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 human milk, mucus, bile, eye fluids, and some white blood cells. Also available in dietary supplement form, lactoferrin has been found to offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Health Benefits of Lactoferrin

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

1) 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.

2) Iron Deficiency

Lactoferrin may benefit certain people with low levels of iron, according to a research review published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care in 2009. Looking at the available research on the role of lactoferrin in human nutrition, the review's authors determined that treatment with lactoferrin may enhance iron status in infants and pregnant women.

Lactoferrin is thought to improve iron status by promoting the absorption of iron in the intestines, as well as by aiding the delivery of iron to your cells.

3) 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 patients) 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.

4) Osteoporosis

Preliminary research suggests that lactoferrin may help boost bone-building and aid in the prevention of osteoporosis. In a 2005 report published in Clinical Medicine and Research, laboratory tests determined that lactoferrin may help promote the growth of bone-forming cells known as osteoblasts.

5) Human Papillomavirus

Lactoferrin shows promise for protection against human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted virus known to cause genital warts and contribute to the development of cervical cancer. In a 2007 report published in Antiviral Research, tests on cells demonstrated that lactoferrin sourced from cow milk may help inhibit human papillomavirus infection.

6) 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.

Uses for Lactoferrin

In alternative medicine, lactoferrin is touted as a natural remedy for a wide range of health problems, including:

  • diarrhea
  • hepatitis C
  • osteoporosis
  • ulcers

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.

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.

Caveats

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. 

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.

Using Lactoferrin for Health

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. Keep in mind that alternative medicine should not be used as a substitute for standard care. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Sources

Berlutti F, Pantanella F, Natalizi T, Frioni A, Paesano R, Polimeni A, Valenti P. "Antiviral properties of lactoferrin--a natural immunity molecule." Molecules. 2011 Aug 16;16(8):6992-7018.

Di Mario F, Aragona G, Dal Bò N, Cavestro GM, Cavallaro L, Iori V, Comparato G, Leandro G, Pilotto A, Franzè A. "Use of bovine lactoferrin for Helicobacter pylori eradication." Dig Liver Dis. 2003 Oct;35(10):706-10.

Ishii K, Takamura N, Shinohara M, Wakui N, Shin H, Sumino Y, Ohmoto Y, Teraguchi S, Yamauchi K. "Long-term follow-up of chronic hepatitis C patients treated with oral lactoferrin for 12 months." Hepatol Res. 2003 Mar;25(3):226-233.

Kaito M, Iwasa M, Fujita N, Kobayashi Y, Kojima Y, Ikoma J, Imoto I, Adachi Y, Hamano H, Yamauchi K. "Effect of lactoferrin in patients with chronic hepatitis C: combination therapy with interferon and ribavirin." J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2007 Nov;22(11):1894-7.

Legrand D. "Lactoferrin, a key molecule in immune and inflammatory processes." Biochem Cell Biol. 2012 Jun;90(3):252-68. Epub 2011 Dec 2.

Lönnerdal B. "Nutritional roles of lactoferrin." Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2009 May;12(3):293-7.

Naot D, Grey A, Reid IR, Cornish J. "Lactoferrin--a novel bone growth factor." Clin Med Res. 2005 May;3(2):93-101.

Mistry N, Drobni P, Näslund J, Sunkari VG, Jenssen H, Evander M. "The anti-papillomavirus activity of human and bovine lactoferricin." Antiviral Res. 2007 Sep;75(3):258-65.

Pietrantoni A, Dofrelli E, Tinari A, Ammendolia MG, Puzelli S, Fabiani C, Donatelli I, Superti F. "Bovine lactoferrin inhibits influenza A virus induced programmed cell death in vitro." Biometals. 2010 Jun;23(3):465-75.

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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