For those with dry eye disease, finding the root cause may seem daunting. There are so many things that can potentially contribute to this disease, and it can be exhausting, both for your doctor and for you, to figure out what the true cause is so that the proper treatment is initiated.
In this article we're going to discuss an important component of the tear film which appears to play a very critical role in dry eye disease, especially for those with meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD).
In a recent study of 40 enrollees at Singapore Eye Research Institute and Singapore National Eye Center found that a lower lactoferrin concentration was found in eyes with reduced meibomian gland expressibility. The association was still significant after adjustment by age. The same subjects reported greater dry eye and allergy symptoms.
What is Lactoferrin? Lactoferrin Function
Lactoferrin is an iron-binding protein present in many bodily secretions, including breastmilk, nasal secretions, saliva, and tears. Colostrum contains the highest concentration of lactoferrin in the body (875mg per half cup!), and it's next largest concentration is in human breastmilk (125mg per half cup). This protein can be purified directly from milk (including cow's milk), or it can be created through DNA in a lab.
Lactoferrin does amazing things for the immune system of the body, including acting as an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. Of course, this comes into play as the lactoferrin in colostrum and breastmilk helps provide defense for human infants who do not yet have a working immune system. But that's not the only place it works. Lactoferrin is an important protein in the tear film, and it is an important part of the innate defense of the eyes.
It's main function in the body is in the binding and transport of iron ions, which removes an important substance required for bacterial growth. Lactoferrin also has the ability to cause bacterial cell lysis and phagocytosis. Amazingly, it also exhibits anti-inflammatory, antifungal, anti-allergy, and antiparasitic properties, which can all come into play when speaking of the eyes.
As stated previously, lactoferrin is present in the tear film, and levels have been shown to be decreased in those with Sjogren's syndrome, Stevens-Johnson syndrome, and meibomian gland dysfunction.
In discussing Lactoferrin's benefits, we can dive back into the fact that it is anti-inflammatory, an antioxidant, and antimicrobial. Bacteria and inflammation play a large role in various forms of dry eye disease, and especially in that of MGD. When the bacterial load of the eyelid skin and glands becomes too great, this can begin to clog the meibomian glands. Because of this, inflammation begins to present itself and the glands become unable to produce the correct quality and quantity of oil needed for the eyes to feel comfortable.
Studies have shown that oral adminitration of lactoferrin could potentially preserve the function of the lacrimal gland by decreasing oxidation and free radicals and therefore decreasing inflammation. These findings mean that, by taking a supplement containing lactoferrin, you could potentially decrease the inflammation of your eyes and begin to feel comfortable again. In addition to it's use in dry eye disease, lactoferrin supplementation may also be useful in treating stomach ulcers, hepatitis C, and for heightening the immune response as well as promoting healthy bacteria in the stomach and intestines.
Lactoferrin Side Effects
Lactoferrin is safe when taken as directed and when consumed through food. However, in high doses, lactoferrin may cause diarrhea, skin rashes, fatigue, loss of appetite, and chills. It is safe for use in pregnant and breastfeeding women in food amounts, although supplementation should be avoided since not much is known about potential adverse effects.
There are multiple lactoferrin supplements on the market which you could take alone, although we recommend combining it with other beneficial dry eye vitamins and minerals for optimal results. The Heyedrate Omega-3 for Eye Health not only contains omega-3 fatty acids as well as omega-7, but it also contains 10mg of lactoferrin. As with most lactoferrin supplements, this lactoferrin is derived from dairy sources, but should should cause issues if you have dairy sensitivities. However if you're lactose intolerant you may want to consult with your physician.
The Heyedrate Omega-3 contains 515mg EPA, 415mg DHA, 40mg Omega 7, 10mg Lactoferrin, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Vitamin B-6, and Magnesium for a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. This supplement is overall a wonderful addition to your dry eye routine.