What is lactoferrin?
Lactoferrin is a naturally occurring protein found in many mammalian mucosal secretions and fluids, including human milk and cow’s milk. The iron-binding properties of Lactoferrin give it antibacterial, antimicrobial and an immune modulating activity.
Lactoferrin (LF), formerly known as Lactotransferrin (LTF) belongs to the group known as Transferrin’s, a family of iron-binding glycoproteins which function by controlling the level of free iron in biological fluids. Both human Lactoferrin (hLF) and bovine Lactoferrin (bLF) were discovered and isolated around the same time in the early 1960’s.
Lactoferrin is a protein made up of a single chain containing 703 amino acids folded into two globular lobes. It is produced in the mammary gland as well as in the tear or lacrimal glands, in bronchial membranes, and in the glands that produce saliva.
Human colostrum, known as ‘first milk’ has the highest concentration, with levels around 7g/L of Lactoferrin followed by mature human milk with levels measured at around 1g/L. Bovine or cow’s milk contains around 150 mg/L of Lactoferrin.
Lactoferrin is an important part of the infection defence mechanism and can help protect the mother from diseases or infections in the mammary tissues such as mastitis, a common inflammation of the mammary gland in the breast or udder. Studies have reported a fluctuation in the level of Lactoferrin found in the milk produced as a protective mechanism to prevent further infections.
The newborns gastrointestinal and immune system develop rapidly from birth, and studies have shown that Lactoferrin plays an important protective role, helping support healthy gut immune function and support the immune system to fight illness.
During these first few days of lactation, Lactoferrin concentrations remain high with a sharp decrease once the supply of mature milk commences, as the needs of the infant are met.