Transfer factor

While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.

Related Terms

  • Amino terminal fragments of enkephalins, antigen-dependent activity, antigen-independent activity, ascorbate, bovine dialyzable leukocyte extract, bovine dialyzable transfer factor, bovine transfer factor, chemiluminescence-inducing activity, chemotactic activity, cholinergic activity, cobalt, copper, dialyzable leukocyte extract, dialyzable transfer factor, DLE, facteur de transfert (French), factor de transferencia (Spanish), glycine, HCC-S-TF, histamine, human dialyzable leukocyte extract, human transfer factor, hypoxanthine, inducer factor, iron, Lawrence transfer factor, Lawrence’s transfer factor, leukocyte adherence inhibition activity, leukocyte migration-enhancing activity, leukocyte migration-inhibiting activity, LLU, L-serine, lysed human leukocyte ultrafiltrate, manganese, nickel, nicotinamide, peptides, polynucleosides, polynucleotides, polypeptides, prostaglandins, protein, purine, pyrimidine, ribonucleotide, ribose, RNA bases, serotonin, Sp-TF, Sp-TFM, STF, S-TF, suppressor factor, suppressor transfer factor, T lymphocyte or differentiation maturation factors, TF, TFdL-H, TFh, thymosin-like factor, zinc.

Background

  • Transfer factor is defined as a substance in white blood cells that can transfer immunity from an immune or sensitized person to a nonimmune or nonsensitized individual. White blood cells are lysed, or burst, and the contents are processed into a tablet or injection. A skin test can be carried out to learn whether immunity has been transferred from one person to the other. The structure and mechanism of action of transfer factor are unknown.

  • Transfer factor may be made from blood cells of normal healthy people, from individuals who been infected with a virus, such as herpes, or from individuals who are long-time survivors of specific diseases, such as bone cancer.

  • Transfer factor has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including cancer, infections, and immune system disorders. High quality evidence supporting the use of transfer factor for any condition in humans is currently unavailable.

Scientific Evidence

Uses

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

Acne

According to limited research, it is unclear whether transfer factor may aid in the treatment of acne. Additional research is needed in this area.

AIDS

Some evidence of benefit has been observed in clinical trials of transfer factor therapy for AIDS. Additional high-quality research is needed in this area.

Asthma

Preliminary research suggests that transfer factor may have beneficial effects in children with asthma and patients with upper respiratory infections. Further research is required in this field.

Atopic dermatitis

Transfer factor may be helpful in reducing the severity of symptoms of atopic dermatitis (skin rash), although some studies have reported a lack of beneficial effects. Further research is needed.

Breast cancer

In limited research, transfer factor therapy was associated with partial regression of breast cancer. Further research is required in this area.

Cancer

Transfer factor therapy has been studied for a variety of cancers, with mixed results. It has been suggested that transfer factor may serve as a useful adjunct therapy. Further research is needed.

Central nervous system disorders

Transfer factor therapy has been used for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease) and epilepsy, with some evidence of benefit. Additional research is needed in this area.

Cervical cancer

The rate of recurrence has been improved in a small number of trials of transfer factor treatment in cervical cancer. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.

Chronic fatigue syndrome

Transfer factor therapy has been used in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, with mixed results. Further research is needed in this area.

Hepatitis

Some studies of transfer factor therapy in patients with hepatitis have suggested that transfer factor may have beneficial effects when used alone or with another agent. Other studies have reported a lack of effect. Larger, high-quality studies are needed to determine whether transfer factor therapy may be effective in hepatitis.

Herpes

Some studies have reported improvements, such as shorter duration of pain, in patients with herpes. Additional high-quality studies are needed in this area.

Hodgkin’s disease

Limited data are available on the effect of transfer factor in the patients with Hodgkin’s disease. Additional research is needed in this area.

Immune system diseases

Beneficial effects have been reported for transfer factor therapy in patients with a variety of immune disorders. Well-designed studies are required in this field before conclusions can be drawn.

Infections

Transfer factor has been used with success to treat a variety of infections, although in other studies, beneficial effects have been lacking. Additional research is needed in this area before conclusions can be drawn.

Inflammatory conditions

Transfer factor has been explored as therapy in a variety of inflammatory conditions, including Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and nonbacterial cystitis, with mixed results. Further well-designed research is required in this field.

Leukemia

Limited research has shown modest improvements in patients with leukemia. Further research is needed in this area.

