Researchers from the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences found that supplements made from lactoferrin, a bioactive milk protein, can alleviate taste and smell abnormalities commonly experienced by chemotherapy patients. Their findings were published in the journal Food & Function.
There haven't been any reliable ways to treat these problems, so cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy can experience weight loss, depression and poor nutrition, which can harm recovery, according to Dairy Reporter.
Nineteen cancer patients with taste and smell abnormalities following chemotherapy took part in the study. They and 12 healthy individuals took three 250-milligram tables of lactoferrin daily for 30 days. After analyzing saliva at three different points, researchers found the chemotherapy patients' taste and small abnormalities were significantly reduced.
Researchers often look into the impact of certain foods or beverages on cancer, but this study analyzed a specific method of treating a common side effect of chemotherapy. Although the findings are encouraging, the relatively small 19-person subject pool could cast doubt on their reliability pending additional research.
On the plus side, the Virginia Tech research team previously identified the role of lactoferrin in limiting the metallic taste from chemotherapy medications, and the milk protein has a well-known role in helping the body's immune response.
The subjects in this Virginia Tech study took lactoferrin in tablet form, so it's not clear whether the dairy industry could use these findings to help bolster label claims for its products. Cow's milk contains about 200 mg of lactoferrin per liter, so the substance would probably have to be highly concentrated in order for a person to receive the same 750-mg daily dose as the participants in the study. Also, high-pressure homogenization and ultra high-temperature pasteurization reportedly can deactivate lactoferrin.
Protein-infused products are growing in popularity — whether from plant-based sources or not — so this advantage of milk protein could be another value add for the dairy industry. Available protein levels and cost would clearly be important considerations, plus the resulting products would not be vegan. However, those protein-based milk makers looking for additional health and wellness benefits to tout to consumers might want to keep on eye on future lactoferrin research in case there's a way to adapt any new findings to their market advantage.