The fitness world is pretty hip to the use of protein, but The University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada has been doing extensive research on the protein known as lactoferrin, which is being used in a different manner than what we may be used to. Lactoferrin (LF) is a multifunctional protein found in bodily fluids such as milk, saliva, tears, and nasal secretions. Human colostrum, or “first milk,” contains the highest concentration of LF, followed by human milk, and then cow milk.1
According to the NRC Research Press, this protein has potent iron-binding properties and can create iron deficiency, which is an important quality in host defense.2 Iron plays a vital role in cell metabolism and in transporting oxygen. Athletes often use iron supplements to boost oxygenation and help improve performance. Athletes who take iron supplements can reduce the risk of iron related sickness and other problems usually associated with taking iron supplements by adding lactoferrin to their supplement regimen to boost oxygenation without the side effects.
Lactoferrin also prevents bacteria from growing and forming biofilms. This could prevent infections from occurring in wounds. Many MMA fighters are often knocked out of competition due to infections setting up in small wounds. In addition to the prevention of bacterial growth, lactoferrin has direct antiviral, anti fungal, and has even shown some anticancer properties. Lactoferrin can also aid in the healing process of wounds and bone growth. One other important property lactoferrin possesses is that it has a cytokine-type quality, meaning that it activates the immune system. This is imperative to athletes since critical stress from intense training can sometimes weaken the immune system.
Dr. Hans Vogel, a professor at the University of Calgary is quoted as saying: “Some people describe this protein as the ‘Swiss army knife’ of the human host defense system. In part it does all this by binding iron, but many other properties of the protein contribute to its function.”3
Many new lactoferrin supplements are becoming available on the market and are being labeled as health-promoting products. The claims by supplement companies are often exaggerated, due to the fact that in order to achieve the potential benefits demonstrated from lactoferrin, very high levels must be consumed. Most supplements available are bovine, and at the moment, no known health concerns have arose from the consumption of bovine lactoferrin. Many trials and studies continue to be done to help better understand lactoferrin, and hopefully it will become useful in clinical practice soon.4
Who knows? The way athletes are treated may be changed forever. It’s cool to think that the substance we give credit for building muscular bodies could also be used to heal and protect those muscular bodies. Its in its early stages of research, but if lactoferrin ends up being as promising as it sounds, athletes and people alone may end up increasing their protein intake!