The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of a strong immune system.
Among the various ways to support and strengthen the immune system, lactoferrin supplements have become particularly popular for their immunomodulatory and antiviral properties.
In this article we will explore what lactoferrin is, its role in the immune system, the history of supplements of this nutrient, how to use them properly, and answer frequently asked questions on the topic.
What is Lactoferrin
Lactoferrin is a protein found in human and animal milk, with the highest concentration in colostrum, the first milk produced after birth.
It is also found in other secretions such as saliva, tears and mucus. It plays a key role in the immune system due to its antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
The main functions of lactoferrin are:
- Bind and transport iron, an essential element for the growth and survival of bacteria and viruses
- Inhibit the growth of bacteria and viruses by taking away the iron they need to multiply
- Modulate the immune response by stimulating immune system cell activity and reducing inflammation
Lactoferrin is also involved in regulating cell growth and differentiation, promoting wound healing, and protecting against fungal infections.
The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body from infection and disease. A well-functioning immune system is essential for maintaining good health.
Some of the main components of the immune system include:
- Immune system cells, such as lymphocytes and macrophages
- Lymphoid organs, such as the thymus, spleen, and lymph nodes
- Lymphoid tissues, such as tonsils and Peyer’s plaques in the intestine
Lactoferrin interacts with several cells of the immune system, such as macrophages and neutrophils, to enhance their function and promote immune response. It also inhibits the adhesion of bacteria and viruses to host cells, thus reducing the risk of infection.
Lactoferrin was discovered in 1939 by Sørensen and Sørensen, but it was not until the 1960s that it was recognized as a protein with antimicrobial properties. Since then, research has intensified, leading to the discovery of its many biological functions and the identification of its mechanisms of action.
In recent decades in particular, it has been studied for its potential therapeutic applications, including improving immune function, prevention and treatment of infections, and antitumor activity.
Major milestones in lactoferrin research include:
- 1980: First studies on the effects of lactoferrin on immune response
- 1990: Research on antiviral activity against HIV and other viruses
- 2000: Studies on use as a dietary supplement and in pharmaceutical formulations
Lactoferrin supplements are available in various forms, including capsules, tablets, and powders. They are often extracted from bovine whey, an abundant and easily accessible source of lactoferrin. Supplements can be used to support and strengthen the immune system, prevent and treat infections, and promote wound healing.
Some of the main benefits of supplements include:
- Immune system enhancement
- Prevention of bacterial and viral infections
- Reduction of inflammation and pain
- Promotion of wound healing
- Antitumor activity
Uses and dosages
The recommended dose of lactoferrin varies according to age, body weight and individual health conditions.
In general, adults can take 100-200 mg of lactoferrin daily to support the immune system and prevent infection.
Higher doses can be used to treat specific infections or in cases of immune system impairment.
For best results, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s directions and consult a physician or nutritionist before starting to use supplements.
Some precautions to consider include:
- Verify the quality and purity of the product
- Avoid use if allergic to milk or milk protein
- Consult a physician if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have a pre-existing medical condition
Let us now look at some of the most common questions on this topic:
- Is lactoferrin safe for everyone?
Lactoferrin is generally considered safe for most people, however, it is important to consult a physician before starting supplements, especially if you have milk allergies, pregnancy, breastfeeding or pre-existing medical conditions.
- Do lactoferrin supplements interact with other drugs or supplements?
No significant interactions with other drugs or supplements are known. However, it is always advisable to consult a doctor or pharmacist before starting to use these supplements, especially if you are taking other medications or supplements.
- How long does it take to see the benefits of lactoferrin supplements?
Results may vary depending on the individual and health conditions. However, in general, you can begin to notice the benefits of lactoferrin supplements within a few weeks of starting to take them.
- Can I get lactoferrin through my diet?
Yes, lactoferrin is found in small amounts in milk and dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese. However, to obtain a therapeutically effective amount of lactoferrin, supplements are often recommended.
- Can lactoferrin supplements replace a vaccine?
No, lactoferrin supplements cannot replace a vaccine at all. They can help support and strengthen the immune system, which can be helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Here is a (partial) list of scientific publications on the subject:
- Legrand, D., & Mazurier, J. (2010). A critical review of the roles of host lactoferrin in immunity. Biometals, 23(3), 365-376. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10534-010-9321-5
- Ochoa, T. J., & Cleary, T. G. (2009). Effect of lactoferrin on enteric pathogens. Biochimie, 91(1), 30-34. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0300908408002372
- Actor, J. K., Hwang, S. A., & Kruzel, M. L. (2009). Lactoferrin as a natural immune modulator. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 15(17), 1956-1973.
- Champion, E., Cosio, T., Rosa, L., Lanna, C., Di Girolamo, S., Gaziano, R., … & Bianchi, L. (2020). Lactoferrin as protective natural barrier of respiratory and intestinal mucosa against coronavirus infection and inflammation. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 21(14), 4903. https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/21/14/4903
- Siqueiros-Cendón, T., Arévalo, R., Quintanar, D., Godínez, V., Mendoza, S., & Rosales-Mendoza, S. (2014). Immunomodulatory effects of lactoferrin. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica, 35(5), 557-566. https://www.nature.com/articles/aps201330
In summary, lactoferrin is a multifunctional protein with immunomodulatory, antimicrobial, antiviral, and anticancer properties.
Supplements of this protein can help strengthen the immune system, prevent and treat infections, and promote wound healing.
It is important to consult a physician or nutritionist before starting to use supplements to ensure safe and effective use.
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