The Benefits of Lactoferrin

mother and baby
Lactoferrin is a protein found naturally in milk. Emma Kim/Cultura/Getty Images

Lactoferrin is a protein found naturally in milk and several other fluids in the body (such as mucus and bile). Also available in dietary supplement form, lactoferrin has been found to offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Why Do People Use Lactoferrin?

Lactoferrin is touted as a remedy for a wide range of health problems, including:

  • Acne
  • Diarrhea
  • Hepatitis C
  • Osteoporosis
  • Ulcers
  • Weight Loss

In addition, lactoferrin is said to stimulate the immune system, treat iron deficiency, slow up the aging process, promote the growth of probiotic bacteria, and aid in cancer prevention.

The Benefits of Lactoferrin: Can It Really Help?

Here's a look at the science behind the purported health benefits of lactoferrin:

1) Acne

In a study published in Current Medical Research and Opinion in 2011, participants consumed either fermented milk with 200 mg of lactoferrin or fermented milk daily for twelve weeks. Acne lesions were assessed at monthly visits.

At the end of the treatment period, those given the lactoferrin-supplemented milk had a decrease in acne lesion count, inflammatory lesion count, acne grade, and amount of sebum compared to those who took the placebo. Researchers also noted a reduction in triacylglycerols (a type of fat) in the skin surface.

2) Osteoporosis

Although research on the bone-building benefits of lactoferrin is very limited, preliminary research suggests that lactoferrin may aid in the prevention of osteoporosis. In a report published in Clinical Medicine and Research, laboratory tests determined that lactoferrin may help stimulate the growth of bone-forming cells known as osteoblasts.

In a study published in Osteoporosis International in 2009, researchers examined the use of a lactoferrin supplement (enriched with ribonuclease, a substance found to promote the formation of new blood vessels) on bone health in post menopausal women. At the study's end, those who took the lactoferrin supplement had a significant reduction in bone resorption and increase in bone formation.

compared to those who took the placebo.

3) Flu Defense

Lactoferrin appears to offer virus-fighting effects that may help with flu defense. In a 2011 report published in Molecules, for instance, researchers analyzed the available research on lactoferrin's antiviral properties and found that it may be beneficial in treatment of viral infections. What's more, a 2010 study published from Biometals tested lactoferrin's effects on flu-infected cells and concluded that it may help destroy the flu virus.

4) Hepatitis C

There's some evidence that lactoferrin may inhibit hepatitis C infection. In a 2003 study from Hepatology Research, for instance, scientists discovered that treatment with lactoferrin may help increase levels of interleukin-18 (an immune-system protein found to play a key role in fighting off the hepatitis C virus). The year-long study involved 63 people with hepatitis C.

5) Ulcers

Lactoferrin may help protect against Helicobacter pylori infection (a type of infection known to cause ulcers). For a report published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics in 2009, researchers analyzed five clinical trials (with a total of 682 participants) on the use of lactoferrin against Helicobacter pylori infection.

Results revealed that lactoferrin sourced from cow milk may help knock out Helicobacter pylori and reduce infection rates without causing adverse effects.

Sources of Lactoferrin

When used in dietary supplement form, lactoferrin is typically sourced from cow's milk or genetically modified rice or cow's milk.

There's some evidence that colostrum (the first milk produced by lactating women after giving birth) contains particularly high levels of lactoferrin.

Possible Side Effects and Safety

When taken in excessive doses, lactoferrin may cause a number of adverse effects, including fatigue, constipation, and loss of appetite.

The long-term safety of lactoferrin use isn't known. Keep in mind that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Where To Find It

Widely available for purchase online, supplements containing lactoferrin are available in many natural-foods stores, drugstores, and stores specializing in dietary supplements.

The Takeaway

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend lactoferrin supplements as a treatment for any condition. If you're considering using it, talk to your doctor to weigh the potential risks and benefits.

Sources:

Bharadwaj S, Naidu AG, Betageri GV, Prasadarao NV, Naidu AS. Milk ribonuclease-enriched lactoferrin induces positive effects on bone turnover markers in postmenopausal women. Osteoporos Int. 2009 Sep;20(9):1603-11. 

Ishii K, Takamura N, Shinohara M, et al. Long-term follow-up of chronic hepatitis C patients treated with oral lactoferrin for 12 months. Hepatol Res. 2003 Mar;25(3):226-233.

Kim J, Ko Y, Park YK, Kim NI, Ha WK, Cho Y. Dietary effect of lactoferrin-enriched fermented milk on skin surface lipid and clinical improvement of acne vulgaris. Nutrition. 2010 Sep;26(9):902-9. 

Sachdeva A, Nagpal J. Meta-analysis: efficacy of bovine lactoferrin in Helicobacter pylori eradication. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2009 Apr 1;29(7):720-30.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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