CLA – a promising new supplement for Crohn’s?

A recent pilot study, soon to be published in Clinical Nutrition, has tested the effects of the supplement Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) on patients with Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s disease is digestive condition marked by inflammation and irritation in the intestines. Symptoms include pain, bloating and diarrhoea, and the condition may lead to narrowing of the digestive tract as result of scar tissue build up. Diseased areas of the gut tend not to absorb nutrients efficiently, leading to malnutrition. The exact cause of Crohn’s is unknown, although hereditary and immune factors appear to play a role.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is a promising new supplement in the support of Crohn's Disease

The study, conducted by researchers at Virginia Tech, found that Crohn’s patients who took supplementary CLA showed significant improvement. 50% of the participants who tried the supplement showed marked improvement in both quality of life and in disease activity.

In conventional medicine, Crohn’s is treated with anti-inflammatory medications as well as drugs that suppress the immune system, such as steroids.

It is thought that CLA has anti-inflammatory effects, which explains its benefits in Crohn’s patients. Furthermore, CLA supplements appear to be free from the side effects associated with anti-inflammatory drugs. In this particular study CLA was well tolerated by all of the participants.

Dietary sources of CLA include dairy products and certain types of meat such as beef and lamb. Unfortunately some sufferers find that foods such as dairy exacerbate Crohn’s symptoms. A good way to include a dietary source of CLA would be to eat kefir, a cultured milk drink popular in countries such as Russia and Romania. This would be easy and inexpensive to make at home using organic milk of grass-fed cows or a milk alternative such as rice milk. It provides a great source of both CLA and probiotics to support digestive health. CLA is also widely available in supplement form.

The recent study was ‘open label’ meaning that no placebo group was used, and participants knew what supplement they were taking. While lead researcher Professor Kim L. Isaacs says the results are promising, he concedes that they will need to be verified in a randomised controlled trial. It is too early to say whether CLA could be considered a treatment for Crohn’s. Hopefully these promising results will encourage more research in this area.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC


Bassaganya-Riera, J., R. Hontecillas, W.T. Horne, M. Sandridge, H. Herfarth, R. Bloomfeld, and K. Isaacs (2012) Conjugated linoleic modulates immune responses in patients with Mild to Moderately active Crohn’s disease. Clinical Nutrition (in press)