Lactoferrin – properties and applications
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Lactoferrin is an iron-binding glycoprotein that is secreted most frequently by body fluids. It occurs, inter alia, in human and cow’s milk. (1) Research proves many important functions of lactoferrin in the human body (2) The levels of endogenous lactoferrin increase during infection and inflammation (3, 4). It is a kind of protection against the effects of inflammation. It is a substance with antibacterial properties and a modulator of the immune system. Lactoferrin is thermally stable and can survive the pasteurisation process, but can not survive high pressure treatment (5) It is found in an amount of about 1 g / liter of human milk. (6) About 60-80% of the cow’s lactoferrin consumed can survive gastric digestion in humans, depending on whether it is associated with iron. (7) Part of lactoferrin during contact with pepsin is transformed into smaller proteins and peptides that have even stronger antibacterial activity, eg Lf (1-11), Lfcin, Lfampin. (8) It has a number of health-beneficial properties:
- It strengthens the immune system and protects against intestinal inflammation.
Lactoferrin may have an effect on leukocytes by increasing the activity of NK cells, neutrophils and macrophages. It increases the production of cytokines and nitric oxide, and also limits the growth of pathogens. Promotes maturation of immune cells, e.g. T and B lymphocytes (8) In children, lactoferrin is important for the development of the immune function.(9)
- Lactoferrin binds iron and thus reduces oxidative stress and the risk of cell damage and death (10).
Lactoferrin mainly participates in the recovery from food and probably storage of this microelement, e.g. in the liver. Transferrin ensures the distribution of iron into tissues (11). Lactoferrin binds strongly and it is much more difficult to transfer metal ions compared to transferrin. thus, recovery of iron from lactoferrin complexes can be “unprofitable” for the body in terms of energy. Whereas the main “supplier” of iron to cells is undoubtedly transferrin, LF can regulate the concentration of these ions in the excess present in the environment and unrelated to transferrin, and therefore potentially toxic.
- Promotes the release of the lactase enzyme, which can help people with intolerance after eating lactose. Such properties are characterized primarily by lactoferrin from cow’s milk, to a greater extent from human lactoferrin (12). It has a beneficial and regenerating effect on enterocytes.
- It can reduce the symptoms of allergies. Lactoferrin blocks the release of histamine from intestinal mast cells. (13)
- It has antipathogenic effects: antibacterial (1, 14, 15, 16, 17), antiviral (18), antifungal (19) and antiparasitic (20)
- It can probably be helpful in the prevention and treatment of the effects of obesity – this requires further testing to confirm. (21) May promote reduction of visceral fat. (22)
- It may help to improve the condition of the skin in ailments such as: acne, skin inflammation (23), psoriasis (24), diabetic neuropathy (25)
- It can probably be helpful in improving the condition of the bones. In postmenopausal women, it has been associated with a significant decrease in bone resorption and an increase in osteoblast activity (26)
- In pregnant women, supplementation with lactoferrin is an effective strategy for treating iron deficiency,
anemia caused by iron deficiency and reduces the level of IL-6 (27) It also supports fetal development (28, 29, 30). It protects against necrotizing enterocolitis in premature babies (31, 32)
- It can improve the composition of the intestinal microflora.(33)
In conclusion, lactoferrin is a substance with pleiotropic effect on the human body and as a supplement it may have many applications. Dosing ranges between 200-400 mg per day, but some cases may require higher doses. The duration of supplementation should depend on its purpose – usually about 2-3 months. In some situations, supplementation up to six months is required.