Gut health has become hallowed in the wellness world, and for good reason: a gut microbiome with a diverse array of “good bacteria” has a positive effect on our immune function, inflammation, allergies, metabolism, weight and appetite. But how does it work, and what can we do to help it? And what role does the natural wonder protein Lactoferrin have to play?
“Inside our intestine, we have an ecosystem of microbes – 100 trillion microorganisms – that we rely on to stay healthy, happy and energized,” says nutritionist Dr Anna Moore, “If our intestinal tracts are not biodiverse and are tipped in balance to favour “harmful bacteria” we can find ourselves suffering physically and mentally. Poor diet (processed foods, sugar etc), antibiotics and stress are some of the ways we can harm our gut microbes.”
So, what can we feed our guts to populate it with good bacteria? “Probiotics can help restore a healthy balance,” says Dr Moore, “Kefir is a natural fermented food that has 30 strains of probiotic bacteria and yeasts, including Lactobacillus kefiri that’s only found in kefir. If you drink kefir or eat fermented foods, you can increase the number of bacteria in your diet by about 10 thousand times.”
PREBIOTICS FEED THE PROBIOTICS
Knocking back kimchee or snacking on sauerkraut ticks the fermented foods box, but unfortunately these bacteria don’t take up permanent residence in your gut – in fact, their average lifespan is only twenty minutes, says Dr Moore. “It’s like the Battle of Britain in your colon: the more good bacteria are introduced the greater chance they have of grabbing some land. You need to have a flow of good bacteria to tip the balance,” she says. Eating the right foods will feed the good bacteria too – acting as prebiotics for the probiotics – foods such as banana, onion, fibre-rich wholegrains (oat, bran, rye, barley and spelt), vegetables and fruit.
GUTS LOVE LACTOFERRIN
Lactoferrin – a key protein found in mother’s milk that also acts as part of our body’s defences – is well-known for immune health (which is why it’s one of the hero ingredients of our Leapfrog IMMUNE supplement). But the science has been building on how it supports our gut health too, because Lactoferrin is both anti-microbial (killing bad bacteria) and has a positive action on intestinal cells (helping good bugs to thrive). A study from 2019 states: “Lactoferrin has intrinsic properties that modulate immune and inflammatory responses and account for the beneficial impact on the maintenance of intestinal wellness.”(1) In vitro research has shown Lactoferrin to increase cell proliferation and differentiation, as well as stimulate the repair of damage to the intestinal epithelium.
It’s also shown to significantly stimulate the activity of the enzymes in the brush border membrane, renewing epithelial cells that form a barrier against infection.
Lactoferrin has the added bonus of inhibiting a wide range of pathogenic bacteria (S. aureus, Listeria, H. pylori, pathogenic E. coli) and viruses (Rotavirus, respiratory syncytial virus, herpes virus and the hepatitis viruses). Essentially, Lactoferrin gives our guts more of the good, and less of the bad, and is even considered as a natural antibiotic:
“From the data reported in this review, it is evident that the immunomodulation of the intestinal immune system by Lactoferrin on probiotics may provide natural and sustainable approaches to control infectious diseases by strengthening intestinal homeostasis rather than by combating pathogenic microorganisms with antibiotics.” The Impact of Lactoferrin on the Growth of Intestinal Inhabitant Bacteria (2019)
Emma Davies, Leapfrog’s consultant nutritionist from NatureDoc Clinic, has been using Lactoferrin in her clinic for years:
“Lactoferrin is shown to enhance the growth of certain probiotic strains – two key strains of which are lactobacillus and the bifidobacterium. They in turn modulate the many aspects of the localised immune defences within our intestinal mucosa. As well as producing bacteriocidins and key short-chain fatty acids, these particular strains promote the health of the intestinal barrier which is so key in bolstering immune health but as we now know, a lot of other aspects of our health too.”
If we’re looking for a game changer in gut healing, it could well be lactoferrin.
Read All About It
(1) The Impact of Lactoferrin on the Growth of Intestinal Inhabitant Bacteria (2019)
(2) Protective effects of lactoferrin on injured intestinal epithelial cells (2019)
(3) The In Vitro Protective Role of Bovine Lactoferrin on Intestinal Epithelial Barrier (2019)
(4) Milk with and without lactoferrin can influence intestinal damage (2016)
(5) The Functional Role of Lactoferrin in Intestine Mucosal Immune System and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (2021)