A protein found in breastmilk could be used to help recover from Covid-19 and other respiratory infections, researchers have said.
Lactoferrin is naturally found in cow’s milk and breastmilk – and is also found in fluids in our eyes, nose, respiratory tract and intestines.
Scientists say its antiviral properties could be used to boost our immune systems.
While the benefits have been well documented previously, a new study has looked at the prospect of taking it as a daily supplement.
However, before you run out to stock up on the lactoferrin, experts have warned that because it is considered a nutritional supplement it does not go through the same rigorous regulation process that medicines do.
‘We need the extra protection during the winter’
A team of researchers at the Huddersfield University, headed by Dr Hamid Merchant from its pharmacy department, has been carrying out independent clinical trials into its effects on respiratory tract infections (RTIs).
The study has now been published in an official publication of the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (Espen).
It found that administering lactoferrin shows promising effectiveness in reducing the risk of RTIs. It has already been proven to be a key ingredient for our natural defence systems against invading viruses.
Dr Merchant said: “This is a very promising molecule which can be adopted as an adjunct therapy for Covid-19.
“[It] could be part of a daily routine for people to take, along with vitamin C, D and Zinc supplements to keep our immune system healthy.
“Particularly now winter is almost upon us, we need this extra protection a lot more now than during the summer.”
Breastmilk proteins could reduce suffering
Although the protein’s viral fighting properties make it a great supplement to fight Covid-19, Dr Merchant has stressed these are still preliminary findings.
Fellow researcher Dr Syed Hasan said, given the importance of respiratory infections in light of the pandemic, the team wants to examine how well bovine lactoferrin is in preventing them from happening.
He added there were “promising” results in reducing the risk of these infections, and could have a role in managing symptoms and recovery of patients suffering.
Dr Merchant said the current evidence also shows it won’t be long until parents should be able to find lactoferrin in infant formulas readily available on the shelves.
So, how can you get your hands on some?
Not currently regulated as other medicines
Lactoferrin is prepared by specialised dairy companies who make milk, infant formulas and various other companies that sell supplements.
But Dr Merchant has warned many low-cost lactoferrin supplements sold online are not of the best quality.
This is because lactoferrin is classed as a nutritional supplement, and the production of it isn’t legally enforced to follow the same strict regulatory process as for medicines.