Every second year for the past 30 years, the top lactoferrin researchers gather to present, disseminate, and discuss the most recent research on this incredible ingredient for health, growth and development in infants and adults. With almost 11,000 published scientific papers on the topic, much is already known about its benefits; however, the presentations and wide-ranging research that is ongoing highlighted that many benefits and mechanisms are only just being discovered.
Lactoferrin is a whey protein fraction that occurs naturally in both bovine and human milk. First isolated in 1939 and used in infant formula since the ‘80s, it’s an iron-binding glycoprotein that’s also found in supplements, gummies and even dental products. Its most researched benefits are highlighted in figure 1.
Presenters from across the globe presented the influence of lactoferrin on many areas of health, including:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Inhibition of SARS-CoV2 virus
- Antifungal properties
- Hyper-ferritinemia (excess levels of the iron-binding protein, ferritin)
- Lowering iron levels in infant formula without negatively impacting growth or iron status
- Hair greying abstract.
- Cancer treatment and reduced tumor growth
- Cognitive function and protection
- Parkinsons Disease
- Reduced recurrence of bacterial vaginosis
With so many potential benefits, it can sometimes seem too good to be true. But when digging into the mechanisms behind it, lactoferrin’s ability to bind iron is key in its function across many conditions of health and disease.
Lactoferrin has a greater iron-binding capacity than the more commonly recognized protein, transferrin, which is renowned for transporting iron throughout the body. This iron-binding capacity helps enhance the iron status in adults and infants. This was highlighted in a couple of presentations; 1. Where the addition of lactoferrin to an infant formula meant the level of additional iron in the formula could be reduced, and still had the same benefit on overall infant growth and iron status. 2. Hyper-ferritinemia, a condition in which the body has too much iron, was also improved with lactoferrin supplementation.
When it comes to its anti-microbial properties, there is no doubt of this protein’s benefits. In vitro work highlighted its ability to favorably impact the response to rotavirus infection, RSV and SARS-CoV2. It was a similar story when looking at the influence of bovine lactoferrin on fungal strains like Candida albicans, with an inhibition of growth with lactoferrin compared to control.
An emerging area is the impact lactoferrin can have on bacterial vaginosis, BV, a persistent, recurring condition who’s treatment is mainly antibiotics that do not help mitigate recurrence.