Lactoferrin, Iron And How It Affects Your Acne
When it comes to lactoferrin and acne, most people can’t easily make the connection between to the two. How are they related? Well, skin health can sometimes be a fragile thing. There are so many ways it can go wrong and result in acne or other skin problems, even when we try to do all the right things. Sometimes in doing all the right things, we leave out or overlook some other important, and lesser known, factors that make a huge difference in our skin health. One of those things is lactoferrin.
Lactoferrin: A Protein Necessary For Life
Lactoferrin is a natural protein that the body creates. It’s one of the first things that newborns get in their mother’s colostrum (the yellow, creamy pre-milk before the flow of regular breast milk) because it is absolutely necessary to live. It’s also found in all of the body’s natural secretions, including our tears, saliva, bile, white blood cells and all the secretions from our many orifices in the body, including our noses and genitals.
Its purpose is to eliminate toxins, waste cells, pathogens and other excess, unwanted or mutated cells and particles that are a threat to the body. Lactoferrin actually has anti-parasitic, antiviral, anti-allergenic, anti-cancer, antibacterial, and antifungal properties that assist the immune system in keeping the body healthy1. That why it’s found in the secretions coming out of your body; your body needs lactoferrin to escort these unwanted cells and organisms out of the body. It’s also a chelating agent for iron, meaning that it attaches itself to iron molecules and takes them where they need to be.
This is important to note, because iron is a magnet for pathogens, which use it to thrive and reproduce in your body2. When your body has excess iron, your body is at risk of pathogens having enough fuel to live and multiply inside of you, putting your health at risk. Lactoferrin plays the important role of eliminating those excess iron molecules once your body has absorbed all that it needs. Without the excess iron in your body, these pathogens have less room to feed itself and reproduce in your body.
Why You Need To Get Rid Of Excess Iron
Despite the fact that your body needs sufficient iron to function and produce hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen to your red blood cells), too much of it can create a problem for your body. While iron deficiency leads to anemia, iron overload leads to hemochromatosis. Normally, people often worry about the health problems that come with having too little iron and in third-world countries, that is a valid concern. But in the developed world full of abundance, people are at risk of having too much iron, and it is suspected that there may be up to 1.7 million undiagnosed cases of iron overload amongst the general American population.
Iron overload poses some serious health concerns and risks, even more than iron deficiency:
- Excess iron is deposited and builds up in the liver, posing the risk of cirrhosis and even liver cancer.
- Too much iron can accumulate and build up in the heart, causing cardiac arrhythmia, heart disease and even heart failure.
- Excess iron can accumulate in the pancreas and lead to type 2 diabetes and endocrine problems.
- Iron can build up in the gut and lead to growth of pathogen populations and leaky gut symptoms.
- Iron can also accumulate in the testicles, which leads to sexual dysfunction.
- Too much iron can outweigh the effects of zinc in the brain, leading to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Lou Gehrig’s and Parkinson’s disease.
- Since iron and copper work together in the body, too much iron can cause copper deficiency, which can lead to other issues like arthritis, osteoporosis, fatigue and inflammation.
- Iron overload causes chronic inflammation, free radical damage and oxidative stress in the body.
The point here is that iron overload can lead to a host of detrimental problems3, destroying vital organs like the pancreas, liver, gut, brain, heart, nervous system and sex organs. In fact, iron overload may be responsible for the development of some of the deadliest diseases in the world, since pathogens need iron to thrive. Getting your iron levels right, therefore, is very integral to optimal health.
Lactoferrin’s job of getting rid of excess iron is absolutely crucial to regulating your iron levels and preserving the health of your organs and natural functions. Without it, your body will suffer from an imbalance that could actually kill you.
So, What Does Lactoferrin Have To Do With Improving Acne?
Since lactoferrin gets rid of the very thing that feeds the pathogens in your body, iron, it’s safe to say that lactoferrin helps to starve out the pathogenic bacteria that causes acne, known as p. acnes. This alone is a huge win for your skin, but p. acnes isn’t the only thing responsible for acne, and lactoferrin actually poses other benefits to the skin that are huge for healing your acne-prone skin.
