Lactoferrin, properties and benefits

What is Lactoferrin
What is
Where to find it

What is Lactoferrin

La lactoferrin (LF) it is a glycoprotein, that is, a protein linked to a carbohydrate component, called glycan. It is composed of about 700 amino acids and belongs to the transferrin family.

We know some three different shapes:

  1. LF-α: able to bind iron;
  2. LF-β: unable to bind iron;
  3. LF-g: unable to bind iron.

It is produced by the epithelial cells of the mucous membranes e from neutrophils (white blood cells) in various mammal species, including humans and cattle.
Human and bovine lactoferrin are very similar and have similar functions and properties. Let's see some of them.


What is lactoferrin used for

  • Carry the iron: LF-α has two binding sites for iron and is able to bind and transport it into the circulation. It is the main iron carrier protein in human milk.
  • Antibacterial and antiviral: compared to transferrin, lactoferrin is able to bind iron up to a pH of about 3. This allows iron to be sequestered even in tissues affected by infection, where the pH tends to be acidic, limiting the availability of this nutrient to microbes that need it for their growth and proliferation. Lactoferrin is also able to protect against viruses by inhibiting the entry of viral particles into cells and increasing the body's immune response.
  • Strengthens the immune system: the mechanisms of action are not yet well understood, but it seems that lactoferrin favors the activation of B and T lymphocytes, which play a key role in the immune response against pathogens.
  • It improves the quality of the intestinal bacterial flora: while lactoferrin contrasts the development of harmful bacteria, on the other, it promotes the growth of bacteria that have a reduced need for iron, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, important components of the intestinal bacterial flora. Recall that a good quality of the intestinal microbiota is generally associated with a better state of health.
  • Anti-inflammatory: contributes to the maintenance of the right levels of iron which, when in excess, can favor inflammatory processes by increasing the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that damage proteins, membrane lipids and DNA, increasing the risk of developing diseases.
  • antitumor: Some studies have shown that an alteration in the function of the lactoferrin gene is associated with an increased risk of developing certain types of cancers, including breast, colon and stomach cancers. An integration of lactoferrin could therefore have a preventive effect.

Where to find lactoferrin

Lactoferrin it is mainly present in milk of different mammal species, including pig, cow, sheep, camel, horse, sheep, elephant and man.
It can also be found in smaller quantities in mucous secretions, such as tears and saliva.

In human milk we find about 2-4 g of lactoferrin per liter and the colostrum, which is the first milk that a woman produces after childbirth, in which it has the main role of protecting the newborn from intestinal pathogens and promoting the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria. Not surprisingly, the concentration of lactoferrin decreases in parallel with the development of the child's immune defenses.

Human lactoferrin is very similar to bovine lactoferrin which, in fact, has been recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a substance safe for humans.
To date it is isolated from cow's milk and sold in the form of supplements.



Currently the consumption of bovine lactoferrin is well toleratedor, but it's useful do not exceed with the intake of this substance to avoid any adverse effects not yet known.


Bibliography and sources

The Biology of Lactoferrin, an Iron-Binding Protein That Can Help Defend Against Viruses and Bacteria, Frontiers in Immunology
Lactoferrin (LF): a natural antimicrobial protein, International Journal of Food Properties
Lactoferrin from Milk: Nutraceutical and Pharmacological Properties, Pharmaceuticals
Lactoferrin as Protective Natural Barrier of Respiratory and Intestinal Mucosa against Coronavirus Infection and Inflammation,International Journal of Molecular Sciences
Lactoferrin, a probable response to Covid, University of Rome "Tor Vergata" 
Transferrin, TIBC, UIBC, National Institute of Health

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