We have a tremendously smart and educated Save Our Bones community that's always interested in seeking out the latest research. As it turns out, some members wrote in about lactoferrin just as I was in the process of researching the latest findings to share with you. I love that kind of synchronicity!
So what is lactoferrin and why should you consider including it in your bone health regimen?
The Scoop on Lactoferrin
Lactoferrin is an iron-binding glycoprotein (a glycoprotein is a molecule that contains both carbohydrate and protein). One of its actions is to help transport iron from the blood to the cells, thus controlling the iron levels in the blood.
It is most abundant in human colostrum (the milk produced just prior to giving birth) and in slightly lesser amounts in human breast milk. Other than human breast milk, the best source of lactoferrin is in cows' milk. 1
How Does Lactoferrin Help Bone Health?
Lactoferrin is rapidly emerging as a natural bone building factor. A recent study by researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand found that:
“At physiological concentrations, lactoferrin potently stimulates the proliferation and differentiation of primary osteoblasts and also acts as a survival factor inhibiting apoptosis induced by serum withdrawal. Lactoferrin also affects osteoclast formation and, in murine bone marrow culture, lactoferrin potently inhibits osteoclastogenesis. In vivo, local injection of lactoferrin above the hemicalvaria of adult mice results in substantial increases in the dynamic histomorphometric indices of bone formation and bone area.”
In other words, unlike bisphosphonate drugs, lactoferrin affects bone resorption and deposition in a natural way that works with bone metabolism rather than against it.
The Importance of Bone Remodeling
As I write in the Osteoporosis Reversal Program, the bone remodeling process is of prime importance. During this process, bone cells called osteoclasts move through bone tissue with the purpose of capturing old bone for its removal. Once this happens, small serrated spaces are left behind so that bone cells called osteoblasts can deposit new bone. This is how old bone is replaced with brand new bone, thus increasing tensile strength to prevent fractures. About 5 to 10% of all our bone tissue is replaced – or turned over -during one year.
For a lighthearted educational view of the bone remodeling process, check out my blog post starring Oscar the Osteoclast, “How Your Bones Renew Themselves: An Inside Look.”
I often mention the problems with the bisphophonate drugs that are all too commonly prescribed for osteoporosis and osteopenia. Not only do these drugs have potentially devastating side effects, they don't result in healthier bones!
Bisphosphonates alter the delicate bone remodeling process and thus affect bone chemistry in a way that ultimately results in weaker bones. Lactoferrin, on the other hand, affects these processes in a natural way and shows promise as a means of stimulating healthy bone growth.
Other Benefits of Lactoferrin
Lactoferrin has other desirable health properties. It boosts the immune system and protects against viruses, bacteria and other infectious organisms.2 And by inhibiting cytokine mediators that lead to inflammation, lactoferrin also helps reduce inflammation, both in the skin and in the digestive system.3
So, in addition to the bone health benefits, there are good reasons to add lactoferrin to your routine.
But I Thought You Said Not to Drink Milk
Indeed I did, and you can read all the reasons in ‘Debunking the Milk Myth: Why Milk is Bad for Your Bones'. But I have also said that whey, the watery substance that is left after milk is curdled, is alkalizing and healthy.
Milk has two main sources of protein: cassein and whey, and it's the alkalizing whey that contains lactoferrin. So you don't need to drink milk in order to get the benefits of lactoferrin.
In fact, the best way to get lactoferrin is by drinking a whey protein shake with almond milk, another milk substitute, or even water.
Whey Protein: An Issue of Purity
Some whey proteins have been found to be contaminated with heavy metals. That's why the one I use is Solgar’s Whey to Go. It's been certified clear of any heavy metals and other contaminants by Consumer Reports.4
My daily whey protein shake is one of my favorite pick-me-ups, and I look forward to its refreshing and invigorating boost. I especially enjoy it after exercising or after my walks.
Of course, Whey to Go is free of bovine growth hormone (rBGH) and is minimally processed at low temperatures to protect all the valuable nutrients. It's available in three delicious natural flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. I always buy vanilla as it has the least amount of sugar, but they're all acceptable so choose your favorite!
Here’s to our healthy bones!
1 Sánchez L, Calvo M, Brock JH (1992). “Biological role of lactoferrin”. Arch. Dis. Child. 67 (5): 657–61.)
2 Adamik, B and Walszczyk, A. (1996): [Lactoferrin: its role in defence against infection and immunotropic properties.] Postepy Higieny Medycyny Doswiadczalnej 50:33-41.
3 Bellamy, W., Yamauchi, K., Wakabayashi, H., Takakura, N., Shimamura, S. and Tomita, M (1994) Antifungal properties of lactoferricin B, a peptide derived from the N-terminal region of lactoferrin. Letters Appl. Microbiol. 18:230-233.