Lactoferrin may reduce the risk of respiratory tract infections

Increased intake of lactoferrin may help protect against the risk of respiratory tract infection (RTIs), such as colds, pneumonia and influenza, according to the results of a meta-analysis reported in the October 2021 issue of the journal Clinical Nutrition ESPEN.1

 “To the best of our knowledge, there has been no meta-analysis to date that has analyzed the efficacy of lactoferrin in reducing the risks of RTIs,” Akbar Shoukat Ali of Dow University of Health Sciences and associates wrote. “In the context of the present meta-analysis findings, lactoferrin…has a promising role in preventing RTIs in the vulnerable population.”

Ali and colleagues analyzed six randomized, controlled trials that evaluated the protective effect of cow’s milk-derived lactoferrin against the occurrence of upper and/or lower respiratory tract infections among 1,015 participants. Lactoferrin is a protein found in mother’s milk and products made from cow’s milk, and also is produced and released in the body in response to certain infections. “Human and bovine lactoferrin are analogous with respect to structure and function; about 78% of the human lactoferrin sequence is similar to bovine lactoferrin,” the authors wrote. “Lactoferrin has a multitude of biological functions, and is getting significant clinical attention due to its multifactorial immunomodulatory properties.”

Trials enrolled a wide age range of participants, including preterm infants born prior to 28 weeks of gestation and adults in their 60s. Lactoferrin was administered as fortified infant formula, oral dietary intake or an oral gel. Pooled analysis of the six trials’ data found a 43% lower risk of acquiring a respiratory tract infection among participants who received lactoferrin compared to the control subjects.

The authors noted that lactoferrin has received significant attention because of its immune supportive properties, including an ability to prevent iron utilization by disease-causing bacteria, protection against direct entry of bacteria and viruses into the cells, promotion of innate immune defenses, modulation of inflammation and other functions.

“The administration of lactoferrin shows promising efficacy in reducing the risk of RTIs,” the authors concluded. “Lactoferrin may also have a beneficial role in managing symptoms and recovery of patients suffering from respiratory tract infections.”


Apply What You've Learned: Lactoferrin

  • Lactoferrin is a protein made in the human body that is found in high amounts in mother’s milk and colostrum.1 It also occurs in cow’s milk and is available as a dietary extract.
  • Lactoferrin’s best known benefit is that of immune system support.2 For this reason, it is often used during cold and flu season.
  • Results from a randomized trial suggest that oral lactoferrin intake supports lubrication of the eyes by helping to maintain an adequate tear film.3 Lactoferrin is normally found in tears and helps defend against bacterial and viral eye infections as well as problems associated with contact lens use and cataract surgery.4 For these reasons, lactoferrin is a helpful addition to the regimen of anyone seeking to maintain the health of their eyes.
  • Lactoferrin supports the growth of certain beneficial probiotic bacteria and can be used to help maintain a healthy digestive tract.5


  1. Ali AS et al. Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2021 Oct;45:26-32.
  2. Legrand D. J Pediatr. 2016 Jun;173 Suppl:S10-5.
  3. Devendra J et al. J Clin Diagn Res. 2015 Oct;9(10):NC06-9.
  4. Flanagan JL et al. Biochimie. 2009 Jan;91(1):35-43.
  5. Vega-Bautista A et al. Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Sep 23;20(19):4707.

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