Epigenetic benefits of conjugated linoleic acid, CLA, with breast cancer

Epigenetic benefits of conjugated linoleic acid, CLA, with breast cancer

Eating meat from organic grass-fed cattle or ruminants may well have anti-cancer and anti-tumour effects because of the high levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA);  research shows that this may have strong epigenetic effects and be regulatory on a number of  cancer pathways apart from reducing insulin resistance and obesity.

The benefits of CLA from Grass-fed cows

The vast majority of cattle are fed on grain or soy. Of course, this may be organic. However, it is not their natural diet and these are the cows that are accused of burping and farting too much by people who link this to climate change and who want to introduce ultra-processed meat from copied cells instead of natural beef (Updated from a 2014 article, by Chris Woollams).

The natural habitat for a cow is in a field of grass. Of course, cold weather and snow can prevent a cow living outside all year round. Cows that are kept in. sheds and put out the graze for a few months have their beef deemed 'grass-finished' (organic or otherwise).  The American Grassfed Association (AGA) however guarantees their cattle have never been fed grains nor given antibiotics or hormones. 

Grass-fed beef contains a number of significant benefits -

   * Natural grass-fed beef is lower in unhealthy saturated fats and higher in omega-3

   * Natural grass-fed beef is higher in minerals and antioxidants

   * Natural grass fed beef which has avoided antibiotics contains less pathogens - 18% of non-grass fed beef can contain superbugs

   * Natural Grass-fed beef contains 500-800 mg of Conjugated Linoleic acid - more than 3 times the levels of grain fed cows.

CLA, illness and cancer

One study (1) from Finland showed an inverse relationship between CLA levels in women and breast cancer risk. The more CLA in the blood stream, the less likely was a woman to have breast cancer.

It is possible that this is linked to insulin resistance. CLA is now known to increase insulin sensitivity reducing diabetes risk (2). Poor sugar control can also increase cancer risk. Diabetes is linked with a three times greater risk of colorectal cancer for example. Other benefits were recorded in the 2017 research, for example lowered obesity and cardiovascular disease levels.

Higher levels of CLA are not just found in the meat of grass-fed animals, but also in their milk. Both have anti-tumour properties (3). 

CLA and breast cancer

In the main study of the article, cientists from Ohio State explained how Conjugated Linoleic Acid from grass-fed cows might be effective.

In the study (4), which looked at breast cancer, the researchers concluded that "It is noteworthy that a natural food component produced from the fermentation of rumen bacterium in food-producing ruminants such as beef and dairy cattle has health significance to the consumers at large and also for chemoprevention purposes. The beneficial effects of low level and long-term daily consumption of CLA-enriched beef and dairy products may serve as potent natural demethylation compounds.’

Methylation causes the changes in the copying process of the DNA (often inaccurately called "mutation’), which prevent genes being expressed properly.

The Science of Epigenetics has shown that many natural compounds can affect this methylation process and unblock genes, thus correcting the cancer process. The build up of Homocysteine can cause methylation - Berberine, Turmeric or the joint action of fish oil omega 3 and B complex, can each reduce homocysteine.

CLA and Prostate cancer

CLA has been shown to decrease prostate cancer proliferation; but different isomers of CLA have different levels of benefit (5).

Supplements of CLA

There are different 'isomers' of CLA. Some excellent for your health, others not so good. CLA supplements rarely come from natural animal products but are usually created from oils (including soybean, safflower, sunflower, and corn oils) high in linoleic acid. Thus supplements made from these oils can have a different mixture of isomers and not those naturally occurring CLA.

We have a review on CLA and a number of research studies with cancer elsewhere on this Website. 

Go to: Review of CLA with cancer and health


 N.B. The American Grass-Fed Association can be found HERE.



1. Inverse association between dietary and serum conjugated linoleic acid and risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women; A Aro et al; Nutr Cancer. 2000;38(2):151-7.  

2. Systematic evaluation on the effectiveness of conjugated linoleic acid in human health; Gitane Fuke, José Laerte Nornberg; Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Jan 2;57(1):1-7.  

3. Antimutagenic and some other effects of conjugated linoleic acid; J Kritchevsky, Br J Nutr. 2000 May;

4. Epigenetic modifications of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) on tumor suppressor gene and protein tyrosine phosphatase; Li-Shu Wang, Yi-Wen Huang, Weiping Ye, Suling Liu, Pearlly Yan and Young Lin; Cancer Research, Vol 67; issue 9; May 2007.

5. Conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) decrease prostate cancer cell proliferation; Julio Ocjoa et al; Carcinogenesis; 2004 Jul;25(7):1185-91.



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