Lactoferrin is a non-heme iron-binding glycoprotein, and accounts for 15 to 20% of the total protein in breast milk. It is the second most abundant whey protein in human milk, comprising approximately 25% of whey proteins (Rai et al., 2014). Mean lactoferrin levels in mature human milk were reported within a range of 0.44 – 4.4 g/L, whereas lower levels have been detected in mature bovine milk at a range of 0.03 – 0.1 g/L.
Lactoferrin has been shown to be involved in several physiological functions including the modulation of immune responses; the protection against microbial infection; antiinflammatory effects; antioxidant properties through iron binding; and the regulation of iron absorption in the bowel.
Lactoferrin (either alone or in combination with other ingredients) has been clinically shown to enhance resistance to pathogens in preterm very low birth weight neonates, healthy infants and children.
Lactoferrin has a multimodal mechanism of supporting the gut immune system. Extensive in vitro and animal studies have demonstrated the particular functions of lactoferrin in supporting gut health.
Lactoferrin is found in especially high levels in colostrum, the very early milk a mother produces to provide important immune protection for newborns during their first weeks.
Aspects of lactoferrin related to gastrointestinal health
Animal and cell culture data have shown a beneficial role of lactoferrin in supporting a healthy gastrointestinal system, including:
- Decreased bacterial translocation
- Enhanced proliferation and differentiation of enterocytes Improved intestinal morphology by increasing villus height and decreasing crypt depth Decreased intestinal permeability
- Upregulated mucosal defense system and neurotrophic signaling pathway in the gut
- Promoted the growth of the beneficial lactobacilli and bifidobacteria Immunomodulating properties particularly in the gut
Clinically, lactoferrin (either alone or in combination with other ingredients) was found to exert protection against gastrointestinal infections, and to reduce the incidence of diarrhea in multiple clinical trials.
In young children and children:
- Lower frequency and duration of vomiting and diarrhea
- Lower colonization rates with Giardia species, and reduced risk of Norovirus-induced gastroenteritis
- Shorter duration of diarrheal episodes; and reduced longitudinal prevalence of diarrhea, proportion of episodes with moderate/severe dehydration, and liquid stools load/child/year
In preterm very low birth weight neonates:
- Reduced incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis and associated mortality