Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) refers to a group of positional and geometric isomers of linoleic acid. Studies using animal models have shown that CLA reduces adiposity, improves plasma lipoprotein metabolism and insulin sensitivity and reduces arteriosclerosis. Whilst CLA may have therapeutic potential with regard to coronary artery disease risk factors in human subjects, there has been little investigation into its effects in human subjects. This current study investigated the effects of dietary supplementation using two isomeric blends of CLA on triacylglycerol (TAG)-rich lipoprotein metabolism and reverse cholesterol transport in human subjects and evaluates whether CLA modulated cardiovascular disease risk factors. Fifty-one normolipidaemic subjects participated in this randomised double-blind placebo-controlled intervention trial. Subjects were randomly assigned to receive 3 g cis-9,trans-11-trans-10,cis-12 isomeric blend (50 : 50) or a cis-9,trans-11-trans-10,cis-12 isomeric blend (80 : 20) CLA or linoleic acid (control)/d for 8 weeks. The 50 : 50 CLA isomer blend significantly reduced (P<or=0.005) fasting plasma TAG concentrations. The 80 : 20 CLA isomer blend significantly reduced (P<or=0.05) VLDL-cholesterol concentrations. CLA supplementation had no significant effect on LDL-cholesterol, HDL-lipid-protein composition or reverse cholesterol transport. CLA supplementation had no effect on body weight, plasma glucose and insulin concentrations. Fatty acid analysis revealed that the cis-9,trans-11 CLA isomer was incorporated into total plasma lipids following supplementation with both isomeric blends of CLA. The present study demonstrates that CLA supplementation significantly improves plasma TAG and VLDL metabolism in human subjects. The study confirms that some of the cardio-protective effects of CLA that were shown in animal studies are relevant to man.