What is Lactoferrin?
Lactoferrin is a protein found in both a woman’s breastmilk and in cow’s milk. It is important for iron regulation, fortifying immunity, optimizing gut health and may also be key to preventing many health conditions including diabetes, cancer and hepatitis C.
Considering these benefits, we’re happy to inform you that you can find prevalent quantities of bovine lactoferrin in our whey protein concentrate.
Lactoferrin belongs to a family of proteins called cytokines that coordinate the body’s cellular immune defensive response to protect us from bacteria, viruses, tumors and cancer.
Cytokines also boost the activity of T-cells and stimulate the production of immunoglobulins. Without lactoferrin and other cytokines, our immune system suffers and reacts by creating an over-active immune response.
Found mostly in mucous membranes and fluids such as tears, lactoferrin is part of the body’s first defense, protecting orifices such as the eyes, mouth and nose from possible infection.
Lactoferrin has many important benefits for health, nutrient absorption, the immune system and even possibly preventing disease. Here are a few of the research-backed benefits of bovine lactoferrin.
Lactoferrin and Iron Deficiency Anemia
Lactoferrin is a very important bioactive molecule that provides iron to cells that need it and limits it to those in excess. Lactoferrin helps with maintaining iron homeostasis, or balance, within the body (1).
While anyone can become deficient in iron, iron deficiency in women is common due to monthly menstruation. Others at risk for iron deficiency include (but are not limited to) children, vegetarians and high endurance athletes (2).
Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, which helps red blood cells carry and transport oxygen throughout your body. Iron deficiency is a cause of anemia, a condition characterized by fatigue, lethargy, heart palpitations and shortness of breath.
Frequently taking iron supplements can result in digestive problems and other side effects. A study published in 2010 compared the effects of bovine lactoferrin and iron supplements (ferrous sulfate) in a group of pregnant women with anemia. While both groups experienced increases in iron levels, the researchers found that lactoferrin significantly increased the number of red blood cells, hemoglobin, total serum iron and serum ferritin after only 30 days of treatment. Also, the group receiving the iron reported significantly greater rates of abdominal pain and constipation. The study concluded that supplementing with lactoferrin is a more effective and safer alternative than iron, without the gastrointestinal side effects (3)
On the flip side, excess iron (called hemochromatosis) can also pose a risk. Iron overdose is much less common compared to deficiency, but can present with equally severe reactions such as bacterial infections, diarrhea, gastrointestinal disorders and toxicity. (4).
Because lactoferrin can help maintain proper iron balance in the body, its presence is important in preventing iron-overload. It’s important to note that the body does not easily assimilate iron or lactoferrin in a denatured (highly processed) state, which is how it is presented in many whey protein supplements. With these supplements, high amounts are required for any benefit.
Our Proserum® protein found in all our Vital Whey products is a non-denatured, protein supplement that is minimally processed to maintain the bioavailability and benefits of lactoferrin.
Lactoferrin and Immunity
Lactoferrin plays an important role in maintaining a healthy immune system. It works for immunity in a few different ways.
First, its ability to bind iron helps to strengthen the body’s defense system, since iron that is not bound can serve as a catalyst for the production of free radicals.
Free radicals are toxic by-products produced in oxygen metabolism. They damage our cells, the proteins in our body and our DNA by creating “stress” and inflammation. A bovine lactoferrin supplement has been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory activity and properties (5).
Lactoferrin also improves immune function by modulating iron. Iron is essential for bacteria to grow. Lactoferrin traps iron away from these harmful organisms, leaving them unable to survive. Lactoferrin can also attach directly to the bacteria preventing them from binding to our healthy cells.
Other protective actions of lactoferrin for immunity include:
- Inhibiting the survival or growth of many different organisms
- Activation or stimulation of a variety of immune system cells
- Regulation of normal cell growth
- Inhibiting abnormal tumor growth and spread of cancer cells
Lactoferrin and Metabolic Disorder
Could lactoferrin be a key component in the fight against obesity and metabolic syndrome?
A study published in 2012 found that administration of bovine lactoferrin decreased the risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome including waist circumference, body weight, triglycerides and cholesterol (6).
