Lactoferrin: an important ally for newborns, but not against Covid-19

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In recent days we talk more and more often about lactoferrin for the treatment and prevention of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Family doctors and pediatricians have begun to prescribe it and in pharmacies lactoferrin supplements they are almost impossible to find. Although the scientific evidence seems to be still insufficient to demonstrate action against Covid-19, lactoferrin still remains a fundamental substance for newborns.

In this article

  • What is Lactoferrin
  • What is lactoferrin used for
  • Lactoferrin and infants
  • Lactoferrin supplements: contraindications
  • Lactoferrin and Covid-19: what we know

What is Lactoferrin

Lactoferrin is a protein found in the milk of all mammals, including humans. The breast milk it contains about 2 grams per liter. Lactoferrin, which is also found in saliva and tears, is known for its antimicrobial action and because it protects babies from gastrointestinal infections. In the case of the supplements that are now becoming popular in pharmacies, it is bovine lactoferrin.

What is lactoferrin used for

Lactoferrin is a good reserve of iron and it seems that it contributes to the functioning of the work immune against some types of external bacteria (antibacterial function). However, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) specifies that it cannot be attributed to this substance the ability to defend the organism from pathogens since the scientific evidence available is not sufficient. 

Lactoferrin and infants

As we have seen, lactoferrin is also contained in breast milk and is one of the most precious gifts that mothers give to their babies thanks tobreastfeeding. Several studies, including one published in The Journal of Pediatrics, highlight the benefits of lactoferrin in infants. This substance favors the development of beneficial intestinal bacteria which help prevent colic in the newborn, but not only. Lactoferrin contained in breast milk, especially in colostrum, protects newborns from infections as their immune systems are still weak. In the colostrum the lactoferrin present is in fact five times higher than that contained in the milk of the following weeks. 

Another research published in the American Journal of Perinatology confirms the benefits of lactoferrin in infants, especially those born preterm. Indeed, it appears that lactoferrin may help prevent sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis in premature babies.

Lactoferrin supplements: contraindications

Bovine lactoferrin taken through supplements is generally well tolerated by the body in both adults and children, but be careful not to overdo the doses because it could cause

  • diarrhea,
  • fatigue,
  • loss of appetite
  • and chills.

In pregnancy e nursing the intake of lactoferrin through thesupply (cow's milk) is safe, while it is recommended to avoid taking it through supplements. In fact, we do not yet know what effects a greater consumption of lactoferrin can produce during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Lactoferrin and Covid-19: what we know

While it is true that lactoferrin contributes in an important way to the health of newborns, the same cannot yet be said for its use. against Covid-19, let's see why.

A recent joint study by the Roman universities Tor Vergata and La Sapienza states that lactoferrin is useful for "promoting, without adverse events, the remission of clinical symptoms in positive symptomatic Covid-19 patients". The study, entitled "Lactoferrin as a natural protective barrier of the intestinal and respiratory mucosa against coronavirus infection and inflammation" was led by Elena Campione, full professor of dermatology at the Tor Vergata University of the city. The research team has initiated a clinical trial still ongoing on 32 people who seem to demonstrate positive effects in combating Covid-19, but a good part of the scientific community has raised doubts about the methodology of the study. 

Le critical main ones concern:

  • the too small size of the sample of people;
  • the absence of comparison with a placebo drug (without active ingredient) in the control group;
  • the absence of peer review, that is peer review, a fundamental step to evaluate the correctness of the research.

Furthermore, it is one of the authors of the study who emphasizes the need for further research. Stefano di Girolamo, head of the Otolaryngology unit of the Tor Vergata Polyclinic and signatory of the study, interviewed by the newspaper Il Messaggero, said that "from the clinical point of view, the results so far are very encouraging but we need to continue to have statistical data and further evidence ". Finally, Di Girolamo maintains that lactoferrin «is a substance that facilitates the immunological action, by itself it cannot defeat the virus but it is capable of making the environment less hospitable ». We just have to wait for further investigations, aware that for now the scientific evidence is not yet sufficient to support the hypotheses proposed by the city's research.

  • breastfeeding
  • coronavirus
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