What is Lactoferrin?

What is Lactoferrin?

The structure of lactoferrin

Abstract: Lactoferrin is a protein that is produced most abundantly in breast milk (in particular colostrum, the first milk produced after birth). However, it is also present in our saliva, tears, mucus and white blood cells. So what exactly is it doing in all these obscure places? Lactoferrin is part of your immune system to fight off many different types of infections. Let’s take a look to see exactly what it can do and why it is so unique!

Fighting off infections

Lactoferrin has very broad anti-microbial properties. This means it can reduce the infections of a large range of nasty bugs and germs. These include bacteria (eg. E.coli, salmonella and staphylococcus), viruses, fungi and parasites. Lactoferrin has the ability to not only inhibit and stop these bugs and germs from growing inside the body, it can also effectively kill them, preventing and reducing symptoms, disease and inflammation.

Boosting the Immune System

Aside from its own immune properties, lactoferrin has shown to increase the number of immune cells, proteins and pathways that help fight off infections. Lactoferrin also enhances the growth of good bacteria in the digestive system. This is important as they can fight off bad bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system, reducing symptoms like diarrhea and tummy aches and pains.

How to increase the lactoferrin supply

In the early stages of development, your child is most vulnerable to infections and illness because the immune system is still developing. Thus it is no surprise that we are sick more times in our first year, than any other year of life. Making sure your child has enough lactoferrin will assist in not only reducing the number of times they become ill, but it also reduces the severity and duration of symptoms they will have. This is one the important reasons why mother’s should breastfeed, it provides an excellent dose of lactoferrin to help your baby through a tough battle against germs and bugs. In addition, breast milk also contains antibodies and other proteins that boost the child’s immune system. Once they stop breastfeeding, the only food source that contains lactoferrin is cow’s milk; however the actual amount of lactoferrin is negligible (only 1-5% of the amount found in human breast milk). If you wish to boost your lactoferrin levels in your child or as an adult, lactoferrin supplements are available. The use of lactoferrin supplements have just recently emerged but have already shown to be effective in reducing the risk and severity of bacterial blood infections (sepsis) and lower respiratory infections in newborns, virus-induced diarrhea and vomiting in children and viral infections in adults.

Infants and children given lactoferrin supplements (red) have a significantly reduced risk of infections and reduced severity and duration of illness symptoms than those who do not take lactoferrin supplements (Control – blue).

Breastfeeding and lactoferrin supplements have proven to significantly boost the immune system and reduce the incidence and severity of illness. These two measures may go along way to relieve the stress and anxiety of parents, constantly looking after their children getting sick, time and time again.

Improve Iron status during pregnancy

Not only is lactoferrin a safe, natural way to boost your immune health during pregnancy, it can also improve iron status during this important period. The demand for iron during pregnancy increases by 50% as it is needed for the expansion of the circulatory system (fetal and placenta) and fetal brain development. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia is the most frequent anaemia in the world. Iron supplements (eg. Ferrous sulfate) are often recommended to cure iron deficiency during pregnancy; however they often fail to increase levels significantly and are well known for their gastrointestinal side effects. Lactoferrin supplements have been shown to improve iron status in pregnant women significantly greater than iron supplements of large doses. In addition, no side effects were reported with the use of lactoferrin supplements. Lactoferrin has the ability to bind to iron, improving its absorption in the intestines and its transportation to cells.

References

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  3. Tian, H., et al., Influence of bovine lactoferrin on selected probiotic bacteria and intestinal pathogens. Biometals, 2010. 23(3): p. 593-6.
  4. Egashira, M., et al., Does daily intake of bovine lactoferrin-containing products ameliorate rotaviral gastroenteritis? Acta Paediatr, 2007. 96(8): p. 1242-4.
  5. Manzoni, P., et al., Bovine lactoferrin supplementation for prevention of late-onset sepsis in very low-birth-weight neonates: a randomized trial. JAMA, 2009. 302(13): p. 1421-8.
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  7. King, J.C., Jr., et al., A double-blind, placebo-controlled, pilot study of bovine lactoferrin supplementation in bottle-fed infants. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr, 2007. 44(2): p. 245-51.
  8. Okada, S., et al., Dose-response trial of lactoferrin in patients with chronic hepatitis C. Jpn J Cancer Res, 2002. 93(9): p. 1063-9.
  9. Paesano, R., et al., Lactoferrin efficacy versus ferrous sulfate in curing iron disorders in pregnant and non-pregnant women. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol, 2010. 23(2): p. 577-87.
  10. Paesano, R., et al., Oral administration of lactoferrin increases hemoglobin and total serum iron in pregnant women. Biochem Cell Biol, 2006. 84(3): p. 377-80.

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