by Anne Eglash MD, IBCLC, FABM
Why is lactoferrin important in breastmilk? Some people believe that the big difference between breastmilk and formula is just the antibodies in breastmilk. When I hear this sort of disparaging remark about breastmilk, I scramble up my skyscraper soapbox with my megaphone and let ‘er rip. Breastmilk is like a military; it has a variety of specially trained fighters with strategies to kill germs using a variety of tactics. In addition, the fighters in breastmilk build infrastructure, like our Army Corps of Engineers. Lactoferrin is one of breastmilk’s Army Generals.
Lactoferrin is the second most abundant protein in breastmilk, and for good reason given its multifaceted role in the immunity of an infant. It prevents infection, plays a role in iron metabolism, has anti-inflammatory properties, and is an antioxidant.
A 2017 issue of the journal Biochemistry and Cell Biology is dedicated to research papers and reports on lactoferrin. One article is entitled Lactoferrin and Prematurity: a promising milk protein? It reviews several clinical trials that are being done using human and bovine lactoferrin supplementation.
These authors report on studies done to evaluate the effectiveness of lactoferrin supplementation for children. What do you think the authors found? Choose one or more:
- Lactoferrin supplementation reduces the incidence of NEC in premature infants
- Lactoferrin supplementation reduces the incidence of sepsis in premature infants
- Lactoferrin supplementation given to mothers in preterm labor delays the preterm birth.
- Lactoferrin supplementation protects children from diarrhea.
See the Answer
All are correct
Biochem Cell Biol. 2017 Feb;95(1):22-30. doi: 10.1139/bcb-2016-0066. Epub 2016 Oct 26.
Lactoferrin and prematurity: a promising milk protein?
Ochoa TJ1,2, Sizonenko SV3
Lactoferrin (Lf) is the major whey protein in milk, with multiple beneficial health effects including direct antimicrobial activities, anti-inflammatory effects, and iron homeostasis. Oral Lf supplementation in human preterm infants has been shown to reduce the incidence of sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis. In preclinical models of antenatal stress and perinatal brain injury, bovine Lf protected the developing brain from neuronal loss, improved connectivity, increased neurotrophic factors, and decreased inflammation. It also supported brain development and cognition. Further, Lf can prevent preterm delivery by reducing proinflammatory factors and inhibiting premature cervix maturation. We review here the latest research on Lf in the field of neonatology.
Milk Mob Comment by Anne Eglash MD, IBCLC, FABM
Lactoferrin is so fabulous that it should be given a fancier name and a metal of honor. I just listed the human clinical trials that the authors report in this study. There are many animal studies being done investigating the beneficial effects of lactoferrin on the brain. One study demonstrated that lactoferrin supplements given to rat pups improved cognitive performance during stress, and other work showed that piglets supplemented with lactoferrin had improved cognitive skills. Administration of lactoferrin to rat pups with hypoxic-ischemic brain injury lead to improved healing of the damaged white matter in their brains.
Alas, the research on lactoferrin is not just meant to glorify breastmilk. Lactoferrin is being harvested from breastmilk and bovine milk, and human lactoferrin is being made thru recombinant DNA. Big Pharma has a strong interest in this product, and it is already being added to infant formula. We are on the slippery slope of lacto-engineering, as for-profit companies continue to harvest factors from breastmilk, perform studies on the safety of such factors, and add it to formula that is labeled ‘closest ever to breastmilk’. I don’t have any profound words of wisdom on this trend, except to counsel families that it makes a whole lot more sense to breastfeed the baby than to pay big bucks for a product that has breastmilk factors added to it!