Lactoferrin is a protein found in milk and an effective supplement for immune function

5 Ways Lactoferrin Supplements Support Immune Health

There's a reason why breast milk is so coveted. It helps babies grow to be strong and healthy, with robust immune systems. Breast milk—from humans, cows and all mammals—contains all sorts of beneficial components, one of which is lactoferrin.

But lactoferrin isn't just for babies. Even if your infancy is long behind you (which, if you're reading this article, we're going to assume is the case), that doesn't mean you can't benefit from this nutrient—which, for adults, comes from whey protein. Let's talk about what lactoferrin is, how it's produced, the health benefits it offers, and how you can supplement with lactoferrin.

What is lactoferrin?

Lactoferrin—also called lactotransferrin—is a nutrient (more specifically, a protein) found in milk. It can also be found in the mucosa, tears, saliva and nasal fluids of mammals. It's most famous for supporting immune health, but this protein also encourages heart health, normal iron levels and more.

Because of the benefits lactoferrin can offer, it's sometimes added to animal feed, and even to cosmetics and other products. It is also a popular supplement. Additionally, research is looking for new ways to use this protein in preventative health and nutrition.

Note that currently, you can't obtain a significant amount of lactoferrin from food. It comes from human milk, animal milk, and other bodily fluids. So, if you want to get more of it, it has to come from a dietary supplement.

How is lactoferrin produced?

Lactoferrin is mostly acquired by purifying milk or colostrum (the first milk that the body produces after pregnancy). However, since there isn't much of it in milk, it's hard to obtain much and it's very expensive. So researchers are looking for ways to get it from other sources, such as bacterial, fungal and animal expression systems.

It is also isolated from bovine (cattle) milk. By isolating the lactoferrin, they're able to use it in supplement form. Pretty cool, right?

5 ways lactoferrin supports the immune system

There's a reason colostrum is called "liquid gold," and lactoferrin is a similar story. Research tells us that it might help support a healthy response to inflammation and stimulate the immune system. While lactoferrin has other health benefits, its calling card really is immune health support.

Here are five different reasons why lactoferrin can be an effective supplement for immune function:

  1. Protects your immune health at the cellular level.

    In a nutshell, lactoferrin may protect your healthy cells from binding to ones that could "upset the apple cart," so to speak!
  2. Promotes immune-friendly gut bacteria.

    Lactoferrin helps to stimulate the growth of bifidobacteria, a type of bacterium that's beneficial. Found in your intestines, bifidobacteria can have a positive influence on your overall immune system.
  3. Protects against unhealthy cell division.

    Additionally, lactoferrin might be able protect normal cells when they encounter a challenge by supporting cell growth and cell division to help keep you healthy.
  4. Helps your mucous do its job.

    Mucous production isn't just an annoyance—it's also an important part of your body's system of protecting you. Lactoferrin can support mucosal immune function.
  5. Balances iron levels.

    Lactoferrin supports iron healthy levels—which is important because iron plays an important role in supporting the immune response.

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Other health benefits of lactoferrin supplements

Wondering how else lactoferrin may support your health? Here's what we know—and are learning—about this protein's other benefits:

  • Lactoferrin supports healthy iron levels

    —As we mentioned previously, having sufficient iron (and avoiding iron deficiency) is key to keeping your immune system strong, but it's also important to stay energized. This supplement supports iron absorption when your body needs more of it and helps control excess iron levels—so you've got the "Goldilocks" amount of iron you need to thrive (not too little or too much).
  • May be good for your healthy blood sugar

    —A study found that lactoferrin supported healthy pancreas function in rats. While more research is needed (particularly on humans), this finding does make sense when you consider that the pancreas influences the amount of sugar in the blood, which affects energy levels. So lactoferrin, already-healthy blood sugar levels and pancreatic health are intertwined!
  • Heart health benefits

    —Lactoferrin could help keep your heart healthy, especially as you age. One study found that it might encourage the heart muscle to maintain the appropriate thickness and improve mitochondrial function in the heart.
  • Potential weight management benefits

    —In one study with rats, those given yogurt fortified with lactoferrin experienced weight loss, a better lipid profile and improved pancreatic function. Another animal study produced similar results, in addition to improving the liver, blood sugar levels and inflammatory response.

Should you take lactoferrin supplements?

When should you consider lactoferrin supplementation? You can't get it from food, so if you do need additional immune support, a lactoferrin-containing supplement could help keep you on top of your game. The supplement's benefits to your heart, blood sugar and more aren't as well established, but consider them the icing on the cake.

How much lactoferrin should you take?

A recommended dosage of 300 mg of bovine lactoferrin is a good starting point. However, the right dosage of this powerful protein can also vary depending on your age, gender and any health conditions. In fact, a high lactoferrin dosage of up to 5 grams a day can be administered safely for up to 14 days. In some cases, there could be certain benefits to taking a higher dosage.

Some evidence suggests that up to 600 mg of bovine lactoferrin daily may help support your bodily defense against seasonal immune challenges. Ideally, you should speak to your healthcare provider to determine the best dose for you.

Combining lactoferrin with healthy lifestyle choices

Remember that all dietary supplements complement other healthy choices—they do not replace them! To keep your immune system healthy, it's vital that you eat nutrient-dense food that includes antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables (which are also a great source of another immune health powerhouse, vitamin C), drink plenty of water, get sufficient sleep, move your body and find healthy ways to manage stress. These choices—plus the proper supplementation—can make for a long, happy and healthy life.

Psst! Take our immune system quiz to see what supplements will help you the most—from antioxidants to zinc!

About the Author: Megan Grant has a degree in communications from University of Michigan. She has been writing professionally for 15 years, with a focus on nutrition, fitness, and general health. A lifelong competitive athlete, she's fascinated by how the human body responds to food and movement.


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