Eczema, a red, itchy rash, is a disease that often relapses and can severely diminish quality of life for those afflicted. (1) Some of the current treatments invoke concerns regarding potential side effects, and this has increased the appeal of alternative interventions. (2) There is still a lot of study being done on the molecular and cellular mechanisms of eczema, but in the meantime, there is an emerging interest in the observed abnormalities in the immune/skin microbiota of people suffering from this inflammatory disease, and this is fuelling some new directions for potential treatments. (2)
Lactoferrin is naturally present in the milk of most mammals, including humans, as well as being available as a supplement. (3) It is an iron-binding glycoprotein and has recognised antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory properties. (1, 3) Lactoferrin from bovine milk has been used to fortify food products and skincare products. (3)
Lactoferrin has also been recognised as having immunomodulatory properties. It downregulates toll-like receptor signalling in monocytes and dendritic cells, inhibiting their activation. (4) Lactoferrin supplementation may positively affect the barrier function in the intestine due to its role in the transcription of the anti-inflammatory cytokine TGF-b1 in the epithelial cell line Caco-2. (4)
Other noteworthy benefits of Lactoferrin supplementation include reduced incidence of sepsis in very low birth-weight infants, and reduced incidence of lower respiratory tract infections. (4) Lactoferrin supplementation has also been shown to have some notable benefits for dermatological conditions such as acne, psoriasis and diabetic ulcerations. (5) Interestingly, studies have also shown that Lactoferrin (from human milk) promotes the growth of bifidobacteria, which is the predominant beneficial microorganism in the human gut. (6) Given the increasing amount of evidence implicating gut microbiome composition in health outcomes including allergic disease such as eczema, this function can be considered of significant importance in the quest to learn of lactoferrin’s potential health benefits.
Could Lactoferrin help with Eczema? How?
Although the use of lactoferrin supplements as a treatment for eczema is a relatively new topic of interest, several clinical trials have shown that lactoferrin can improve the symptoms of eczema, as well as a number of other skin conditions, including tinea pedis, acne, and plaque psoriasis. (3) One study showed that lactoferrin supplementation improved levels of skin moisture and texture in women during winter. (3)
Lactoferrin has been shown to improve skin wound healing by first enhancing the initial inflammatory phase after skin damage occurs, and then exhibiting anti-inflammatory activity that neutralises any excessive immune response. (7)
A more recent role for lactoferrin has been discovered in limiting chronic inflammation by linking innate (general and immediate) and adaptive (specific and delayed) immune processes. (2) The anti-inflammatory properties of lactoferrin may relieve the symptoms of eczema by regulating tumor necrosis factor-a (TNFa), a cytokine involved in systemic inflammation, which is elevated in eczema sufferers. (1) Lactoferrin also seems to reduce the levels of IL-1b, another pro-inflammatory cytokine, which increases as a result of UV irradiation. This reduction of IL-1b may help to prevent future skin damage. (3)
Lactoferrin may offer a therapeutic role in eczema due to its influence on T helper cells, specifically, its ability to destabilise the release of tryptase from mast cells in Th2-mediated atopic diseases. (5) More research is needed to assess the exact role of lactoferrin in correcting the Th1/Th2 imbalance, but this is one known mechanism by which lactoferrin improves the symptoms of autoimmune and allergic diseases. (5)
A growing body of evidence also supports the idea that lactoferrin fosters the formation of granulation tissue (connective tissue that forms on wounds) and re-epitheliazation (the resurfacing of a wound with new skin). (7)
Lactoferrin aids the development and proliferation of numerous skin-supporting elements in the body, including:
- Fibroblasts, which support wound healing,
- keratinocytes, which form a barrier to protect against environmental damage,
- collagen, important for skin strength and elasticity, and
- hyaluronan, which protects and lubricates soft tissue, and helps in the skin repair process. (7)
Each of these verified functions of lactoferrin supports the use of lactoferrin supplementation in chronic inflammatory diseases such as eczema. (2)
1. Choopani R, Mehrbani M, Fekri A, Mehrabani M. Treatment of Atopic Dermatitis From the Perspective of Traditional Persian Medicine: Presentation of a Novel Therapeutic Approach. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2017;22(1):5-11.
2. Tong PL, West NP, Cox AJ, et al. Oral supplementation with bovine whey-derived Ig-rich fraction and lactoferrin improves SCORAD and DLQI in atopic dermatitis. J Dermatol Sci. 2017;85(2):143–146. doi:10.1016/j.jdermsci.2016.11.009
3. Oda H, Miyakawa M, Mizuki M, et al. Effects of Lactoferrin on Subjective Skin Conditions in Winter: A Preliminary, Randomized, Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2019;12:875-880. Published 2019 Dec 2. doi:10.2147/CCID.S228153
4. van Neerven RJJ. The effects of milk and colostrum on allergy and infection: Mechanisms and implications. Animal Frontiers. 2014;4(2):16-22.
5. Hassoun LA, Sivamani RK. A systematic review of lactoferrin use in dermatology. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017;57(17):3632-3639. doi:10.1080/10408398.2015.1137859
6. Baldassarre ME, Palladino V, Amoruso A, et al. Rationale of Probiotic Supplementation during Pregnancy and Neonatal Period. Nutrients. 2018;10(11):1693. Published 2018 Nov 6. doi:10.3390/nu10111693
7. Takayama Y, Aoki R. Roles of lactoferrin on skin wound healing. Biochem Cell Biol. 2012;90(3):497-503. doi:10.1139/o11-054