A protein found in milk can alleviate chemotherapy side effects, potentially bringing relief to millions of patients undergoing cancer treatment, according to US researchers.
Virginia Tech’s recent findings reveal that taking a supplement of lactoferrin, a protein present in milk, relieves smell and taste aversions caused by chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.
“Cancer patients and their family and friends may again find comfort in enjoying a meal together”
Researchers noted that cancer patients often struggle with a loss of appetite due to their inability to connect their taste buds and olfactory senses, often complaining of the taste of iron filling their mouth for hours, days, or even months after their treatment.
Taste and smell abnormalities (TSA) do not currently have a designated treatment and the lack of appetite that they cause can have seriously detrimental effects on a cancer patient’s recovery period.
Virginia Tech researchers Susan Duncan and Aili Wang began studying lactoferrin as a possible treatment for TSA to determine if it changes the salivary proteins present for those struggling with TSA as well as to discuss its feasibility.
Through their most recent study, which focused on 19 cancer patients and 12 healthy subjects, they discovered that those taking lactoferrin supplements significantly decreased salivary iron and increased salivary α-amylase and overall immune proteins.
The researchers gave the participants three 250mg tablets each day for 30 days, monitoring the participants salivary makeup throughout the trial. the findings are published in the journal Food and Function.
Those taking the supplement experienced a drop in their TSA score, which was associated with a high amount of iron and a low number of immunity proteins in their saliva, showing that taking the supplement reduces TSA and improves cancer patient’s oral immunity.
“By suggesting lactoferrin as a dietary supplement, we can reduce taste and smell abnormalities”
According to researchers, the positive findings around lactoferrin will allow cancer patients to taste and enjoy food fully, thus reducing likelihood of a setback in recovery due to malnutrition.
Ms Duncan said: “By suggesting lactoferrin as a dietary supplement, we can reduce TSA for many patients, restoring their ability to enjoy foods during a time in which nutrition can play a key role in their recovery.
“This research could help us develop TSA-targeted biomarkers and strategies for improving quality of life during chemotherapy,” she said.
She added: “Cancer patients and their supporting family and friends may again find comfort in enjoying a meal together.”