Lactoferrin – Keeping Candida Friendly
Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
Lactoferrin is the primary germ fighting compound naturally occurring in breast milk, acting synergistically with other compounds like monolaurin. It is a normal part of your body fluids and secretions (saliva, blood, tears, and mucous), providing important protection at points where germs come into contact with you.
Lactoferrin is a potent nutrient for natural balance and helpful immune support. Hundreds of studies demonstrate the power of lactoferrin to help defend you against candida, bacteria, and viruses. It is a key player in the natural defenses that have enabled the survival of the human race.
Early immune system research on lactoferrin focused on its ability to bind iron (it puts iron in a safe cage and transports iron). It has long been known that free iron impedes immune cell function1 and enables many pathogenic bacteria and candida to grow. It is rather disturbing that garbage-quality iron supplements, which rapidly produce free iron in the digestive tract, are routinely used in infant formulas, food fortification, many low quality dietary supplements, and as prescription items for those with anemia. Such iron compromises immunity and promotes digestive imbalance and the overgrowth of harmful bacterial and candida.
Researchers soon found that lactoferrin, in addition to its iron-sequestering talent, possessed multiple strategies2 for naturally bolstering immunity and knocking out problems. It prevents bacteria and candida from forming hostile gangs (biofilms)3 and from sticking to human cells. It can help human cells modulate their responses to be more resistant to infection, as well as help immune cells perform more efficiently. It can directly enter bacteria and candida, disrupt their cell membrane and cripple their energy production systems; it either kills them directly or enables other parts of your immune system to fight a weakened opponent. It can also bind to viral particles and interfere with viral replication as well as occupy receptors on human cells and block a virus from entering.
A Sample of the Lactoferrin Research
Lactoferrin possesses two known direct antimicrobial peptides4 called lactoferricin B and lactoferrampin. Researchers exposed cells of candida albicans and E. coli18 to lactoferrin and then watched what happened under a high power laser scanning microscope. The lactoferrin was taken up into the cell membranes of both organisms within a few minutes. It then proceeded to disrupt the integrity of their cell membranes, which either kills them directly or enables the immune system to fight an easier battle. The researchers observed that it was the lactoferrampin peptide that disturbed candida, whereas the lactoferricin B disrupted E. coli. This indicates that lactoferrin uses multiple strategies depending on the type of problem.
In addition to direct cell membrane damage a recent study showed how once lactoferrin entered into candida it proceeded to wreak havoc. The lactoferrin readily absorbed into the candida cell through the potassium channels of the candida cell membrane5 (a new finding). Since nutrient influx through potassium channels would be a normal way candida is trying to nourish itself and stay alive, it must think that lactoferrin is something of nutritional value rather than a Trojan horse. In essence this is like poking a hole in the defense shield and propping the door open. Other research shows that once this happens then calcium6 from the fluids outside of the candida cell rushes in, raising the internal calcium level threefold. The excess calcium is taken up by the candida’s mitochondria (cell engines), which cause them to malfunction and generate massive numbers of free radicals that kill or weaken the candida. This is a rather clever way of killing an enemy – creating a nutrient imbalance that sets off an energy-crippling and deadly chain reaction using the candida’s own energy systems to self-destruct.
At the same time, lactoferrin helps boost front line immune troops so they are better at fighting candida. It supports the function of neutrophils7 and macrophages8, boosting direct immune system candida-killing ability up to 50 percent9.
It is important that candida not form gangs, transitioning from its form as single cell into hyphae that form the weed-like biofilms that represent a candida overgrowth. Lactoferrin has been shown to inhibit this process10, even helping drugs break up such gangs when the drugs were not effective by themselves.
Recently, researchers looked into the ability of lactoferrin to help out with infections in newborn children11, as toxic sepsis resulting from such infections is a major health concern. They exposed various nasty gram positive bacteria and candida albicans to either strong antibiotics or antifungal drugs in combination with lactoferrin. The synergistic combination raised effectiveness of germ killing 50 percent - 90 percent, depending on the concentrations used. The researchers were pleased to see that less drugs were needed to get an effective killing response, which is an important point because the toxicity of such drugs could itself be a major problem to a newborn child.
A major point to maintain natural candida balance is keeping the normal candida in your digestive tract as a single cell happy farmer, and not letting it join together in a troublesome gang. A recent animal study showed that lactoferrin was able to prevent the spreading12 of candida into its weed-like gang (biofilm), compared to mice that got no such help and were therefore subject to significant candida overgrowth.
Lactoferrin is a natural component in your saliva and must be present in adequate amounts to keep candida in balance. A study13 compared 30 healthy people to 25 people with oral candida and 35 people with oral candida and other significant health problems. Healthy people had normal levels of lactoferrin in their saliva, whereas those with oral candida had statistically significant low levels of lactoferrin. The lowest levels belonged to those in the worst health. Further analysis of these patients’ saliva showed that it lacked the ability to inhibit candida growth. Furthermore, the immune cells in these patients’ saliva had defective weapons systems that reduced their ability to kill candida. Several years later the same researchers continued to document14 that low levels of lactoferrin in the saliva were found in patients with oral candida (11 +/- 9 microg/ml, compared to the healthy level of 33 +/- 14 microg/ml). The researchers concluded, “These results conclusively suggest that oral candidiasis is associated with salivary gland hypofunction, and that decreases of salivary antibacterial proteins induce candida overgrowth.”
In a novel experiment15 mice were immunosuppressed with prednisone, and then colonized with candida. One group of mice was given lactoferrin; their immune systems remained competent and were able to kill candida, compared to the mice not given lactoferrin. The mice given lactoferrin supplements had less candida in their mouths and improved function within their lymphatic system to combat candida.
Another problem with candida overgrowth is that it sticks to mucosal linings16, and spreads like a weed. A study with vaginal mucosal lining cells showed that lactoferrin not only significantly reduces candida from sticking; it also actually helps detach candida if it has already latched on. This finding is likely to apply to other mucosal linings such as the lungs, sinuses, and digestive tract.
Collectively, this information shows that lactoferrin exerts its candida management strategies through a variety of natural mechanisms—strategies so safe they work in babies and so effective they work in everyone.
Short Chain Fatty Acids
Short chain fatty acids are known to have potent antibacterial and anti-candida properties. Two of these, lauric acid (12 carbons long) and caprylic acid (eight carbons long) are found in breast milk along with lactoferrin, implying their synergistic compatibility. I reviewed lauric acid (monolaurin) in another article; it is effective against gram positive bacteria. Interestingly, caprylic acid is helpful in combating many gram negative bacteria such as campylobacter17, E. coli18, and salmonella19 (common food contaminants). Both monolaurin and caprylic acid can kill candida.
Undecylenic acid is yet another short chain fatty acid (11 carbons). This one is not in breast milk but occurs naturally in your sweat, no doubt helping to keep candida in check on your skin. It has been in use as a topical antifungal for years20 in many over-the-counter products. Importantly, it has been shown to help prevent candida from transforming itself21 into the weed-like gangs that cause problems.
These simple nutritional fatty acids act as powerful natural immune support. Along with lactoferrin they form a basic approach to helping maintain candida in a state of friendly balance that is associated with healthy digestion and overall health.
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