The Science Behind… Lactoferrin for babies

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Lactoferrin for babies.

Lactoferrin is a protein that is heavily involved in the development of a baby’s immune system and is one of the major features within our “Building Blocks” series of articles.

Where is lactoferrin found in the human body?

Sourced mainly in breastmilk within colostrum, which is the first milk produced after birth, lactoferrin tends to be found in saliva, tears, mucus, and white blood cells as a functional part of the immune system.

What does lactoferrin do?

Lactoferrin has a number of specific jobs in the body, and each of these jobs tend to help build up immunity and fight infections, as well as improving the make-up of good bacteria in the gut of children [1]. Specifically, though lactoferrin acts almost like a magnet, in that it tends to get free iron to attach to it whilst floating around in the body [2].

Because harmful bacteria and other pathogens need iron to function properly, the action that lactoferrin undertakes will prevent invaders of the human body from mounting a major infection [3].

Lactoferrin benefits the digestive system

Consumption of adequate levels of lactoferrin, such as during breastfeeding, has been linked to the development of a healthy internal digestive environment for a baby [4]. In this study by Mastromarino and colleagues, breastmilk was found to be the main source of lactoferrin for newborn babies [4].

Furthermore, the same newborn babies were found to have high levels of fecal lactoferrin in their digestive system, and this correlated to the presence of promising levels of good bacteria in their guts [4]. This evidence suggests that, overall, the consumption of lactoferrin from sources such as breastmilk is likely to give a newborn baby the best chance at healthy digestion later in life.

Lactoferrin benefits the digestive immune system

In recent studies on lactoferrin, evidence has been uncovered that daycare-aged children significantly benefit from the inclusion of lactoferrin within their diet. Specifically, children in Japanese daycares that were aged between 12-36 months and who consumed baby formula that contained increased levels of lactoferrin had fewer collective incidences of acute gastrointestinal symptoms (such as vomiting and diarrhea) than children who consumed formula that was not fortified with lactoferrin [5].

Lactoferrin benefits the respiratory system

In the same study, and after the intervention of lactoferrin-fortified formula had been stopped, the children who consumed lactoferrin-enriched formula also displayed significantly shorter symptomatic periods regarding acute respiratory infections [5].

Lactoferrin benefits the immune system

Lactoferrin is observed to positively influence and improve the way the immune system reacts to infections and other stimuli [3], as well as directly attacking bacteria and other invaders, which collectively prevents such invaders them from establishing an infection [6].

References

  1. Legrand D. Overview of Lactoferrin as a Natural Immune Modulator. J Pediatr. 2016 Jun;173 Suppl:S10-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.02.071. PMID: 27234406.
  2. Nagasako Y, Saito H, Tamura Y, Shimamura S, Tomita M. Iron-binding properties of bovine lactoferrin in iron-rich solution. J Dairy Sci. 1993 Jul;76(7):1876-81. doi: 10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(93)77520-7. PMID: 8345124.
  3. Telang S. Lactoferrin: A Critical Player in Neonatal Host Defense. Nutrients. 2018 Sep 4;10(9):1228. doi: 10.3390/nu10091228. PMID: 30181493; PMCID: PMC6165050.
  4. Mastromarino P, Capobianco D, Campagna G, Laforgia N, Drimaco P, Dileone A, Baldassarre ME. Correlation between lactoferrin and beneficial microbiota in breast milk and infant’s feces. Biometals. 2014 Oct;27(5):1077-86. doi: 10.1007/s10534-014-9762-3. Epub 2014 Jun 27. PMID: 24970346.
  5. Motoki N, Mizuki M, Tsukahara T, Miyakawa M, Kubo S, Oda H, Tanaka M, Yamauchi K, Abe F, Nomiyama T. Effects of Lactoferrin-Fortified Formula on Acute Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Children Aged 12-32 Months: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Front Pediatr. 2020 May 19;8:233. doi: 10.3389/fped.2020.00233. PMID: 32509712; PMCID: PMC7249745.
  6. Arnold RR, Russell JE, Champion WJ, Brewer M, Gauthier JJ. Bactericidal activity of human lactoferrin: differentiation from the stasis of iron deprivation. Infect Immun. 1982 Mar;35(3):792-9. doi: 10.1128/IAI.35.3.792-799.1982. PMID: 6802759; PMCID: PMC351118.
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