What is Lactoferrin?
Lacto (milk) ferrin (iron)
Lactoferrin is an important protein found naturally in human and cow’s milk and in other “protective” fluids produced by the body such as tears and saliva. It is a natural component of every person’s “immune defences” system. Lactoferrin is abundant in mother’s breast milk, where quantities are at their peak in early milk.
Lactoferrin: ideal for healthy gut immune function
- Extensively studied natural cows milk protein, evaluated in over 80 clinical studies. Also found naturally in breastmilk.
- Used globally in infant formula and in supplements suitable for all ages. Consumed worldwide in over 50 countries.
- Efficacious with no adverse reactions established in trials in adults, children, and infants
How does Lactoferrin work and why is it important for infants?
Lactoferrin and the gastrointestinal immune system
An infant’s natural source of lactoferrin is from breast milk. In breast milk, lactoferrin is referred to as a “first line defence” protein. It is at this early stage where it plays its most important role for the best infant nutrition and providing immune protection for a baby.
70% of the cells that make up the immune system are found in the gut. At birth, these cells act as a physical barrier between the immature infant’s immune system and potentially harmful foreign bodies. This barrier is at all stages of life unless it is compromised.
When consumed, lactoferrin interacts with these intestinal immune cells residing in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and helps naturally regulate immune function.
Lactoferrin and Iron
Lactoferrin is an iron-binding protein. Iron is a nutrient required by many bacteria and fungi to grow. When lactoferrin binds to free iron, it deprives these potential pathogens of this essential nutrient and reduces their ability to grow.
Lactoferrin is also shown to facilitate regulation of blood iron levels, iron absorption as well as providing iron to the cells.
Adequate intake and absorption of iron is essential for supporting the development of a healthy brain. Efficient iron transport and absorption are pivotal during pregnancy to help support the developing fetus. Lactoferrin offers an exciting new approach to correct iron deficiency early in pregnancy and supports adequate iron status at all stages of pregnancy.
Gastrointestinal and respiratory outcomes closer to breastmilk with lactoferrin
Infants consuming formula with lactoferrin versus the standard formula group showed a significant improvement in:
- occurrences of diarrhea-related disturbances and
- occurrences of respiratory tract disturbances
- No significant difference versus the breastfed reference group was observed.
A prospective 3 month study by Chen et al. in 2016 evaluated diarrhea and respiratory tract infection outcomes. The study had 260 healthy 4- 6 month old infants who were previously exclusively breastfed. They were randomised into three groups. The first group received infant formula fortified with lactoferrin (FG). The second group received a similar infant formula control (CG) with no added lactoferrin. The third group was breastfed (BF).
Infants in the breastfed group (BF) and infant formula fortified with lactoferrin group (FG) demonstrated evidence of a lower incidence rate of respiratory related illnesses. Both groups also demonstrated fewer symptoms of running nose, cough, and wheezing versus the infant formula control group (CG). No significant differences between the formula fortified with lactoferrin group (FG) and the breastfed group (BF) were observed.
The infants in the breastfed group (BF) and the formula fortified with lactoferrin group (FG) also demonstrated significantly lower occurrences of diarrhea-related illnesses than those in the infant formula control group (CG) (P < 0.05).
For more information: Effect of bovine lactoferrin from iron-fortified formulas on diarrhea and respiratory tract infections of weaned infants in a randomised controlled trial. Chen et al. Nutrition Volume 32, Issue 2, February 2016, Pages 222-227et al.
Emerging research of lactoferrin’s involvement with cognitive, language and motor development in infants
Improved Neurodevelopmental Outcomes Associated with Bovine Milk Fat Globule Membrane and Lactoferrin in Infant Formula
Results from a clinical trial published in the Journal of Pediatrics show infants who consume formula containing milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) and bovine lactoferrin had an accelerated neurodevelopmental profile scoring higher in tests of cognitive, language and motor development by their first birthdays.
The formula was associated with age-appropriate growth and significantly fewer diarrhea and respiratory-associated adverse events through to 18months of age.
For more information: Fei Li, MD, PhD, Steven S, et al. Improved Neurodevelopmental Outcomes Associated with Bovine Milk Fat Globule Membrane and Lactoferrin in Infant Formula: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. J Pediatr. 2019;-:1-8
A randomised prospective study by Tsukahara et al. in 2020 evaluated the efficacy of bLf on gastroenteritis in preschool-aged children during the winter season. Pre-school children aged 3-6 years were enrolled in the study and randomised into two groups. 1162 children completed the study. The 578 children in the treatment group were provided 100mg of bLf in yogurt once a day, while the 584 children in the control group received a fruit jelly.
Those children consuming 100mg bLf a day, for at least 3 days a week over a 15 week period demonstrated a significantly lower rate of absent days from school due to vomiting. The difference between the treatment and control group equates to a 49% reduction in absent days from preschool.
The study highlights the consumption of 100mg of lactoferrin in yogurt for more than 3 days/week might help alleviate the symptom of vomiting in pre-school-aged school children during the winter.
