Lactoferrin is well known for its immune-supportive properties.1-3 Surprising new research is uncovering an unexpected benefit—that lactoferrin might help humans shed body fat as well.
Lactoferrin’s ability to reduce body fat was first discovered at the cellular level. In these studies, researchers found that lactoferrin can help fight against obesity by inhibiting the accumulation of fat in fat cells and by inhibiting the formation of new fat cells (a process called adipogenesis ).3,4
A follow-up study investigating the molecular mechanism behind these results showed that lactoferrin works by inhibiting fat synthesis and stimulating liberation of stored body fat (a process called lipolysis).5 These are important findings with direct relevance for the well-documented expanding waist lines in Americans of all ages,6-8 and its ensuing detrimental health consequences.7,9-13
Lactoferrin For Fat Loss
The potential anti-obesity effect of lactoferrin was confirmed in obese mice, when researchers found that a lactoferrin-rich diet resulted in increased fat loss.14 Another study in mice found that a lactoferrin-rich whey protein isolate prevents obesity by inhibiting weight gain, and fights obesity by enhancing fat loss.15 During spontaneous feeding (when mice were not calorie restricted), the lactoferrin-rich whey protein isolate prevented weight gain and fatty liver formation. During a calorie-restricted diet, the lactoferrin-rich whey protein isolate enhanced fat loss.15
New research is showing that lactoferrin might help humans shed body fat as well. One indicator is that higher blood levels of lactoferrin are associated with lower BMI (body mass index, an indicator of obesity), lower waist-to-hip ratio, and lower fasting triglyceride (blood fat) and glucose concentrations.16,17
A number of studies confirm this finding as well. In one notable study, healthy men and women between 22 and 60 years old supplemented with 300 mg of lactoferrin tablets a day for 8 weeks.18 Subjects were told to maintain their regular food habits. Compared to the placebo group, the group taking the lactoferrin supplement experienced a significant 12.3% reduction in intra-abdominal (visceral) fat.18 The lactoferrin group also showed significant decreases in body weight (-3.3 lb), BMI (-0.6), hip circumference (-1 inch), and waist circumference (-1.7 inches). The placebo group, on the other hand, gained 2.2 pounds.
The researchers concluded that lactoferrin appears to be a promising supplement for counteracting the accumulation of belly fat.
Another Fat Fighting Target Of Lactoferrin
Another way lactoferrin can help in the fight against obesity and its associated metabolic and cardiovascular complications is by decreasing the risk of a condition called metabolic endotoxemia.
Metabolic endotoxemia is a condition characterized by two- to three-fold increases in blood lipopolysaccharide (LPS) levels.19,20 Lipopolysaccharide is an endotoxin, a toxin produced by certain bacteria.19
Unhealthy food habits (like the typical Western diet high in fat and processed foods, and low in fiber) increase the production, absorption, and blood levels of lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which in turn increase the risk of metabolic endotoxemia.19-21
This is important because elevated blood levels of lipopolysaccharide and metabolic endotoxemia can result in insulin resistance andobesity.19,22 In addition, metabolic endotoxemia produces low-grade inflammation that can damage many organs in the body.22-25
By binding to and sequestering lipopolysaccharide,26,27 lactoferrin and its metabolites help prevent the development of metabolic endotoxemia and can help relieve an already established metabolic endotoxemia condition.
Metabolic endotoxemia represents a molecular link between obesity and the diseases related to it.
Further evidence for the involvement of metabolic endotoxemia in the development of obesity is the finding that it directly stimulates the formation of new fat cells.28 Thus, lactoferrin might inhibit new fat cell formation via several different mechanisms.3,4
Lactoferrin’s Role As A Prebiotic
In addition to fighting obesity and protecting against metabolic endotoxemia, lactoferrin also has a number of actions that contribute to a healthy gut.
First, it inhibits the growth of bacteria that produce bacterial toxins, such as Listeria, Staphylococcus, Salmonella, Clostridium, and Escherichia coli.29-33 Research has shown that lactoferrin supplementation reduces both intestinal levels of toxins (such as lipopolysaccharide) produced by bacteria, protects against lipopolysaccharide-induced immune cell stress, and down-regulates production of harmful reactive nitrogen species.34,35
Lactoferrin stimulates the growth of several strains of good bacteria in the gut, such as various species of Bifidobacteria.36-38 A recent study found that digestion of lactoferrin in the stomach releases a peptide that has an even stronger bifidogenic (bifidobacteria growth promoting) effect than intact lactoferrin.39 Lactoferrin also stimulates the growth of Lactobacillus acidophilus .37 Since Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria both promote a healthy gut flora, this might provide an even greater health benefit.40,41
Lactoferrin Helps Prevent Osteoporosis
There is a growing interest in the scientific community regarding the potential therapeutic use of lactoferrin in osteoporosis. In fact, a number of recent studies have found that lactoferrin supplementation improved bone mineral density and bone strength.42
Since osteoporosis primarily affects postmenopausal women, researchers investigated the effect of lactoferrin supplementation on bone parameters using rodents with surgically removed ovaries as a model for post-menopausal bone loss. The studies revealed that dietary lactoferrin promoted an increase in biomarkers of bone formation, decrease in biomarkers of bone resorption, and improvements in bone microarchitecture.43-45
Similar benefits have been found in humans as well. In a clinical study, 38 healthy postmenopausal women between 45 and 60 years old received a lactoferrin dietary supplement or placebo.46 The researchers monitored bone health status by assessing blood markers of bone breakdown (resorption) and of bone formation. They discovered that lactoferrin supplementation significantly reduced bone breakdown and increased bone formation, moving toward restoring the balance of bone turnover in just six months.46
This is the first demonstration in a clinical study that lactoferrin has a favorable effect on biomarkers of bone turnover in postmenopausal women, and confirms the findings previously seen in cell culture and rodent studies.
Recent evidence has shown that lactoferrin helps prevent osteoporosis by acting as an anabolic and anti-catabolic agent in bone tissue42,43,47 and by stimulating bone growth and healing.47 Studies have shown that lactoferrin potently induces the growth of bone forming cells called osteoblasts, while inhibiting the growth and activity of osteoclasts, another type of bone cell that breaks down bone tissue.42,47,48
Lactoferrin continues to demonstrate a wide range of potential benefits to humans. It has well-documented anti-infective, immune strengthening, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects.49
New research is showing that lactoferrin might be an effective weight-loss agent that also can help maintain a healthy gut flora. Lactoferrin is also a potent anabolic agent that stimulates bone growth and bone repair, and helps in prevention of osteoporosis.42,43,47,48
Lactoferrin is a natural component of both human breast milk and cow’s milk, which are ingested by infants. It is considered to be very safe and bovine lactoferrin has been granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status in the US.50
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