Lattoferrin: what it is and what it is used for

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Lactoferrin and the immune system

La lactoferrin is a glycoprotein which is naturally contained in abundant quantities in the breast milk, and especially in the colostrum, the secretion that the newborn eats in the first days of life, which favors the development of beneficial bacteria of the intestinal flora and strengthens the immune system.

Traces of this particular protein are also found in other fluids, such as saliva, tears, mucous membranes and immune cells that counteract the proliferation of fungi and bacteria within the body.

It was discovered in 1939 in cow's milk and its immunostimulating, antioxidant and anti-infective properties were immediately evident.


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In this article

  • Lactoferrin: what it is and what it is used for
  • Lactoferrin: where it is found and its functions
  • Lactoferrin: benefits and limitations
  • Lactoferrin and breastfeeding 
Read also: Lactoferrin: an important ally for newborns, but not against Covid-19

Lactoferrin: what it is and what it is used for

La lactoferrin it 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. Lactoferrin has recently been re-evaluated for its antioxidant, immunomodulatory and anti-infective properties.

In fact, lactoferrin is a good reserve of iron and appears to contribute 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. 

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Lactoferrin: where it is found and its functions

La lattoferrin is located:

  • within the breast milk, especially in the colostrum, very rich in lactoferrin, which favors the development of beneficial intestinal bacteria, helping the little one to eradicate the pathogens responsible for gastroenteritis (colic of the newborn)
  • in saliva and tears
  • in neutrophil granulocytes, immune cells that defend the body from fungal and bacterial infections

Many are the beneficial functions of lactoferrin:

  • binds and carries iron and helps its absorption in the intestinal tract. 
  • confers innate immunity to children: plays a protective role against viruses, bacteria and fungi. In infants, it protects against bacterial infections that could develop with breastfeeding
  • has antiviral effects: it manages to bind to the glycosaminoglycans of the plasma membrane, preventing the virus from entering the cell and infecting it. It is useful against a large number of viruses, blocking them at the initial stage of their proliferation, such as, for example, the Herpes virus, cytomegalovirus, HIV and cold and flu viruses;
  • has an immunostimulating action: is able to support the body's defenses, improving immune competence. It is useful both if taken in prevention and at the first manifestations of infection;
  • has an antioxidant action: helps to counteract the activity of free radicals that cause aging and damage to the body's structures. It works by maintaining the functionality of the organism and counteracting the proliferation of oxidative stress. This means that it contributes to maintaining the optimal functionality of the organism, making our personal soil stronger and less prone to developing diseases.
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Lactoferrin: benefits and limitations

La bovine lactoferrin it is included in the document of the Ministry of Health "Other nutrients and other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect" and in particular in the list "Substances with a defined maximum daily intake", which for this substance is 200 mg.

Besides being a great one iron reserve, bovine lactoferrin seems to have others beneficial properties for the human body, including contributing to the body's natural defenses put in place by the immune system against various bacteria that can come from the outside world (antibacterial functions).

Bovine lactoferrin taken via supplements it 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
  • 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.

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Lactoferrin and breastfeeding

La lactoferrin is contained in breast milk and thanks tobreastfeeding helps to increase the immune defenses of the newborn as it represents the main defense for the bacterial and viral infections in children (and not only) because it is able to stimulate an innate immune response in them.

Lactoferrin also promotes 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 of the benefits of lactoferrin in infants, particularly in those born preterm, is that the latter appears to play an important role in the prevention of sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants.

Other sources for this article:

NCBI Antiviral Properties of Lactoferrin—A Natural Immunity Molecule 

ScienceDirect Antimicrobial properties of lactoferrin 

British Journal of Nutrition (2000), 84, Suppl. 1, S11±S17 Occurrence, structure, biochemical properties and technological characteristics of lactoferrin 

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Questions and answers

What is lactoferrin used for?

Lactoferrin is mainly used in the integrative and clinical setting as an antimicrobial, immunomodulatory, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory remedy.

Where is lactoferrin contained?

Lactoferrin is a substance present in the milk of all mammals; human milk contains about 2 grams per liter. Cow's milk contains in particular bovine lactoferrin.

  • breastfeeding
  • breast milk
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