Supplier puts lactoferrin in spotlight as ‘iron activator’

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

'It’s a very high risk business developing a dossier and submitting a health claim, if you don’t need to do it,' says Glanbia. Photocredits: / DimaSobko
'It’s a very high risk business developing a dossier and submitting a health claim, if you don’t need to do it,' says Glanbia. Photocredits: / DimaSobko

Related tags Health claim Nutrition

It’s been two and half years since lactoferrin from cow’s milk was authorised as a novel food ingredient in Europe – but with no health claim for its iron boosting abilities it is now up to manufacturers and consumers to champion the ingredient, says supplier Glanbia Nutritionals.

In May 2012 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) confirmed the novel food ingredient Bovine lactoferrin was safe​ for use in food and supplements following an application from Dutch firm FrieslandCampina, for which Glanbia has substantial equivalence.

Prior to this European suppliers were shipping the milk protein to Asia, where there was already a healthy demand for the infant formula ingredient. 

With EU approval European firms are expanding production and pushing the ingredient into the limelight as an ‘iron activator’ for use in sports and infant nutrition and as a means of increasing iron uptake more generally, said Carla Clissmann, EMEA ingredient technologies director for Glanbia Nutritionals. 

“We’ve had lactoferrin available in Europe for at least 15 years. It would appear on our general matrix but we wouldn’t be slapping it up in big letters up all over the [trade show] stand,” ​she told us at the industry event Food Ingredients Europe (FiE) in Paris last week.  ​ 

Glanbia says the science for lactoferrin is solid. So will it be applying for a health claim for the iron-binding glycoprotein? Not if it doesn’t have to, says Clissmann. 

“It’s a very high risk business developing a dossier and submitting a health claim, if you don’t need to do it. If you need to do it, you should do it.”

She said anybody working in the industry would agree a company could never be “fully confident”​ a health claim application would be successful. 

Instead the company was positioning its lactoferrin ingredient ‘bioferrin’ in combination with iron, for which there are approved health claims for ‘normal formation of red blood cells and haemoglobin’, ‘normal oxygen transport in the body’, ‘normal function of the immune system’, ‘the reduction of tiredness and fatigue’, ‘normal cognitive function’, ‘normal energy-yielding metabolism’ and for its ‘role in the process of cell division’. 

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Photo credits: / g-stockstudio

“We cannot get around the fact that it does not have a health claim under the EFSA rules. Therefore we need to be a little bit creative about which products we use it in. It’s hugely effectively, we know this, and we therefore combine it with elements that do have a health claim and that allows us to in a general sense to talk about what it does.”

Looking for a champion

Now that suppliers had pushed the ingredient to centre stage, manufacturer and consumer backing was needed.  

“I think in the European market we need to get it launched by a company who can communicate very clearly around one or two benefits and drive that on. I think that’s really what is going to drive the market.”

Once one company launches, others would follow suit and cause a trickledown effect, she said.

Nestlé is one company making moves in the area. At the beginning of this year it filed an international patent for whey fraction lactoferrin to improve memory, learning speed and promote brain maturation in children.

In 2013 it filed another patent for lactoferrin as a means of reducing diarrhoea.

Clissmann said the information and published research already in the public domain would also mean consumers could do their own research and make up their own mind about the efficacy of the ingredient.

“Increasingly European consumers are doing their own googling and their own checks to see whether or not something stacks up.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), two billion people – or more than 30% of the world’s population – are anaemic. Much of this is due to iron deficiency and in resource-poor areas this is often exacerbated by conditions like malaria, HIV/AIDS, hookworm infestation, schistosomiasis and tuberculosis.

This was particularly true for the sports nutrition community and consumers suffering from conditions like anaemia, she said. 

Upping absorption, decreasing side effects 

Iron supplements at high doses can cause side effects including abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhoea, heartburn, nausea and black faeces, according to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). 

This ability to support “digestive comfort”​ was one of the areas Glanbia was keen to push. 

This issue was also highlighted by Swedish company Probi​ last month, which said its new probiotic product in combination vitamin C, folic acid and iron could target iron deficiency by increasing absorption rather than nutrient dose.

Clissmann said lactoferrin could also be used in combination with probiotics, but again what could and could not be said under the health claims regulation had to be considered. 

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