Our bodies have been wonderfully designed. They have also been provided wonderful natural defenses against illness and disease. Now, we are able to provide supplements of 2 of the body’s best defensive protections! Not too surprisingly, they are both critical parts of mother’s milk to help protect infants. They are…
1. Monolaurin – nature’s best anti-biotic (with anti-viral help)!
You may already know mother’s milk is nature’s most concentrated source of monolaurin – nature’s best antibiotic! Monolaurin is designed to help protect a newborn baby from sicknesses from all pathogen bacterial sources – as well as many viral sources.
Even the FDA has acknowledged monolaurint and approved it for bacterial control in food products. (We have many articles and clinical studies about monolaurin in our A-Z Index.)
2. Lactoferrin – nature’s best anti-viral (with anti-biotic help)!
The other half of mother’s milk defense for infants (and, potentially, for ourselves) goes by the name of lactoferrin. It also kills pathogen bacterial but is also one of nature’s best antiviral protections! It has even shown to have strong anti-cancer and other qualities.
Actually, both monolaurin and lactoferrin overlap in anti-pathogen (illness causing) abilities. Both kill bad bacteria, viruses, fungus and yeasts. However, monolaurin may be stronger in bacterial defense and lactoferrin in viral defense – thus we have named them appropriate to their strongest quality.
Together, they are an unbeatable natural team
Against illness and disease!
We elaborate on monolaurin in other articles. Here, we are going to focus more on lactoferrin.
Lactoferrin is extracted from milk, contains iron and was structurally and chemically similar to the serum transferrin (able to bind to iron). Therefore, the name lactotransferrin was used in some earlier medical publications but was named lactoferrin in 1961.
Recent studies show lactoferrin can come from other sources besides mother’s milk and cow milk.(1) This has helped make lactoferrin more available. Now, both monolaurin and lactoferrin are now being deployed in functional foods and drinks, health food supplements and infant formulas. They are turning out to be one of the most effective allies of the body’s immune system!
“Little Miss Muffet” and Mother’s Milk
You may remember the old nursery rhyme about Little Miss Muffet, sitting on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey. There is actually some science behind the story. When milk from a mother’s breast, or from a cow, is digested, it breaks down into two by-products: curds and whey. The curd is white, rubbery and harder for a baby to digest. The whey is the liquid part and is softer and easier for a baby to digest. Mother’s milk, of course, produces much more of the easily digested whey.
Make no mistake about it, mother’s milk is still the gold standard that formula companies are continually trying to match! Bottle-fed babies receive the same nutrients every time they eat. However, the needs of babies changes as they grow. Mother’s milk formulates itself to continually change in composition to have the right composition for your baby. It contains the right amounts of nutrients so that your baby gets what they need at any age.
Breast milk contains more than 100 ingredients that the formula industry simply can’t duplicate. For example, protein in breast milk is more easily and completely digested by babies. It has large amounts of lactose and research shows that animals, whose milk contains higher amounts of lactose, experience larger brain development. Minerals in breast milk are also more completely absorbed by the baby.
Colostrum is the first liquid the breasts produce and helps “seal” the permeable newborn intestines to prevent harmful substances from penetrating the gut. It has a high concentration of antibodies, especially IgA, an antibody that helps protect the lungs, throat, and intestines. Colostrum also has a laxative effect, which helps the baby pass the first bowel movements (and prevents newborn jaundice). It is low in fat, high in proteins and carbohydrates, and very easy to digest. Colostrum is still present for around two weeks while the milk moves into what is called transitional milk.
Lactoferrin What interests us here is that breast milk is also full of antibodies – especially lactoferrin! This protects the babies from illness while helping the baby develop their own immune systems. Let’s take a better look at what lactoferrin is.
Lactoferrin is a substance belonging to a family of chemicals called cytokines. Cytokines are responsible for coordinating the human cellular immune response that protects us from most infections, cancers and tumors. A deficit of cytokines can lead to a suppressed immune system and an excess of cytokines can create an over-active immune response. Lactoferrin works by…
1. Regulating the cellular immune response on several different levels. In healthy individuals lactoferrin is a front-line defensive system that protects our body openings, such as eyes, mouth, nose and other orifices from infectious invasion.
2. Its ability to bind to iron is a unique second aspect of lactoferrin. Iron is an essential mineral used by a wide array of pathogens and tumors for reproduction and growth. Presented with an infectious challenge or tumor, a healthy body will respond by producing lactoferrin in copious quantities in the vicinity of the infection or tumor. Lactoferrin will then bind with iron and render it unavailable to the bacteria or the tumor! This, of course, produces a malnutrition situation and effectively starving the bacteria or the tumor. Lactoferrin does not remove iron from the body itself, and over time degrades to release the iron back into the body.
