Are you looking for a new way to support your health and wellbeing? Consider adding a lactoferrin supplement to your daily routine.
Science links this protein to a range of benefits — everything from a healthy gut to cancer prevention. Keep reading to find out how it can help you supercharge your health.
What Is Lactoferrin and How Does It Work?
Lactoferrin is a protein found naturally in the body. We typically find it in body fluids. Colostrum — the milk produced just after birth — contains the highest amount, closely followed by human milk for older babies and cow’s milk.
Its benefits for babies are clear — but how can lactoferrin help you?
To answer this question, we first need to consider the main role it plays in our bodies. Here’s the science:
Lactoferrin attaches itself to the iron molecules in our blood. When an iron molecule isn’t attached to a protein it’s known as a free iron — and can cause damage to our cells and DNA. Lactoferrin prevents this damage by carrying iron molecules to where they’re supposed to be.
But lactoferrin can provide you with benefits that go far beyond this basic role in your body. Scientists know this, with more and more research emerging to support its use. Here are some of the key findings:
Lactoferrin supports our immune system.
Lactoferrin is a powerful immunomodulator. This means it can help regulate the immune system to overcome various threats. It does this by activating certain components of the immune system and suppressing others.
For example, one study found it increased the production of immunoglobulins(1). These are antibodies produced by white blood cells to help destroy pathogens in the body.
Lactoferrin may contribute to the treatment and prevention of cancer.
We need more effective ways to treat and prevent cancer. According to Cancer Research UK, it causes 26% of all deaths in the UK. And this is one of the reasons scientists are so excited about lactoferrin.
Cancer cells need iron to grow (2). The more free iron in the body, the faster tumours can grow — and the harder it becomes for your body to fight them.
Remember what we said earlier about lactoferrin attaching itself to iron molecules? This reduces the amount of iron available to cancer cells. Research in both humans and mice suggest this may be an effective cancer prevention strategy (3, 4).
Studies have also investigated lactoferrin as a potential cancer treatment, with promising results (5).
Lactoferrin prevents the growth of harmful bacteria and viruses.
The way lactoferrin interacts with microbes in the body has been studied extensively. This is another way it supports our immune system, keeping harmful bacteria and viruses at bay.
Like cancer cells, many of these harmful microbes depend on iron for growth. When lactoferrin binds to the iron, it's no longer available for them — and the cells die out.
But there's another way lactoferrin can combat these pathogens. Research shows it can target bacterial cells directly to destroy them. This means lactoferrin may also play an important role in overcoming antibiotic resistance (6) — one of the World Health Organisation’s biggest threats to health.
Lactoferrin helps keep our bones healthy.
As we age, keeping our bones healthy is essential. It's estimated 50% of women and 20% of men over 50 will suffer broken bones due to osteoporosis.
Scientists have discovered lactoferrin encourages the growth of new bone cells (7). Supplementation could, therefore, be key to protecting our bones from age-related degeneration.
Lactoferrin contributes to a healthy gut.
You’ve probably already heard about the importance of your gut microbiome, and its role in keeping us healthy.
One of the things a healthy gut depends on is the balance of bacteria found in the digestive tract. Lactoferrin plays a key role in this process by promoting the growth of “good bacteria” (8).
This might seem contrary to our earlier point about lactoferrin and harmful bacteria. But beneficial microbes do not seem to depend on iron for their growth, so are not affected in the same way. Instead, lactoferrin acts as a prebiotic — feeding the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut(9).
Why Take a Lactoferrin Supplement?
It is possible to get lactoferrin from cow's milk. But most of the research we've discussed uses a higher concentration than found in a typical serving of cow's milk. This means you would need to drink a lot of it to experience the benefits highlighted in this post.
It's also difficult to quantify how much you're getting. The amount available in cow's milk seems to vary according to the age and health of the cow(10). For these reasons, introducing a supplement is a good idea.
How to Take Lactoferrin.
The main challenge when choosing a lactoferrin supplement is ensuring you digest it effectively and absorb the nutrient. Taking it in a pill form isn't recommended. The acidity of your digestive tract is likely to break down the supplement too early.
Supplementing with undenatured whey protein can overcome this problem. It is created without heat or chemicals to preserve more of the nutrients. This way, you benefit from up to 15x more lactoferrin than traditional whey supplements — in a highly digestible form.
1. Sfeir, R. M., Dubarry, M., Boyaka, P. N., Rautureau, M., & Tomé, D. (2004). The Mode of Oral Bovine Lactoferrin Administration Influences Mucosal and Systemic Immune Responses in Mice. The Journal of Nutrition, 134(2), 403–409.
2. Wang, Y., Yu, L., Ding, J., & Chen, Y. (2018). Iron Metabolism in Cancer. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 20(1), 95.
3. Artym, J., Zimecki, M., & Kruzel, M. L. (2003). Reconstitution of the cellular immune response by lactoferrin in cyclophosphamide-treated mice is correlated with renewal of T cell compartment. Immunobiology, 207(3), 197–205.
4. Duarte, D.C., Nicolau, A., Teixeira, J.A., Rodrigues, L.R. (2011) The effect of bovine milk lactoferrin on human breast cancer cell lines. Journal of Dairy Science, 94(1), 66-76.
5. Sun, X., Jiang, R., Przepiorski, A., Reddy, S., Palmano, K. P., & Krissansen, G. W. (2012). “Iron-saturated” bovine lactoferrin improves the chemotherapeutic effects of tamoxifen in the treatment of basal-like breast cancer in mice. BMC Cancer, 12, 591.
6. Jahani S, Shakiba A, Jahani L. The Antimicrobial Effect of Lactoferrin on Gram-Negative and Gram-Positive Bacteria (2015) International Journal of Infection, 2(3).
7. Cornish, J., & Naot, D. (2010). Lactoferrin as an effector molecule in the skeleton. BioMetals, 23(3), 425–430.
8. Nguyen, D. N., Jiang, P., Stensballe, A., Bendixen, E., Sangild, P. T., & Chatterton, D. E. W. (2016). Bovine lactoferrin regulates cell survival, apoptosis and inflammation in intestinal epithelial cells and preterm pig intestine. Journal of Proteomics, 139, 95–102.
9. Śpiewak, K., Majka, G., Pilarczyk- Żurek, M., Nowak, P. M., Woźniakiewicz, M., Pietrzyk, P., Korzeniak, T., Stochel-Gaudyn, A., Fyderek, K., Strus, M., Brindell, M. (2017) Mn3+-saturated bovine lactoferrin as a new complex with potential prebiotic activities for dysbiosis treatment and prevention – On the synthesis, chemical characterization and origin of biological activity, Journal of Functional Foods, 38(A), 264-272.
10. Hagiwara, S., Kawai, K., Anri, A., Nagahata, H. (2003) Lactoferrin concentrations in milk from normal and subclinical mastitic cows. The Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, 65(3), 319-323.