Wikipedia’s article on Lactoferrin lists several benefits that we can receive from lactoferrin.
- Transfer iron into the cell
- Iron regulation in the blood
- Antibacterial properties
- Antiviral properties
- Antifungal properties
One benefit that the article doesn’t list that I see written about in other places is lactoferrin as a prebiotic.
Lactoferrin’s job in the body is to bind with free iron and carry it into the cell so that it can be used there. Its iron regulation and antibacterial properties, and possibly the prebiotic properties too, are a side-effect of that primary function. Since lactoferrin binds with free iron to transfer it, lactoferrin thereby controls the amount of free iron in the blood. I once met a person who had to have blood taken regularly because his body produced too much iron. Based on this I wonder if his problem may have actually been a lactoferrin deficiency.
Harmful bacteria have a huge appetite for iron, and that is where lactoferrin’s antibacterial properties come from. Once the harmful bacterial population is back under control, the beneficial bacteria that are much less needy for iron can take over. That is one thing that a prebiotic can do.
The Wikipedia article says that lactoferrin can be helpful against viruses like hepatitis, HIV, herpes, and rotaviruses. This apparently happens through a variety of mechanisms. Lactoferrin can bind to the receptors on the cell membrane thereby blocking the virus, bind to the virus itself, or even affect the proteins in the virus reducing its ability to replicate.
Proof from Clinical Studies
Here’s an abstract on PubMed that lays it all out for us what lactoferrin can do for our immune system.
Lactoferrin, a multifunctional iron binding glycoprotein, plays an important role in immune regulation and defence mechanisms against bacteria, fungi and viruses. Lactoferrin’s iron withholding ability is related to inhibition of microbial growth as well as to modulation of motility, aggregation and biofilm formation of pathogenic bacteria. Independently of iron binding capability, lactoferrin interacts with microbial, viral and cell surfaces thus inhibiting microbial and viral adhesion and entry into host cells. Lactoferrin can be considered not only a primary defense factor against mucosal infections, but also a polyvalent regulator which interacts in viral infectious processes. Its antiviral activity, demonstrated against both enveloped and naked viruses, lies in the early phase of infection, thus preventing entry of virus in the host cell. This activity is exerted by binding to heparan sulphate glycosaminoglycan cell receptors, or viral particles or both. Despite the antiviral effect of lactoferrin, widely demonstrated in vitro studies, few clinical trials have been carried out and the related mechanism of action is still under debate. The nuclear localization of lactoferrin in different epithelial human cells suggests that lactoferrin exerts its antiviral effect not only in the early phase of surface interaction virus-cell, but also intracellularly. The capability of lactoferrin to exert a potent antiviral activity, through its binding to host cells and/or viral particles, and its nuclear localization strengthens the idea thatlactoferrin is an important brick in the mucosal wall, effective against viral attacks and it could be usefully applied as novel strategy for treatment of viral infections.
I found another abstract on PubMed from a study done to see the effects of Lactoferrin on the flu virus. At the time that I’m writing this we are approaching the flu season, so this one is rather appropriate. It says that the flu virus invades our cells, replicates itself, then kills the cell through apoptosis – it programs the cell to die. The study showed that lactoferrin inhibited the programmed cell death and blocked the virus from being able to replicate itself.
Here is another study on PubMed about the effect of Lactoferrin on candida. Many people suffer from an overgrowth of candida yeast in the body, so I thought this one would be appropriate too. Basically it says that candida requires iron to grow and “lactoferrin showed significant antifungal effect”.
If you don’t already take one, this is the lactoferrin supplement that I take.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor and I don’t make any medical claims that lactoferrin will do anything for you. The information is from Wikipedia and the study abstracts are all from PubMed, the website from the National Institutes for Health. I also own the website with the lactoferrin supplement and may earn income from any links you click on that site or this one.