Lactoferrin, main characteristics, contraindications and methods of use

Lattoferrina proprietà antivirali e immunostimolanti

In short.

In detail we will talk about

What is lactoferrin and what is it used for

What is Lactoferrin

Lactoferrin , also called lactotransferrin , is a protein belonging to the group of glycoproteins that plays a fundamental role in the proper functioning of our body.

It is a protein complex composed of 703 amino acids that has a wide spectrum of functional and beneficial properties: from the control of iron homeostasis , to the antibacterial , antiviral , immunostimulating , antioxidant action, just to name a few.

Lactoferrin was first identified in 1939 in cow’s milk by two Danish scientists: Soren Sorensens and Margrethe Sorenson. It is mainly produced by the mammary gland of mammals and is therefore present in breast and animal milk.

Where is lactoferrin found

In both humans and animals, the highest concentration of lactoferrin is found in colostrum .

Human milk actually contains concentrations of lactoferrin 10 to 100 times higher than in cow’s milk.

Human colostrum 100-1600 mg / 100 ml

Bovine colostrum 20-500 mg / 100 ml

Human mature milk 100 mg / 100 ml

Mature bovine milk 10 mg / 100 ml

Colostrum is the first secretion that a woman’s breast produces immediately after delivery, and is the means by which the mother transmits her immune defenses to the newborn.

In children, lactoferrin represents the main defense against both bacterial and viral infections because, by colonizing the mucous membranes and favoring the development of good intestinal bacteria, it is able to stimulate an innate immune response . Which is why we never stop emphasizing the importance of breastfeeding.

With the transition from colostrum to milk, a few days after birth, the amount of lactoferrin decreases significantly but the baby, who is perfecting the function of his immune system, no longer needs the initial amount.

Lactoferrin is also present in various exocrine secretions, such as saliva , tears , genital fluids , and in lung and nasal secretions . It is also found in neutrophil granulocytes , the cells of the immune system that protect our body in particular from bacterial and fungal infections.

The presence of traces of lactoferrin in the mucous membranes that line the surface of the cavities and of the points in contact with the outside, has the important function of blocking infections at the origin and protecting against the aggression of pathogens.

How lactoferrin works

Let’s find out through which mechanism of action lactoferrin manages to bring its benefits.

Its main function is to transport and regulate the concentration of iron in the bloodstream.

Thanks to its ability to bind the ferric ion (Fe3 +), lactoferrin decreases its concentration in the tissues, subtracting it from the metabolism of pathogenic microorganisms circulating in the body. Since iron is one of the main nutrients that bacteria use to reproduce and grow, its deficiency causes its death.

Each lactoferrin molecule can bind up to two iron ions (Fe3 +): a capacity that is twice that of transferrin.

However, its function is not limited only to sequester free iron when this is in excess. In fact, lactoferrin is a multifunctional protein that simultaneously performs an important antiviral, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating action.

Properties and benefits of lactoferrin

Thanks to its properties, lactoferrin is taken in supplement form due to the many benefits it can bring.

Several scientific studies have provided interesting results that attribute the following functions to lactoferrin:

  • antibacterial
  • antiviral
  • pesticide
  • immunostimulating / immunomodulating
  • anti-inflammatory
  • anti-anemic
  • antimicrobial
  • antifungal
  • antioxidant

Antibacterial and antiviral properties

Lactoferrin exerts its antibacterial and antiviral action by binding to the surface of microorganisms, inhibiting their adhesion and their entry into host cells.

The bacterium that lactoferrin can cope with most effectively is Escherichia Coli , a pathogen that colonizes the mucous membranes of the intestinal wall. This bacterium is also widespread in the environment and can colonize foods, especially unwashed fruit and vegetables and unpasteurized milk.

The bacteriostatic activity of lactoferrin was also particularly effective against Candida Albicans and Stafilococcus Aureus , as well as against many species of Gram negative bacteria (Gram -).

As for the antiviral activity , lactoferrin counteracts replication and infection in the bud, allowing the immune system to carry out its preventive and protective action.

In particular, lactoferrin binds to the glycosaminoglycan components of the cell membrane, avoiding the onset of infectious processes, especially in the case of the herpes simplex virus, human immunodeficiency virus ( HIV ) and cytomegalovirus .

Lactoferrin also has an important antimicrobial activity , stimulating the growth of bifidobacteria (good intestinal flora) and the activity of some cells of the immune system, especially natural killers and neutrophils.

Immunostimulating / immunomodulating properties

The key role that lactoferrin seems to have for the functioning of the immune system has been the subject of many studies since its discovery, and is a particularly topical topic at the moment we are living.

We have already underlined how the infant’s diet can contribute to the development of the gastrointestinal system and in particular to the establishment of the microbiota , which will then be fundamental for the maturation and specificity of the mucosal and systemic immune system .

Despite being the basis of innate immunity , lactoferrin also plays a very important role in the specific or adaptive immunity reactions of our organism, regulating the secretion of inflammatory cytokines and modulating the immune response both in infectious and autoimmune diseases.

At the level of white blood cells, lactoferrin is able to stimulate the growth and differentiation of T lymphocytes , in particular Natural Killer, which have the function of attacking infected cells inducing programmed cell death (apoptosis).

Therefore, the intake of nutraceutical preparations based on lactoferrin could represent a useful preventive measure to optimize the function of the immune system.

