The Immune Benefits of Lactoferrin in Young Children
Lactoferrin is an iron-binding glycoprotein found in cow’s milk and human breast milk. In fact, a mother’s first milk, known as colostrum, contains seven times more lactoferrin than is found in more mature milk produced later on.
Lactoferrin supplementation is most commonly used for low iron levels in women who are pregnant and for preventing blood infection in premature infants.
More recently, researchers have been examining the immune benefits of lactoferrin in young children.
So, how does Lactoferrin work?
Lactoferrin can help to regulate how well iron is absorbed into the body from the intestine. One interesting thing about lactoferrin is that it can help protect against infection from bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Lactoferrin slows the growth of bacteria by starving the bacteria of nutrients.
Furthermore, lactoferrin assists in the development of T-cells, which are part of the immune system and develop from stem cells in the bone marrow. T cells help protect the body from infection.
Lactoferrin contributes to immune homeostasis, and functions to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation on a cellular level. Lactoferrin also functions as an antioxidant, and can reduce levels of reactive oxygen species in the body.
Research into lactoferrin has also been shown to be protective against common viral infections, such as the common cold, influenza, gastroenteritis, summer cold and herpes. A recent study used lactoferrin in vitro to inhibit cellular attachment of norovirus, a promising step in utilizing this glycoprotein for common colds.
Additionally, rotavirus which causes gastroenteritis in children, is a potential field where lactoferrin can be beneficial. One study looked at daily intake of bovine lactoferrin-containing products, and found it decreased the severity of the disease in children, although there was no significant benefit in reducing infection incidence.
Lactoferrin and Breastmilk
Breast Milk is known to contain many non-nutritive bioactive factors that help to promote the survival and healthy development of infants. Human breast milk can change composition between feedings, diurnally, over lactation, and between mothers and populations.
Early milk production called colostrum is produced in low quantities in the first few days postpartum and rich in immune boosting properties such as lactoferrin among other components.
Lactoferrin in a mother’s breast milk is thought to help protect breast-fed infants against infections.
By: Anabelle Clebaner MS, RDN