Milk protein could help cancer patients

Researchers say lactoferrin can help maintain appetite giving patients better outcomes

A compound in milk appears to protect appetite in chemotherapy patients.

A major problem for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy is weight loss due to loss of appetite.

There are many reasons for this, but one important one is that these types of cancer therapy destroy the delicate interplay between the senses of smell and taste that make food appealing.

In a new paper published in the journal Food & Function, Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences researchers Susan Duncan and Aili Wang investigated the feasibility of lactoferrin, a highly bioactive protein found in saliva and milk, as an antidote for this problem.

“The prevailing symptom described by patients undergoing chemotherapy is a persistent metallic flavour or aftertaste, with or without food intake,” said Duncan.

As a consequence, cancer patients suffer poor appetite, weight loss, depression, and diminished nutrition, all of which are detrimental to recovery, she said.

The researchers extracted lactoferrin from cow’s milk and administered it to patients as a dietary supplement. They found over time it reduced the unpleasant flavour and restored appetite for many of the patients.

“Our research shows that daily lactoferrin supplementation elicits changes in the salivary protein profiles in cancer patients — changes that may be influential in helping to protect taste buds and odour perception,” said Duncan.

The team’s findings will make it possible for cancer patients to taste foods properly and to enjoy a healthier appetite, enabling more optimal nutrition during a critical period of recovery.

Oral infections, such as thrush, also may be diminished.

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