Lactoferrin is a glycoprotein released by a type of white blood cell called neutrophil.
Fecal lactoferrin is a biomarker of serious gastrointestinal inflammation. Gastrointestinal inflammation is associated with increased infiltration of activated neutrophils into the mucosa and increased release of lactoferrin into the gut.
Clinical studies have shown that fecal lactoferrin levels of healthy persons are similar to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients, but markedly increased in patients with active inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Fecal lactoferrin levels are helpful in monitoring disease activity and efficacy of treatment for IBD.
An elevated lactoferrin level in the stool indicates that inflammation is likely present and active in the digestive tract but does not indicate either its location or cause. In general, the degree of elevation is associated with the severity of the inflammation. An endoscopy (colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy) may be indicated as a follow-up test.
Increases in lactoferrin are seen with IBD but also with other inflammatory conditions, with intestinal bacterial infections, some parasitic infections, and with colon cancer.
In newly diagnosed people with IBD, concentrations of lactoferrin may be very high.
A low level of lactoferrin means that a bowel disorder is likely non-inflammatory. Examples of these include diarrhea due to viral digestive tract infections and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Unlike IBD, IBS does not cause inflammation. Rather, it causes cramp-like stomach pains and spasms with bouts of diarrhea and/or constipation. People with low lactoferrin results are less likely to require an endoscopy.
A moderate lactoferrin level may be seen in those with less active IBD. The result indicates that there is likely some inflammation present. If a repeat test shows that the lactoferrin has increased, then the person’s condition may be worsening.
Lactoferrin is a reflection of intestinal inflammation and is not affected by lifestyle changes. If it is due to an infection, then it will most likely return to normal when the infection resolves. If it is due to inflammatory bowel disease, then it will rise and fall with disease activity.
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