Transfer factors are a part of the immune system’s elaborate communication system. Specifically, transfer factors are peptides (short chains of amino acids) with bits of RNA produced by white blood cells called helper T-cells. Helper T-cells produce transfer factors to guide cytotoxic T-cells and natural killer cells to the right target. Cytotoxic T-cells and natural killer cells specialize in destroying cells that have been infected with intracellular microbes (bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and yeast) and cells that have turned cancerous. There are about 200 known transfer factors.
Transfer factors got their name because when they were “transferred” from a healthy person and given to an ill person, they could help that person fight off infection. It was also recognized that transfer factors from cows and chickens are similar or identical to humans and, given in supplement form, could help humans overcome an infectious illness. Transfer factors are made by exposing a cow or chicken to a particular pathogen and extracting the transfer factors from the cow’s colostrum (milk) or egg yolk.
The use of transfer factors has been applied to a variety of potential indications, including herpes infections, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic Lyme disease, influenza, chronic allergies, and cancer.
Despite enthusiasm after their initial discovery of transfer factors, evidence of benefits has been mixed, and the use of transfer factors has never really caught on in the conventional medical community.
Part of the problem may be the lack of absorption through the intestinal tract. For transfer factors to work, they must reach the bloodstream. Peptides are typically broken down by stomach acid. However, some of the research on transfer factors suggests a part of absorption of whole transfer factors does occur through the human intestinal tract.
Another reason why transfer factors have limited or mixed efficacy may be our lack of understanding of the immune system’s network of communication. The communication that occurs between immune cells is a dynamic conversation. Chemical signaling agents, such as transfer factors and cytokines, are the language that immune cells use to talk to one another. Administering a random infusion of transfer factors could be like a person shouting random words at a group of people having a conversation — it wouldn’t make any sense and could even be disruptive.
Even with those possible limitations on absorption, the use of transfer factors appears to be safe. Few have reported side effects and adverse reactions in more than 600 clinical studies. Possible mild reactions include mild transient fever and malaise.
Typically, the cost of high-quality transfer factors is between $50 and $75 — on par with other medical-grade supplements.
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