A more recent 2017 study found that lactoferrin improved metabolism and decreased body fat independent of calorie intake (7). Decreasing body fat could help reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and other related conditions.
Lactoferrin and Gut health
Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) is the leading cause of hospital-acquired infectious diarrhea and can potentially be fatal. Globally, it is a major healthcare concern, with the cost to treat infected patients constantly rising. It’s possible that bovine lactoferrin could be used as a supplement to the standard antimicrobial treatments for CDI or it could be used alone to potentially delay or inhibit its growth (8).
Lactoferrin and HIV
The first major entrance of lactoferrin on the health scene was in the late 1990’s in regards to its importance as a regulator of the immune response in people with AIDS.
Recent studies continue to show that lactoferrin can also inhibit the growth of the HIV virus. A study published in Amsterdam in 2002 demonstrated that bovine lactoferrin can significantly inhibit HIV by targeting the virus’s entry process into the human body (9). Researchers found similar results in 2014, showing that the inhibitory effects of lactoferrin on the HIV virus were dose dependent (10).
Lactoferrin and Whey Protein
It’s clear that lactoferrin has a broad range of health benefits, with new discoveries being made daily. It enhances and modulates immune system function and provides many iron-enhancing benefits. It has also been said to act as an immune-stimulator in the digestive system, as well as an inhibitor of the growth of many unhealthy micro-organisms in the digestive tract.
Individuals looking to support a healthy immune system or treat anemia will be happy to know that the highest quality and quantities of lactoferrin are found in cow’s milk. Lactoferrin is even more concentrated in whey protein concentrate (WPC).
Here’s how it differs from lactoferrin capsules:
- Isolating lactoferrin in pill form means more processing, and usually a lower quality product.
- A WPC contains 3x’s the amount of naturally occurring lactoferrin vs. the leading brand of capsules.
- Lastly, a high quality WPC like our Proserum® is also a great source of protein, immunoglobulins, and the amino acids necessary for glutathione production.
If you are looking for a quality lactoferrin supplement, whey protein is the best option. Our Vital Whey® and ImmunoPro® products provide an excellent source of non-denatured lactoferrin in its most biologically available state.
- Legrand D, Elass E, Carpentier M, Mazurier J. Lactoferrin. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2005;62(22):2549. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00018-005-5370-2
- Iron-Deficiency Anemia. Accessed March 3, 2021. https://www.hematology.org/education/patients/anemia/iron-deficiency
- Paesano R, Berlutti F, Pietropaoli M, Goolsbee W, Pacifici E, Valenti P. Lactoferrin efficacy versus ferrous sulfate in curing iron disorders in pregnant and non-pregnant women. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2010;23(2):577-587. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20646353/
- Hemochromatosis. Accessed March 3, 2021. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/hemochromatosis
- Rosa L, Cutone A, Lepanto MS, Paesano R, Valenti P. Lactoferrin: A Natural Glycoprotein Involved in Iron and Inflammatory Homeostasis. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(9). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28914813/
- Artym J. [A remedy against obesity? The role of lactoferrin in the metabolism of glucose and lipids]. Postepy Hig Med Dosw . 2012;66:937-953. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23175349/
- Zapata RC, Singh A, Pezeshki A, Nibber T, Chelikani PK. Whey Protein Components – Lactalbumin and Lactoferrin – Improve Energy Balance and Metabolism. Sci Rep. 2017;7(1):9917. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28855697/
- Chilton CH, Crowther GS, Śpiewak K, et al. Potential of lactoferrin to prevent antibiotic-induced Clostridium difficile infection. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2016;71(4):975-985. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26759363/
- Berkhout B, van Wamel JLB, Beljaars L, Meijer DKF, Visser S, Floris R. Characterization of the anti-HIV effects of native lactoferrin and other milk proteins and protein-derived peptides. Antiviral Res. 2002;55(2):341-355. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12103434/
- Wong JH, Liu Z, Law KWK, et al. A study of effects of peptide fragments of bovine and human lactoferrins on activities of three key HIV-1 enzymes. Peptides. 2014;62:183-188. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25445609/