The term conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) refers to a mixture of linoleic acid positional and geometric isomers, characterized by having conjugated double bonds, not separated by a methylene group as in linoleic acid. CLA isomers appear as a minor component of the lipid fraction, found mainly in meat and dairy products from cows and sheep. The most abundant isomer is cis-9,trans-11, which represents up to 80% of total CLA in food. These isomers are metabolized in the body through different metabolic pathways, but important differences, that can have physiological consequences, are observed between the two main isomers. The trans-10,cis-12 isomer is more efficiently oxidized than the cis-9,trans-11 isomer, due to the position of its double bounds. Interest in CLA arose in its anticarcinogenic action but there is an increasing amount of specific scientific literature concerning the biological effects and properties of CLA. Numerous biological effects of CLA are due to the separate action of the most studied isomers, cis-9,trans-11 and trans-10,cis-12. It is also likely that some effects are induced and/or enhanced by these isomers acting synergistically. Although the cis-9,trans-11 isomer is mainly responsible for the anticarcinogenic effect, the trans-10,cis-12 isomer reduces body fat and it is referred as the most effective isomer affecting blood lipids. As far as insulin function is concerned, both isomers seem to be responsible for insulin resistance in humans. Finally, with regard to the immune system it is not clear whether individual isomers of CLA could act similarly or differently.
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