As mentioned earlier, lactoferrin has antioxidant properties that fight off free radicals in the blood. Free radicals can cause oxidative stress that is considered to be one of the main driving factors behind acne-prone skin.
It also has anti-inflammatory properties that helps to prevent skin inflammation. Lactoferrin also helps with wound healing. It stimulates the connective tissue (fibroblasts) in the skin and epidermal cells (keratinocytes) to regenerate your skin cells, and helps the synthesis of complex proteins, ultimately healing acne lesions. Speaking of wound healing, excess iron in the body has been proven to inhibit wound healing. By removing this excess, lactoferrin gives your skin a fair chance to recover.
When it comes to gut health and acne, the two are extremely closely related. In fact, poor gut health inevitably leads to frustrating and debilitating skin conditions, including acne. Lactoferrin helps by starving out bad bacteria in your gut flora like E.coli and salmonella, while promoting the growth of your healthy bacteria. It also enhances your gut’s musical barrier, which is designed to prevent pathogens and particles from entering your blood stream and making its way to the rest of your body, a condition known as leaky gut. Lactoferrin also stimulates intestinal absorptive capacity and intestinal cell proliferation. Furthermore, a study conducted in 20134 on Japanese women showed that lactoferrin actually helped improve the growth of bifidobacteria in their guts; in other words, lactoferrin helped increase their good gut bacteria.
Finally, lactoferrin really is amazing for your body, and it assists with things like shrinking tumors and giving you healthy bones.
Other Studies That Prove Lactoferrin Improves Acne
A double-blind study conducted in 20105 placed some young adults, aged 18-30, into two groups. One group was given fermented milk with a 200mg dose of lactoferrin to drink every day for twelve weeks. The other “placebo” group was given milk without lactoferrin to drink daily for the same period. At the end of the period, the lactoferrin group experienced a decrease in inflammatory lesions of almost 39%, their total lesion count had decreased by just over 23% and they experienced a reduction in sebum of just over 31%, when compared to the group who drank the non-lactoferrin milk.
A similar study was conducted in 20116 using a lactoferrin tablet that was chewable, and taken twice daily for eight weeks. The subjects of that study experienced a reduction in their inflammatory lesions of over 20% and a reduction in their total lesions of almost 23%.
Getting More Lactoferrin In Your Body
Now that you’ve read all of that, you’re probably ready to begin boosting your lactoferrin levels and getting your body’s iron levels straight. The most common way to get lactoferrin is actually through milk. However, milk may be a problematic option7 for many people, as milk comes infused with other hormones that aren’t helpful to the body (to say the least).
Cow’s milk, though the most common, doesn’t have much lactoferrin in it, especially if it isn’t raw. Goat’s milk is a better option, as its enzymes and hormones more closely resemble human milk, but again, if you’re going to go for the milk option, raw is the best way to go. The actually best form of milk to drink for optimal lactoferrin levels is human milk, but that option is hardly available to the general public, and might be a little weird for the average person to consciously consume.
The other common way to get lactoferrin is through whey, but again, this doesn’t have much lactoferrin in it. Plus, it also poses other risks to your health that probably aren’t worth facing just to get the little lactoferrin that it has.
The next popular source of lactoferrin is soy, but again, there are issues with hormones there that aren’t worth messing with. With all of the above-mentioned options, you have to really weigh the benefits and the cons and decide what is best for you. But maybe none of these options are worth taking.
So, What Is One To Do To Get More Lactoferrin In Their Body?
The safest way to do this is through actual pill supplements. But this option poses its own risks as well. There is no real study that explores taking lactoferrin supplements as a long-term solution. Plus, lactoferrin supplements still come from a dairy-based source, and contain whey in the mix. If you have an allergy to whey, this could be a problem.
However, it’s still a nearly-insignificant amount, and so it may not pose a risk at all, at least to most.
The other thing to be careful with when taking these lactoferrin supplements is how much you are taking. There are problems associated with lactoferrin overdose, including diarrhea or constipation, chills, loss of appetite, fatigue and skin rash.
