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What is Lactoferrin?

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We already have it our bodies – but what is lactoferrin and how can it boost our health? Here we chat to journalist Stephanie Drax, who founded supplements company Leapfrog after discovering the protein while researching an article on how to stop the merry-go-round of coughs and colds in her family.

What is lactoferrin?

Lactoferrin is a brilliant anti-viral, anti-bacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protein that your body makes daily, working in your eyes, nose, mouth and certain white blood cells to protect you against germs. But when you’re stressed, tired, run-down, not eating properly or simply ageing, your innate lactoferrin can become depleted, leaving you vulnerable. We can raise our lactoferrin levels by taking a supplement, but where is it sourced from? Lactoferrin is a key ingredient of mother’s milk that builds a baby’s immunity – colostrum is particularly rich in lactoferrin – so we can extract it from cow’s milk which is biologically similar. I was introduced to lactoferrin in 2018 when I was writing an article on how to tackle my kids’ endless stream of coughs and colds. It worked so well for my family, I formulated a supplement with scientists – a chewable tablet of lactoferrin, zinc and vitamin C called Leapfrog IMMUNE. 

Stephanie Drax

What are lactoferrin’s benefits?

It’s a long list! It’s the first ingredient Mother Nature puts on our menu – within ‘liquid gold’ colostrum – and that’s because it has many positive effects in the body. It can help protect against viruses including flu, norovirus, foot and mouth and those that cause the common cold – and it crushes bacterial infection, too. It helps with iron absorption, bone growth, inflammation, gut health, and weight management.

Is it particularly important at any time of year?

Immunity has jumped to the forefront of people’s minds in the last two years, whatever the season. It’s good to have lactoferrin to hand if you’re going to group meet-ups, or travelling on trains, planes etc. While we tend to think of winter as the sniffle season, summer has its own variety of viruses – like enterovirus. A clinical trial in Japan tested lactoferrin against infectious diseases in summer and found that those who supplemented with lactoferrin experienced significantly shorter summer colds. You don’t have to take lactoferrin every day, either. You can just pop a chewable tablet when you need it, giving your immune system a surge of support. 

Leapfrog immune supplements

Can you tell us some of the science surrounding it?

Leapfrog’s consultant pharmacist, Dr Hamid Merchant, published a paper in 2021 reviewing all the independent evidence on lactoferrin’s effects against respiratory tract infections (RTIs). It resoundingly showed that lactoferrin could reduce the odds of developing RTIs and help to manage symptoms and recovery. Besides coughs and colds, other clinical trials testing lactoferrin are ongoing – as a treatment for anaemia, gut issues, bacterial infection, cancer, bone loss, acne, fungal infection, parasites, oral disease and Covid-19. There are many mechanisms behind how it works, including that lactoferrin can bind iron to itself (iron that germs need to survive), but one of its greatest superpowers is that it brings the body into balance. Scientists call lactoferrin ‘the Swiss-army knife of the human host defence system’.

Who would most benefit from taking it as a supplement?

Lactoferrin is helpful for those with iron deficiency – such as pregnant or breastfeeding women – as it increases iron absorption without the side effects of ferrous sulphate. Also, over age 50 our immune resilience wanes and supplementing with lactoferrin becomes particularly beneficial, with the added bonus of it improving bone density and growth. Leapfrog IMMUNE is suitable for everyone aged four and up who might get a cough or cold. Whereas adults may catch two to three viral infections annually, children mingling at school can pick up five or more colds per year.

Main image: Getty Images

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