Obesity and its comorbidities, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are straining our healthcare system, necessitating the development of novel strategies for weight loss. Lifestyle modifications, such as exercise and caloric restriction, have proven effective against obesity in the short term, yet obesity persists because of the high predilection for weight regain. Therefore, alternative approaches to achieve long term sustainable weight loss are urgently needed. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid found naturally in ruminant animal food products, has been identified as a potential anti-obesogenic agent, with substantial efficacy in mice, and modest efficacy in obese human populations. Originally described as an anti-carcinogenic fatty acid, in addition to its anti-obesogenic effects, CLA has now been shown to possess anti-atherosclerotic properties. This review summarizes the pre-clinical and human studies conducted using CLA to date, which collectively suggest that CLA has efficacy against cancer, obesity, and atherosclerosis. In addition, the potential mechanisms for the many integrative physiological effects of CLA supplementation will be discussed in detail, including an introduction to the gut microbiota as a potential mediator of CLA effects on obesity and atherosclerosis.
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