Finally, lactoferrin supplements will give you the best results if you add probiotics to the mix. After all, lactoferrin is good for the gut and the gut needs good bacteria to be healthy. Adding both to your regimen will give you optimal results. These results include:
- Eliminating pathogens from your intestinal tract
- Stabilizing the good bacteria in your gut flora
- Preventing chronic inflammation
- Keeping your white blood cells on alert to attack harmful microbes when they enter the body
- Messing up viruses’ ability to attach to their target cells
- Prevent tumor growth by stopping the formation of blood vessels that make its growth possible
- Eliminating excess iron that feeds pathogens, preventing them from thriving in the body
Other Way To Reduce Iron In The Body And Prevent Iron Overload
On a last note, you may be wondering how to get rid of excess iron when access to lactoferrin is scarce. Luckily, there are a few things that you can do to help your body out.
- Don’t take iron supplement or multivitamins high in iron. Only vegans, vegetarians and people on similar diets are really at risk of iron-deficiency in the developed world. If you aren’t one, you probably get enough iron in your diet already.
- Avoid foods with fortified iron, like breakfast cereal and certain wheat products.
- Since vitamin C helps your body to get iron out of food and store iron in the body, avoid overloading on vitamin C supplements. Your body doesn’t actually need that much to thrive.
- Drink tea to inhibit iron absorption.
- Reduce alcohol consumption, and if you can, cut it out completely. Alcohol actually helps your body absorb excess iron and even speeds up iron’s ability to damage your liver.
- Avoid foods and snacks made with high fructose corn syrup. This high-sugar ingredient raises iron levels in your intestines and liver.
- Eat a balanced diet that is full of a range of minerals and nutrients, don’t focus intensely on iron in your diet.
The most important takeaway here is that your body needs lactoferrin to thrive. It’s one of the first things your mother’s milk gives you because it is imperative to eliminating toxins, pathogens, mutated cells and excess molecules in the body, especially iron.
Iron, though necessary for healthy red blood cells and bodily strength, can be detrimental to the body in excess amounts. Lactoferrin is responsible for regulating your iron levels.
By regulating your iron levels, you eliminate room for pathogens to thrive and harm your system. Lactoferrin not only eliminates these harmful substances but it promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in your body for optimal gut health. Remember, a healthy gut will give you healthy skin.
Finally, lactoferrin isn’t the easiest thing to get in your diet, but with careful intake of a broad range of minerals and nutrients, your body will be able to function normally and produce its own lactoferrin.
- Lönnerdal B., Iyer S. Lactoferrin: molecular structure and biological function. Annual Review of Nutrition. 1995;15:93-110.
- Skaar E.P. The battle for iron between bacterial pathogens and their vertebrate hosts. PLoS Pathogens. 2010;6(8):e1000949.
- Kohgo Y., Ikuta K., Ohtake T., Torimoto Y., Kato J. Body iron metabolism and pathophysiology of iron overload. International Journal of Hematology. 2008;88(1):71-15.
- Suzuki N., Murakoshi M., Ono T., Morishita S., Koide M., Bae M.J., Totsuka M., Shimizu M., Sugiyama K., Nishino H., Iida N. Effects of enteric-coated lactoferrin tablets containing Lactobacillus brevis subsp. coagulans on fecal properties, defecation frequency and intestinal microbiota of Japanese women with a tendency for constipation: A randomized placebo-controlled crossover study. Bioscience of Microbiota, Food, and Health. 2013;32(1):13-21.
- Kim J., Ko Y., Park Y.K., Kim N.I., Ha W.K., Cho Y. Dietary effect of lactoferrin-enriched fermented milk on skin surface lipid and clinical improvement of acne vulgaris. Nutrition. 2010;26(9):902-909.
- Mueller E.A., Trapp S, Frentzel A, Kirch W, Brantl V. Efficacy and tolerability of oral lactoferrin supplementation in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: An exploratory study. Current Medical Research and Opinion. 2011;27(4):793-797.
- Malekinejad H., Rezabakhsh A. Hormones in dairy foods and their impact on public health—A narrative review article. Iranian Journal of Public Health. 2015;44(6):742-758.
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