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Q Nutrition: What you should know about the protein lactoferrin

Our intricate human system is more complex, and more self-serving of our well being than any of us really know or can comprehend; we are loaded with defense bacteria and cells that fight for our survival minute by minute, day by day.

We all inherently possess one very important nutrient known as lactoferrin – a protein - that does such a job.

You might call it a sentry since it’s always on guard at every orifice of the body to protect us from dangerous outside organisms, most importantly virus bacteria, with its antibacterial properties.

Breast milk colostrum, which carries this nutrient, creates the protective foundation of a baby’s immune system. And if a child is breastfed by its mother, then he or she is lucky enough to gain a greater amount of this protective substance.

This initial strengthening of the immune system continues to have a beneficial effect throughout life.

In fact, including lactoferrin in breast milk is part of nature’s plan, getting passed on to the young in order to help in infant well-being. Years of research has been done on lactoferrin as it applies to human milk and infants, uncovering a myriad of ways it protects and improves the system, including absorption of nutrients, and repairing intestinal walls.

But protecting ourselves from disruptive viruses is a major concern in human lives today, and awareness of this obscure protein could be very important. Lactoferrin and the work it does virtually goes unnoticed throughout our lives.

Its existence, or lack of, could very well mean life or death, either at a very young age or later in life. Lactoferrin is considered to be like macrophages, cells that kill invading bacteria, fungi and viruses.

It is found predominantly in tear ducts, mucus, saliva and seminal fluid. The orifices of the body are where virus bacteria enter.

Think of this nutrient as such a powerful guard that if you possessed even more than naturally supplied, the defense it holds could be remarkable.

This is why it is currently being studied for various virus preventive applications, including influenza and even HIV. Least of all, it has proven to be a beneficial adjunct to probiotics in maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal tract.

A study done by the University of Milan shows that oral lactoferrin supplementation was useful in HIV antiretroviral therapy. A study by The Department of Cellular Biology of Mexico shows that when pigs were fed lactoferrin and injected with endotoxin escherichia coli, only 17% died as opposed to 74% that died without lactoferrin.

The research team reported that “this could be a major finding, as septic shock is the most frequent cause of death for intensive care patients and the 13th leading cause of death in the United States.”

In a study done in The Netherlands and reported in the American Society for Microbiology, lactoferrin was shown to efficiently inhibit the transmission of HIV-1 by blocking the DC cells that cause infection. They also, interestingly, report that bovine lactoferrin was even more efficient than human.

Whey protein is the predominant source of lactoferrin since whey comes from the milk of the mother goat or cow. The amount is just one tenth of what a human mother’s milk can provide, but human milk is a preciously rare commodity.

So if we regularly consume whey protein, we are assured some added defense for our immune system, but by obtaining the isolated lactoferrin itself in much higher quantities at times of need, think of the protective possibilities.

Patents exist and are continually being made involving the various components of milk, and in Japan one such patent for the use of lactoferrin is assigned to Snow Brand Milk, now part of Nestle of Japan. It states that lactoferrin is effective against enveloped viruses such as HIV. Also, Nestle Nutrition Corporation is currently conducting clinical trials at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in testing a new infant formula enriched with lactoferrin.

Throughout the world, companies are working on ways to harvest this protein in mass quantities for various health issues. But here and now lactoferrin can be taken in supplement form, offered in higher dosages than what is obtained through whey protein powder. (Lactoferrin makes up merely 1% of whey protein.)

It has even been formulated and now dispensed in spray form, making it highly protective at orifices that could be exposed to harmful viral bacteria. The manufacturer attests that through stage four trials, the lactoferrin spray has proven, among many things, to promote T-lymphocyte production, increase NK cell activity 200%, and promote proliferation of white blood cells. Used daily, and at times of a possible threat to the system, lactoferrin can make a significant difference.

To saturate any or all orifices with lactoferrin is like reinforcing troops to battle the invaders. It is absorbed immediately into the blood system and is directed specifically to orifice cells. No negative side effects have been found with this supplement.

The word is getting out that lactoferrin is a useful tool in warding off viral infection of any kind. Along with vitamin D, it could be a staple in supplementation to the daily diet for protecting the immune system.

No one can dispute the plans of Mother Nature, and in regard to mother’s milk and all its wonderful components, it is naturally made with a specific formula for a most important reason…survival.

Linda Bergersen, M.S., Holistic Nutrition, B.A., Communications, Nutrition Columnist for BottomLine Magazine is a Palm Springs nutritionist, and works with clients in the area, and conducts group discussions concerning nutrition. Contact her at 760.699.8765 or rlbergie@yahoo.com for information on services.