLA reduced body fat content in overweight and obese test subjects (38).

In contrast, another study that attempted to use CLA to reduce appetite and reduce weight gain after a dieting protocol was unsuccessful (39). The jury is definitely still out on CLA’s utility as a fat burner, but compared to many of the other options on the market, it has a pretty attractive safety profile. 

Q: Does CLA help you lose weight? 

A: CLA is a popular weight loss supplement primarily because some researchers believe that it can stimulate fat oxidation and limit body fat gain.

While its effects, even in successful studies, have been relatively small, it’s found a niche as a safe and potentially useful fat burner that is easy to supplement into your diet.

The risk-benefit trade off is pretty good when you compare CLA to other weight loss supplements; in fact, it’s one of our top-rated natural weight loss supplements for precisely this reason.

Q: Can CLA give you diarrhea? 

A: Diarrhea is one of the potential side effects that has been identified in clinical studies of CLA supplementation. Two randomized controlled trials reported nausea and diarrhea in a few subjects who took CLA, but in one, the actual rate of side effects was no lower in the people in the placebo group (40,41).

More generally, gastrointestinal side effects like diarrhea are known to occur when excessive doses of specific fatty acids are taken supplementally—the best example of this is probably MCT oil.

Keeping your CLA dosage in the recommended range of three to six grams per day is the best way to avoid diarrhea. You can also split your doses up into several smaller doses to take throughout the day. 

Q: How much weight can you lose from CLA? 

A: According to a study that pooled the results of several different clinical trials of CLA’s weight loss benefits, you can expect CLA to boost your weight loss by around 0.2 pounds per week, when taken at a typical dose of 3.2 grams per day.

This magnitude is small enough that some nutritionists question whether it’s clinically relevant, but if you stack the benefits of CLA on top of the benefits of other weight loss interventions (like diet and exercise), the amount of weight you can lose starts to add up.

The relatively modest effect size of CLA on weight loss likely explains why it is also popular among bodybuilders: they aren’t usually looking to cut huge amounts of weight; rather, their goal is to drop body fat while maintaining muscle mass, which CLA is well-suited for. CLA is a great way to tilt the scales in your favor, towards more fat burned and more muscle mass retained. 

Q: Should you take CLA before bed? 

A: The primary hypothesis for CLA’s mechanism of action is that it inhibits biochemical pathways that fat cells use to synthesize and store fat (42).

Based on this mechanism, it is probably better to have high CLA levels in your body all day, rather than taking it before bed specifically.

No research in humans has specifically compared taking CLA before bed to CLA at any other time during the day, so feel free to take your CLA supplement whenever is convenient for you. 

Q: What is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)? 

A: Conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA for short, is a specific type of fatty acid. Technically, a whole family of fatty acid molecules fall under the umbrella of CLA; these molecules are formed by the slow digestion process that happens in the stomach of grazing ruminants like sheep and cattle.

They all share the same nutritional and biochemical properties, as far as researchers can tell. CLA might be responsible for some of the controversy over whether dairy and red meat consumption is healthy or not.

Some compounds that are found in animal products have been connected with negative health effects like heart disease and cancer, but some nutritionists think that CLA could combat or reverse these negative effects, making red meat and dairy products neutral or even beneficial for your health (43).

Isolating CLA could allow you to take advantage of its ability to help you shed fat, boost your immune system, and improve your blood lipid levels. 

Q: What foods have CLA in them? 

A: Foods that are rich in CLA include dairy products and various kinds of meat. However, there are some specific types of these foods that are higher in CLA than others. For dairy products, you should look for full-fat products like butter, whole milk, and cheese; for meat, you should look for grass-fed animals, particularly grass-fed beef.

Grass-fed sources are better than grain-fed sources, because the CLA content is higher in grass-fed versus grain fed animals. Grass-fed animal foods have the additional advantage of having lower overall levels of fat, but higher relative amounts of CLA, according to a study published in 2010 in the Nutrition Journal (44).

If you can’t get enough CLA in your diet to meet your nutrition goals, you can always turn to a CLA supplement for an easy way to up your CLA intake. 

Q: How is CLA made? 

A: CLA is found naturally in dairy and red meat (especially when it’s grass-fed), but the CLA in supplements is more economical to produce by chemically modifying regular fatty acids found in vegetable oils.

While this approach is not as natural as getting CLA from cheese, butter, or grass-fed beef, it does have the advantage of being vegan and vegetarian-friendly (just watch out for gelatin capsules, which are derived from animal products). 

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Recap

CLA is a great supplement for dropping body fat, improving your blood lipid profile, and boosting the function of your body’s immune system.

You can get more of it in your diet by eating more grass-fed beef and whole-fat dairy products like cheese and butter.

While you can also get CLA in regular (i.e. grain-fed) beef, the fat profile is better for grass fed beef, and the CLA content is higher, so it is overall a better and healthier option. 

If these options aren’t enough to get your CLA intake to where you want it to be, consider taking a CLA supplement. Most scientific studies use daily dosages of three to six grams of supplemental CLA per day. In rare cases, larger doses of CLA have been associated with nausea and diarrhea, but for the vast majority of people, CLA is a safe supplement that’s easy to add to your daily routine. 

For BodyNutrition‘s #1 CLA recommendation, click here.





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