Lactoferrin plays an important role in modulating the immune system, both systemically and in the gastrointestinal tract. Its unique iron-binding capacity helps to deprive pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi, of iron, an essential nutrient for their growth and replication.
What is lactoferrin?
Lactoferrin is an important iron-binding protein found naturally in both human and cow’s milk, and other bodily secretions, such as saliva, tears and in the nasal cavity. Lactoferrin is especially abundant in colostrum, which is produced by the mammary glands during the late stages of pregnancy and during the first few days of breastmilk production, providing immune protection for the baby. Lactoferrin is well-tolerated and has been studied in all life-stages with no known adverse reactions.
Lactoferrin, cow’s milk and lactose content
In Australia, a good quality lactoferrin from cow’s milk comes from pasture-fed, hormone-free, non-BSE (bovine spongiform encephalitis or ‘mad cows disease’) and GMO-free Australian cows. During the manufacturing process, lactoferrin is washed of lactose to a content of less than 0.1%, i.e. 100mg of lactoferrin contains less than 0.1mg lactose. People who may have a sensitivity to lactose should not react to this low level of lactose. Lactose intolerant people can typically handle 8-10g lactose, or 1 cup regular milk 250mLs (15.75g lactose) per day.
Lactoferrin and immune health
After ingestion, lactoferrin is partially digested to peptides by proteases in the stomach and intestine. These digested peptides then bind to receptors on the intestinal absorptive and immune cells residing in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract to modulate immune function.
Lactoferrin forms part of the body’s natural defence mechanism that deprives unwanted pathogens of nutrients needed to replicate and multiply. Lactoferrin regulates iron absorption throughout the body, as well as providing iron to the cells. Its iron-binding capacity helps to transport iron more efficiently and safely around the body.
Lactoferrin and pathogens
Iron is an essential growth factor for virtually all bacteria and certain viruses and fungi. Lactoferrin chelates or binds to iron in the body, depriving pathogens of this essential growth factor. Lactoferrin is also thought to have direct bactericidal action on many types of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria and it does this by binding to the outer membrane of the bacterial cell, effectively destroying it.