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What are Transfer Factors?

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  • Written By: R. Bargar
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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Transfer factors are substances taken from a human or animal source that are believed to provide immunity to disease when given orally or by injection to patients. The source, whether human or animal, already has immunity to the targeted disease, and it is believed that the transfer factors confer protection against the targeted disease to those who receive them. Recipients may have weakened immune systems or no immunity to the specific disease. Transfer factors are thought to boost the immune system by increasing cell-mediated immunity and stimulating the production of lymphokine protein mediators, while also binding to the infectious agent, or infected cells themselves. They are being promoted as a treatment method for a wide range of diseases and conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome, shingles, and hepatitis, and may provide an alternative to the overuse of antibiotics.

Found in colostrum, the pale substance produced by mammary glands shortly after giving birth, transfer factors naturally convey the mother’s immunities to the baby. First discovered in the 1940s, researchers have since looked for ways these molecules can be used to fight disease. Produced in the body by T-cells, they are believed to boost the immune system of the recipients. They are commercially available in a non-prescription supplement, and in injectable and oral forms used by medical professionals.

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Clinical trials using this treatment for cancerous malignancies have shown mixed results. Some studies show less effectiveness than placebos while others show clinical benefits. Positive results have been seen in preventing shingles in children with leukemia. Research confirms that using transfer factors in immunizations stops children suffering from leukemia from initially getting shingles, although they have been ineffective in preventing a second attack of shingles.

Research has proven inconclusive on the effectiveness of transfer factor therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome when administered as an intramuscular injection. This treatment has also not been demonstrated effective in extending survival rates for lung cancer or melanoma when given in conjunction with other cancer treatments. Research has also shown little to no effect in slowing the progression of Lou Gehrig's disease.

There has not been sufficient research to conclude that transfer factors provide effective treatment for many other diseases, although some evidence exists that they may confer benefits. Patients suffering from mild to moderate forms of multiple sclerosis may experience some slowing of the progressive disease after prolonged administration of human-derived molecules. Bovine transfer factors may help those suffering from the AIDS-related infection cryptosporidiosis. Additional evidence is needed to determine the effectiveness of this treatment with regard to autism, asthma, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and many others.

Side effects and safety issues appear to be minimal to non-existent when using transfer factors that have been sourced from humans. There are concerns about the possibility of infecting patients with bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE) or "mad cow disease" when using molecules derived from cows. Transfer factors from human sources have been shown to be safe in adults for up to two years and safe in children for up to six years.

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