Scientists have been trying to tame the common cold for decades, but despite this focused attention, the more than 200 known cold-causing viruses sometimes get the best of us. Now a dietary supplement derived from cow’s milk is being studied as a natural way to protect people from the misery of colds.
Following the logic to promising results
Lactoferrin and whey are proteins found in cow and human milk, and both are believed to affect immune function. Lactoferrin in particular plays a role in immunity in the eyes, nose, and respiratory tract. Given that cold viruses often make their way into our bodies through these areas, it is logical that supplementing your diet with lactoferrin and whey may help ward off the common cold and its worst symptoms.
For this study, researchers randomly selected 126 healthy adults to receive a 600 mg lactoferrin-whey dietary supplement or no active ingredients (placebo) once daily for 90 days. The study participants did not know the group to which they were assigned, and they were similar in terms of age, body mass index (weight adjusted for height), and diet and physical activity habits. Approximately 89% of the treatment group and 83% of the placebo group completed the full, 90-day study.
Compared with the placebo group, the lactoferrin-whey supplement group developed significantly fewer colds (48 vs. 112), and reported significantly fewer cold-related symptoms during the study period.
Locking out the cold
This study was small and of short duration, but still, it points to a relatively simple thing that may help keep the common cold—and its annoying sniffles, sneezes, coughs, and sore throats—at bay. Plus, the study was a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, the gold standard of research, which is considered the only type of study that can prove cause and effect.
Our tips and cold-quashing ideas can help you stay healthy the next time the common cold is making the rounds:
Pick a product. If you are interested in trying a lactoferrin-whey supplement, ask your doctor or dietitian for advice on a good-quality product from a reputable manufacturer.
Start early. This study used a lactoferrin-whey supplement to help prevent colds. You’ll need to take it regularly throughout cold season for best benefit, rather than trying it after you start to feel sick.
Supplement with savvy. Even if you try a lactoferrin-whey supplement, practice other cold-conquering habits: wash your hands frequently and use a hand sanitizer when you can’t get to a sink, get adequate sleep (around eight hours per night), and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth during the day.
Stay on top of stress. Emotional, mental, and extreme physical stress can increase susceptibility to infections. Enjoy social time with supportive friends, and engage in regular, moderate physical activity to minimize stress.
Know your illness. Colds and the flu (influenza) tend to peak around the same time of year, but influenza is much more serious. If you have a fever above 100 degrees, body aches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, or fatigue, call your doctor and ask what steps you can take to recover from the flu.
Be alert to allergies. Most lactoferrin supplements are made from cow's milk, so if you're allergic to dairy products, you may need to give these supplements a pass.
(Complement Ther Med 2013;21:164–171)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.