Human breast milk, while similar in color and texture, is completely different from cow milk, goat milk, or any other type of animal derived milk. One of the most important albeit invisible differences is in a protein called lactoferrin. This protein, lactoferrin, is found in abundance in human milk, but only in a very small amount in cow’s milk. One of the most important aspects of lactoferrin is that it has antimicrobial activity which gives it fungicidal qualities. Believe it or not, lactoferrin is also present in secretions of mucous like saliva and tears.
Its antimicrobial status makes lactoferrin a huge help in inhibiting the ability of viruses as well as bacteria to bind to cells in your body. This makes it extremely important to the health and development of infants. It is believed that low levels of lactoferrin can be part of the cause of Cystic Fibrosis since sufferers have been shown to have decreased levels of lactoferrin. That means that the bacteria that can cause Cystic Fibrosis is allowed to grow and bind to cells without the necessary interruption of lactoferrin.
The protein lactoferrin has many other uses as well as antifungal and antibacterial and it is often harvested so that it can be sold as an over the counter supplement. Lactoferrin is also antiviral, which is an extremely powerful benefit for one protein to have. In fact, patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) show extremely low levels of lactoferrin which may be why the virus is able to attack them. It can suppress the growth of both malignant and benign tumors and is an antioxidant. It is sometimes given in conjunction with chemotherapy in order to boost the immune system which becomes dangerously weakened during this aggressive cancer treatment. As an antioxidant it works to stop free radicals from binding with (and tearing apart) perfectly normal cells.
Many athletes use over the counter forms of lactoferrin in their supplements as a means to fight off various infections like athlete’s foot, yeast infections and Glandular fever. Athletes also like to use lactoferrin to boost their immune systems so they can fight off more viruses, bacteria and fungus and have fewer interruptions to their intense workout schedules. Many athletes have a propensity to get Glandular fever (which is also called mononucleosis) which is a highly infectious disease that causes fatigue, fever and swollen lymph nodes.
Like any good protein or other biological factor, there are some who would abuse the reputation of this potent protein. While lactoferrin may boost your immune system when taken as a supplement, it is not a miracle drug that can prevent you from contracting any kind of illness or virus. If you decide to make lactoferrin a part of your supplement routine, you should still take the necessary precautions to avoid bacterial or fungal infections as well as viruses. The protein lactoferrin is not a guaranteed shield against these issues.
Always talk to your primary care physician before adding any new supplements to your routine. It is possible that ingredients like lactoferrin might interfere with other prescription medications you are on or that they could have a negative impact on any preexisting conditions you have. Many other ingredients and fillers make up these supplements and these too should be discussed with your doctor because you never know which herb or other ingredient could interfere with your medications.
The protein lactoferrin may not be a miracle drug or miracle cure, but it might be a beneficial supplement to add to your regimen—as long as you keep a realistic outlook on its benefits and consult your doctor before taking it.