Comparative Effects between Oral Lactoferrin and Ferrous Sulfate Supplementation on Iron-Deficiency Anemia: A Comprehensive Review and Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials

Nutrients. 2022 Jan 27;14(3):543. doi: 10.3390/nu14030543.


Ferrous sulfate is a commonly used iron supplement for the correction of iron-deficiency anemia but with frequent gastrointestinal side effects. Milk-derived iron-binding glycoprotein lactoferrin possesses well gastrointestinal tolerance and fewer side effects caused by the intake of high-dose iron. However, the underlying mechanism of the iron-enhancing effect of lactoferrin remains unclear. In addition, the comparative efficacies between lactoferrin and ferrous sulfate are also remained to be determined. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis on published intervention studies to investigate how lactoferrin modulate iron metabolism and evaluate the comparative effects between lactoferrin and ferrous sulfate supplementation on iron absorption, iron storage, erythropoiesis and inflammation. Lactoferrin supplementation had better effects on serum iron (WMD: 41.44 ug/dL; p < 0.00001), ferritin (WMD: 13.60 ng/mL; p = 0.003) and hemoglobin concentration (11.80 g/dL; p < 0.00001), but a reducing effect on fractional iron absorption (WMD: −2.08%; p = 0.02) and IL-6 levels (WMD: −45.59 pg/mL; p < 0.00001) compared with ferrous sulfate. In conclusion, this study supports lactoferrin as a superior supplement to ferrous sulfate regarding the improvement in serum iron parameters and hemoglobin levels. Considering the weak influence of lactoferrin on iron absorption, the anti-inflammation effect of lactoferrin may be the potential mechanism to explain its efficacy on iron status and erythropoiesis.

Keywords: ferrous sulfate; iron; lactoferrin.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency* / drug therapy
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Ferrous Compounds
  • Humans
  • Lactoferrin / therapeutic use


  • Ferrous Compounds
  • ferrous sulfate
  • Lactoferrin