Leia Mulroy | Clinical Nutritionist

Book your Consultation with Leia today

Lactoferrin, the forgotten little protein that has been hiding in breast milk and other mammals milk since the beginning of time. It is a natural multi-functional protein known to have anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and immune enhancing activity (2).
There is some seriously impressive research on lactoferrin, apart from the above, it has been shown to support healthy iron levels, reduce acne breakouts, build immunity to nasty pathogens and improve mental health outcomes in infants.

Enhances immunity and supports mental health in newborns.

Supporting a healthy colony of beneficial bacteria in newborns is vital for supporting immunity and can influence infants brain formation and behaviour (3). A 2017 study found that early life diets that included lactoferrin increased the growth of beneficial bacteria strains such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus, L. casei, L. paracasei, L. plantarum, L. fermentum, L. reuteri, and L. Sakei (3).
These results also demonstrated that early life exposure to lactoferrin in infants promoted learning, enhanced brain structures, improved behavioural stress resistance, and prevented inflammation and anxiety due to its positive effects on the central nervous system (3).
Given the connection between the gut and the brain, it is clear that encouraging beneficial bacteria in the gut from a young age can have a significant effect on the way we deal with stress and can even impact mental health later on in life.

Reduces susceptibility to bacterial and parasitic infections. 

The anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory activity of lactoferrin has been shown to exert its effects by direct and indirect signalling of immune cells (2). These immune cells are involved in fighting infectious agents and have shown action against pathogens such as Epstein Bar virus, Mycobacterium, and Toxoplasma (2).
Parasitic infections such as Toxoplasma, target the bodies red blood cells (RBCs) (2). It has been shown that lactoferrin protects human RBCs from oxidative stress and damage caused by these infectious parasites (2).

Prevents Iron deficiency.

During infection and inflammation, iron homeostasis is greatly effected, leading to iron disorders. Diminished iron transport and uptake can lead to iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) and anaemia of inflammation (AI).(6)
Pathogens require iron and have developed efficient systems to take up iron from the body. In turn, we rely on immune strategies that limit iron availability to that pathogen. Lactoferrin acts by chelating the iron molecule and triggers an immune response to defend and limit available iron to the pathogen (6).
When treating iron deficiency, underlying infections and pathogens should be closely investigated and treated.  It is just as important to treat the deficiency as well as support a healthy immune system defence. With a lot of parasitic and bacterial infections, it is possible that the person may not get any notable symptoms or not relate them with a possible infection. These pathogens can lie dormant in the human body and can be undetected for years. If you, like many people, are currently always low in iron, consider investigations to rule out underlying infections.

Reduces acne breakouts and severity.

A 2011 study monitored the effects of bovine lactoferrin supplementation and acne in thirty-nine subjects over a 8 week period. The results found that 76.9% (30-39) patients shown a reduction in inflammatory lesion count, and an improvement in acne lesions compared with baseline (7).
Due to lactoferrin’s anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effects, it is proposed that it may exert it action by supporting the immune response to underlying bacterial pathogens and toxins in the body.
Another great study in 2017, published in the International Journal of Dermatology found that lactoferrin combined with vitamin E and zinc, showed significant improvement in acne lesions within as little as two weeks and maximum reduction in inflammation and lesions seen at week 10 (8).
These studies provide valuable information and treatment options for people suffering from mild to moderate acne vulgaris (8).


1) Shigemori, S, Namai, F, Yamamoto, Y, Nigar, S, Sato, T, Ogita, T and Shimosato, T, 2017, Genetically modified Lactococcus lactis producing a green fluorescent protein–bovine lactoferrin fusion protein suppresses proinflammatory cytokine expression in lipopolysaccharide-stimulated RAW 264.7 cells, American Dairy Science Association, vol 100, pp.7007-7015
2) Anand, N, Kanwar, RK, Dubey, M, Vahishta, KR, Sehgal, R, Verma, AK, Kanwar, JR, 2015, Effect of lactoferrin protein on red blood cells and macrophages: mechanism of parasite–host interaction, Department of Medical Parasitology, Postgraduate institute of Medical education and research, vol 9, pp.3821-3835
3) Mika, A, Day, H, Martinez, A, Rumian, N, Greenwood, BN, Chichlowski, M, Berg, B and Fleshner, M, 2017, Early life diets with prebiotics and bioactive milk fractions attenuate the impact of stress on learned helplessness behaviours and alter gene expression within neural circuits important for stress resistance, European Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 45, pp. 342–357
4)  Paredes, JL, Sparkes, H, White, CJ, Martinez-Traverso, G, Ochoa, T and Castellanos-Gonzalez, A, 2017, Killing of Cryptosporidium sporozoites by Lactoferrin, Infectious Diseases Division, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Medical Branch, vol 3, pp. 774-776
5) Majka, G, Wiecek, G, Srottek , M, Spiewak, K, Brindell, M, Koziel, J, Marcinkiewicz, J and Strus, M, 2016, The impact of lactoferrin with different levels of metal saturation on the intestinal epithelial barrier function and mucosal inflammation, Biometals, vol 29, pp.1019-1033
6) Cutone, A, Rosa, L, Lepanto, MS, Scotti, MJ, Berlutti, F, Bonaccorsi di Patti, M, Musci, G and Valenti, P, 2017, Lactoferrin efficiently counteracts the inflammation-induced changes of the iron homeostasis system in Macrophages, Department of Public Health and Infectious Diseases, Sapienza University, vol 8,
7) Mueller, EA, Trapp, S, Frentzel, A, Kirch, W and Brantl, V, 2011, Efficacy and tolerability of oral lactoferrin supplementation in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: an exploratory study, Current Medical research and opinion, pp. 793-797
8) Chan, H, Chan, G, Santos, J, Dee, K and Kimberly, J, 2017, A randomized, double‐blind, placebo‐controlled trial to determine the efficacy and safety of lactoferrin with vitamin E and zinc as an oral therapy for mild to moderate acne vulgaris, International Journal of Dermatology.