3. Lactoferrin molecules are themselves directly toxic to bacteria, yeast and molds! This is a third and important level of activity of lactoferrin. It also appears that lactoferrin also inhibits replication of some viruses, including HIV and some of the herpes family of viruses. So this is quite a remarkable substance!
Lactoferrin occurs in much higher levels of concentration in human breast milk than in cow’s milk or whey (15+ times higher)! These high concentrations of lactoferrin are found in the colostrum first milk we mentioned above. It has long been acknowledged as the ideal first food for babies and the perfect mechanism through which immunity can be transferred from mother to child.
Lactoferrin is abioactive peptide, a glycoprotein part of whey protein. One of the main ways it protects the body from pathogens is that it binds easily with iron.(2) This strong affinity for iron is a key to much of lactoferrin’s disease-fighting properties. We’ll explain this more in the lactoferrin bacterial and viral articles. In brief, pathogens need iron to duplicate and grow. In binding with iron and preventing bacteria and virus receptors from taking iron in, lactoferrin prevents this. Thus, it deprives harmful pathogens of essential iron and, in doing so, inhibits their chances of surviving and multiplying. The pathogens are defeated.
Lactoferrin comes in two forms. Lactoferrin with low saturation levels of iron is considered to be more effective. When iron saturation is less than 5%, it is called Apo-Lactoferrinor orapolactoferrin. Then, its affinity for iron is 300 times higher than that of transferring.(3) (Lactoferrin with high levels of iron saturation,up to 15-20%, is called holo-lactogerrin orhololactoferrin.)
Lactoferricin is simply lactoferrin digested by pepsin in your digestive system. It is a 25-amino acid antimicrobial peptide fragment. Along with its antibacterial properties, lactoferricin has similiar immuno-stimulatory, antiviral, and anticarcinogenic effects as lactoferrin. Some marketing efforts try to sell lactoferricin separately claiming it has better results. Actually, lactoferricin is more resistant to degradation in the stomach, with approximately 50% of the starting material remaining after 4h of incubation. However, their efforts are misleading since your digestive system produces it from lactoferricin naturally. (We simply use the term ‘lactoferrin’ since both functions happen anyway.)
In addition to this antibiotic property, since lactoferrin binds readily with iron, it also improves the body’s ability to absorb iron (the bioavailability of iron). Thus, it helps prevent iron deficiency and anemia.
In binding with iron, lactoferrin also reduces the formation of iron free-radicals and, so, helps prevent cell damage that is part of the aging process.
Lactoferrin is also believed to suppress tumor growth, most notably pancreatic cancer.
Studies have also shown lactoferrin to helps maintain optimum levels of beneficial bacteria such as bifidus in the intestinal tract, helping to prevent gastrointestinal inflammations.
Lactoferrin also helps prevent viral infections(4) such as HIV and herpes, and diseases triggered by fungal and yeast activity.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted the generally recognised as safe (GRAS) status to DMV International’s milk-derived lactoferrin, in August 2001.
In the EU, the Dairy Hygiene Directive 92/46 forms the basis for using bovine lactoferrin in foods.
In Japan, the most advanced market for functional foods, the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s announcement No. 160, on August 10, 1995, allowed lactoferrin concentrates in food.
Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave its go-ahead for the application of activated lactoferrin on fresh beef to inhibit food-poisoning pathogens such as E.coli, salmonella, and campylobacter.
(More information is available in our other lactoferrin articles.)
1. M. Sorensen and S. P. L. Sorensen, Compf. rend. trav. lab. Carlsberg (1939) 23, 55, cited by Groves (1960)
2. Naidu AS (2000). Lactoferrin: natural, multifunctional, antimicrobial. Boca Raton: CRC Press. pp. 1–2. ISBN 0-8493-0909-3.
3. Mazurier J, Spik G (1980). “Comparative study of the iron-binding properties of human transferrins. I. Complete and sequential iron saturation and desaturation of the lactotransferrin”. Biochim. Biophys. Acta 629 (2): 399–408. PMID.
4. Agostina Pietrantoni, Assunta Maria Di Biase, Antonella Tinari, Magda Marchetti, Piera Valenti, Lucilla Seganti, and Fabiana Superti, Bovine Lactoferrin Inhibits Adenovirus Infection by Interacting with Viral Structural Polypeptides, Department of Ultrastructure, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Department of Experimental Medicine, II University of Naples, Naples, Italy, Accepted 8 May 2003.