Anti-inflammatory properties

The inflammatory process is a complex biological response implemented by our body to protect itself from potentially harmful external agents (eg bacterial and fungal infections).

In the event of an attack by pathogens, neutrophils are recalled at the site of inflammation and pro-inflammatory cytokines are produced, in particular interleukin 6. Lactoferrin helps regulate excess inflammation by chelating excess iron.

Lactoferrin is capable of:

  • support the action of lymphocytes
  • modulate the production of inflammatory cytokines
  • support the action of neutrophils and macrophages

thereby reducing the inflammatory process.

Antioxidant properties

Lactoferrin is a precious ally against the onset of oxidative stress and that is all the alterations that occur in cells, tissues and biological macromolecules when these are exposed to an excess of oxidizing agents, such as free radicals .

A free radical is a chemical species characterized by considerable instability and reactivity that has the potential to create major damage within cells. Lactoferrin prevents the production of these reactive oxygen species (ROS) and the consequent oxidative stress.

The antioxidant action of lactoferrin derives from its ability to reduce excess iron inside cells, preventing damage from oxidative stress that would derive from the much feared Fenton Reaction .


Also by virtue of its involvement in the regulation of iron homeostasis, lactoferrin has been shown to be effective in the treatment of anemia . It is in fact able to improve haematological parameters, increasing the levels of hemoglobin, red blood cells and ferritin in subjects who are deficient.

The treatment of anemia with lactoferrin is also safer and with fewer gastrointestinal side effects , compared to the classic iron therapy.

Lactoferrin and Covid 19

What is the link between lactoferrin and SARS-CoV-2 infection?

The starting point for studies on the possible link between lactoferrin and Covid-19 was the observation that young children (who still benefit from the effects of breastfeeding), despite being infected with the virus, have much milder symptoms than adults.

This has led us to think that the culprit may be lactoferrin , which, as we have seen, has strong antiviral properties .

The researchers then focused on the role of nonspecific innate immunity, which allows toddlers to respond quickly and effectively to infections through the production of antibodies.

From a particularly interesting study it emerged that lactoferrin would have the ability to counteract the cytokine storm, lowering the level of interleukin 6 which, as we know, is the main mechanism of the pathogenesis of Covid-19.

Further laboratory studies showed that lactoferrin would be able to interact with the external glycoprotein of Sars-Cov-2, the so-called spike , preventing it from entering the cells. It also emerged that the site of action of lactoferrin appears to be above all at the level of the nasal and respiratory mucosa, ie the parts of the body in which the Sars-Cov-2 virus tends to multiply.

Although lactoferrin is unable to kill the virus, it is however capable of creating an unfavorable environment for its replication.

Studies on the effectiveness of this protein are multiplying and there are encouraging data that lactoferrin treatment could provide additional protection from Covid-19 . In any case, any integration protocols must always be specific for each situation and prescribed by qualified and suitably trained personnel.

Lactoferrin supplements: when to take them?

Lactoferrin supplements mainly perform the function of filling possible deficiencies of fundamental nutrients for the body.

An integration is recommended in particular in the case of:

  • weak immune system
  • infectious and autoimmune diseases
  • anemia
  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • bacterial infections (caused for example by Candida and Staphylococcus)
  • cystitis and other urinary tract disorders (urogenital infections)

Supplements are not medicines and do not replace a healthy and balanced lifestyle and a good supply of nutrients, but they certainly contribute to general physical and mental well-being.

How to take lactoferrin

Lactoferrin supplements are available in tablets, capsules, soluble powders and multi-vitamin syrups, all of which are viable alternatives. It can be taken alone or in combination with other nutraceuticals .

The lactoferrin that is used, both for in vitro studies and for in vivo treatments, is not extracted from human milk but is lactoferrin extracted from cow’s milk which has a high similarity to human and almost identical functions.

Bovine lactoferrin has been recognized as safe by both the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) which authorized its placing on the market.

What is the recommended dose?

The recommended dose of lactoferrin is 200 mg per day.

Contraindications, side effects and drug interactions

Lactoferrin supplements can also be taken for long periods without particular contraindications, even in the presence of pathologies.

With the exception of adverse reactions related to specific hypersensitivity to the active ingredient, the intake of lactoferrin, according to the appropriate indications, is generally safe and well tolerated.

High doses (greater than 1,100 mg per day) can cause skin rashes, diarrhea, abdominal pain or constipation.

There are currently no known drug interactions. However, the intake of lactoferrin in the presence of particular situations or if you are taking drugs, must always be managed under the supervision of the doctor who, knowing in depth the patient’s clinical picture, will be able to give the best advice.

Lactose is not present in the chemical structure of lactoferrin, therefore it can also be taken by people who have intolerance to this sugar.

Lactoferrin can also be taken by children.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women, on the other hand, should avoid it, as there is a lack of long-term epidemiological studies relating to the safety of use.

In addition to the ability to bind iron, lactoferrin is able to bind (albeit with lower affinity) other metals such as copper and manganese. In case of intake of high doses of lactoferrin there could therefore be a deficiency of these minerals.


The information reported on is for informational purposes only and in no way has the claim or purpose of replacing the opinion of a doctor and / or a specialist.

They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. It is also important to consult with your doctor about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product.

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