Research supports lactoferrin supplementation for Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA) in primary school children
A better substitute for oral iron in the management of iron deficiency
After 30 days, primary school children with IDA consuming bovine lactoferrin with water versus the group receiving an iron supplement showed a significant improvement in:
- Red blood cells
- Serum Ferritin
- Total Serum Iron
A prospective cohort 3-month study by El-Khawaga et al. in 2019 compared the efficacy of bLf treatment vs. elemental iron therapy in the management of iron deficiency anemia (IDA). The study had 94 primary school age children (6 – 12 years) with IDA.
They were randomised into two groups. The first group received a sachet containing 100mg of lactoferrin in water two times a day. The other group received 6mgl/Kg/day of elemental iron once a day.
At 30days, children treated with lactoferrin showed a significant increase of red blood cells (P < 0.001), haemoglobin (P < 0.001), serum ferritin (P < 0.001), and total serum iron (P < 0.038).
El-Khawaga A et al. Effect of Lactoferrin Supplementation on Iron Deficiency Anemia in Primary School Children. IMJA. 2019
Lactoferrin in pregnancy offers an exciting approach to correcting iron deficiency early in pregnancy and has been shown to actively reduce nausea, constipation and gastrointestinal discomfort versus supplementation with some forms of iron.
Emerging research links the use of lactoferrin in pregnancy in reducing the incidence of low birth weights and preterm delivery.
To date over 8 clinical studies in both pregnant and non-pregnant women, as well as infants, have been conducted investigating the efficacy of lactoferrin compared to ferrous supplements.
Lactoferrin shows greater benefits and efficacy in the management of anemia than standard ferrous sulphate
An interventional study by Lepanto et al. in 2018 compared the efficacy of cow’s milk lactoferrin (bLf) treatment versus the worldwide standard “ferrous sulphate”, in the management of anemia and anemia of inflammation in pregnant and non-pregnant women, affected by minor a predisposition to blood clots known as hereditary thrombophilia (HT).
The study enrolled 70 anemic HT pregnant women between the 6th and 8th week of gestation. The women selected treatment based on personal preference. Those in the lactoferrin group received one capsule containing 100mg of lactoferrin two times a day. The other group received 329.7mg of ferrous sulphate once a day.
HT pregnant women treated with lactoferrin showed a significant increase of red blood cells, haemoglobin and total serum iron at 30 days and at delivery. The women in the lactoferrin group also demonstrated a significant reduction in iron transport inhibitor, hepcidin (P < 0.05).
The pregnant women treated for 30 days through to delivery with ferrous sulphate observed no significant difference in any parameter.
For more information: Efficacy of Lactoferrin Oral Administration in the Treatment of Anemia and Anemiaof Inflammation in Pregnant and Non-pregnant Women: An Interventional Study. Lepanto et al. Front. Immunol., 21 September 2018
Ongoing global research demonstrates lactoferrins immune benefits in adult populations, especially the elderly who often suffer from age related immune loss. An age related decline in immune function increases the risk of infectious diseases, one of the leading causes of death.
A 2015 clinical trial demonstrated daily supplementation with 300mg lactoferrin can help activate specific cells that trigger the immune response. This may be beneficial to elderly individuals or those who suffer from age related immune loss.
A randomized, double-blinded, placebo controlled study evaluated the effects of lactoferrin on the immune function of healthy, elderly individuals. 62 healthy men and women aged 66-87 years were randomised into two groups. The first group received placebo tablets once a day. The second group received tablets with 300mg of lactoferrin once a day.
After 3 months, the certain aspects of the immune function were significantly enhanced in the lactoferrin group.
The lactoferrin group demonstrated a gradual increase in neutrophil function (neutrophil
phagocytic capacity) whereas the placebo group showed a trend towards reduced neutrophil function. Neutrophils are a defence component against infection. This difference was statistically significant at the end of the 3 month period.
The group supplemented with lactoferrin also demonstrated an increase in NK Cell cytotoxicity. whereas the placebo group showed a reductive trend. NK Cells are critical to the innate immune response and provide targeted response to abnormal cells such as viruses. This difference was statistically significant at the end of the 3 month period.
This study supports 300mg lactoferrin supplementation in elderly individuals to help activate specific immune cells that have the capacity to trigger an immune response.
Study: Kawakami H et al., Effects of enteric-coated lactoferrin supplementation on the immune function of elderly individuals: A randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled trial, International Dairy Journal, 47 (2015) 79-85.
A randomized, double-blinded, placebo controlled parallel-group comparative study by Oda et al. published in 2020 evaluated the efficacy of bovine lactoferrin (bLf) on the prevalence and duration of infectious diseases in adults during the Japanese summer. Healthy adults aged 20-65 years were enrolled in the study and randomised into three groups. 290 people completed study. The control group received a placebo tablet. The second group received tablets with 200mg of lactoferrin. The third group consumed tablets 600mg of lactoferrin a day.
After 12 weeks the duration of total infectious diseases was shorter in the groups consuming 200mg or 600mg than in the placebo group. Of more importance those adults consuming 600mg of lactoferrin a day for 12 weeks experienced a statistically significant (p=0.036) shortened duration of a summer cold.
Oda H et al., Effects of lactoferrin on infectious diseases in Japanese summer: A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial, Journal of Microbiology, Immunology and Infection, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmii.2020.02.010