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The role of conjugated linoleic acid in reducing body fat and preventing holiday weight gain



The incidence of obesity and overweight in the US has increased considerably during the past two decades and currently affects 65% of the adult population. Research has indicated that small, yet irreversible, gains during the holiday season contribute to increases in weight during adulthood. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a naturally occurring dietary fatty acid, has been found to reduce weight gain and dramatically decrease fat mass in animals. Although research in humans has shown inconsistent results, most studies have been of insufficient duration or have utilized body composition methods that are less accurate than the currently accepted criterion.


Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 3.2 g/day CLA for 6 months.


Forty healthy, overweight subjects (age: 18–44 years; body mass index: 25–30 kg/m2)


Body composition by the four-compartment model, resting metabolic rate (RMR) by indirect calorimetry, self-reported physical activity and dietary intake, and blood chemistries were determined at baseline and after 6 months. Body weight was measured monthly during the pre-holiday season (August–October), holiday season (November–December) and post-holiday season (January–March). Adverse events were assessed monthly.


Compared to CLA, the placebo group showed a greater rate of weight gain during the holiday season (P=0.01). Within the placebo group, holiday weight change was significantly greater compared to the pre-holiday period (August–October) (P=0.03). Six-month change in body composition was improved with CLA compared to placebo (P=0.02), and body fat was significantly reduced within the CLA group (−1.0±2.2 kg, P=0.05). CLA had no effect on RMR, physical activity or dietary intake. The rate of reported negative emotions decreased significantly with CLA, although there was no difference in any other category of adverse event. In comparison to the placebo, CLA did not affect insulin resistance, blood lipids and markers of liver function or markers of inflammation, with the exception of a significant decrease in a biomarker of endothelial dysfunction.


CLA supplementation among overweight adults significantly reduced body fat over 6 months and prevented weight gain during the holiday season. Although no adverse effects were seen, additional studies should evaluate the effect of prolonged use of CLA.

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Figure 1


  1. δ(permil)=((Runknown−Rstandard)/Rstandard)×1000, where R is the ratio of the abundance of heavy isotope to that of the light isotope.


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We thank Randall Clark and Jude Sullivan of the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Exercise Science Laboratory for conducting body composition analysis; The University of Wisconsin General Clinical Research Center for providing in-patient support and dietary analysis; and Dr Earl Shrago for completing subject medical history and physical examinations. We acknowledge Cognis Nutrition and Health for providing test materials and sponsorship.

ACW contributed to study design, recruited subjects, completed data collection, contributed to data interpretation and wrote the manuscript. ACB contributed to study design and revised the manuscript. RNC assisted with data collection and ZZ provided assistance with statistical analysis. DAS established the study design, obtained study funding, interpreted data and revised the manuscript. None of the authors had or have any financial or personal interest in the sponsor of this research.

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Correspondence to D A Schoeller.

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Watras, A., Buchholz, A., Close, R. et al. The role of conjugated linoleic acid in reducing body fat and preventing holiday weight gain. Int J Obes 31, 481–487 (2007).

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  • CLA
  • body composition
  • four-compartment model
  • body weight
  • overweight

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