Lung cancer

Transfer factor may improve survival after resection in lung cancer patients. More research is needed in order to better understand the potential benefit of transfer factor therapy for lung cancer.

Lymphoma (mycosis fungoides)

Limited data are available on transfer factor therapy for mycosis fungoides (cancer of the immune system that appears as a skin rash). Well-designed studies are required before conclusions can be drawn.

Multiple sclerosis

Some studies have reported that transfer factor therapy resulted in slowed progression of multiple sclerosis, while others have reported the lack of an effect. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma

Transfer factor therapy may slow tumor growth and improve survival in patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma (cancer of the upper part of the throat); however, supporting evidence is limited. Additional well-designed research is needed in this area.

Osteosarcoma

Available scientific evidence on transfer factor therapy in patients with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) is limited. Additional research is needed in this area before conclusions can be drawn.

Warts

Available scientific evidence on transfer factor therapy for warts is limited. Additional research is needed in this area before conclusions can be drawn.

Melanoma

In one study, disease progression was accelerated in patients treated with transfer factor compared with those who received placebo. Other studies have reported a lack of effect. Additional research is needed in this area.

*Key to grades:

Tradition

The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.

  • Allergies, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease), antiprotozoal, aphthous ulcers (canker sores), autism, autoimmune diseases, bacterial infections, blisters, bronchitis, chicken pox, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, colds/flu, colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, encephalitis (brain inflammation), endocrine disorders, epilepsy, Epstein-Barr virus, eye disorders, fibromyalgia, fungal infections, hair loss, hypothyroidism, infertility, leprosy, liver disease, lung disease, Lyme disease, malnutrition, measles, movement disorders, muscle weakness (general), neuroblastoma (nerve cell cancer), neuromuscular disorders, parasites, psoriasis, respiratory tract infections, rheumatoid arthritis, sarcomas (connective tissue cancer), septicemia (severe blood infection), shingles, sinus infection, skin cancer, skin disorders, systemic lupus erythematosus, transplants, tuberculosis, vaccine adjunct, viral infection, yeast infection.

Dosing

The below doses are based on scientific research, publications, traditional use, or expert opinion. Many herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested, and safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients, even within the same brand. The below doses may not apply to all products. You should read product labels, and discuss doses with a qualified healthcare provider before starting therapy.

Adults (18 years and older)

  • Transfer factor has been inhaled, as well as taken by mouth and by injection under the skin or into a muscle. Transfer factor therapy should be provided by a reputable source and be supervised by a qualified healthcare provider.

Children (under 18 years old)

  • Transfer factor has been inhaled, as well as taken by mouth and by injection under the skin. Transfer factor therapy should be provided by a reputable source and be supervised by a qualified healthcare provider.

Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Allergies

  • Avoid with known allergy or hypersensitivity to transfer factor or any of its constituents.

Side Effects and Warnings

  • Transfer factor, whether given by mouth or by injection, appears to be well tolerated. However, transfer factor may cause acne, anemia, bone and muscle pain with local inflammation, brain lesions and symptoms, fatigue, fever, fluid in the abdominal cavity, herpes infection, nausea, skin lesions or tenderness at the injection site, sore throat, swelling, tonsillitis, and worsening of symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.

  • Transfer factor may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may need to be monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.

  • Use cautiously in individuals with neurological conditions, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, or in pregnant or breastfeeding women.

  • Avoid with known allergy or hypersensitivity to transfer factor or any of its constituents.

  • Transfer factor therapy should be provided by a reputable source and be supervised by a qualified healthcare provider. Theoretically, use of transfer factor prepared from cattle that have “mad cow disease” may cause brain and nerve damage. Some preparations of transfer factor may be contaminated with other substances.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • Transfer factor is not recommended in pregnant or breastfeeding women, due to a lack of available scientific evidence.

Interactions

Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.

Interactions with Drugs

  • Transfer factor may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using medications that may also lower blood sugar. Patients taking insulin or drugs for diabetes by mouth should be monitored closely by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Medication adjustments may be necessary.

  • Transfer factor may interact with agents used for AIDS, agents used for asthma, agents used for seizures, agents used for the skin, agents that may affect the immune system, agents used for the liver, antibiotics, anticancer agents, antifungals, anti-inflammatories, antivirals, and neurologic agents.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

  • Transfer factor may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that may also lower blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may require monitoring, and doses may need adjustment.

  • Transfer factor may also interact with antibacterials, anticancer herbs and supplements, antifungals, anti-inflammatories, antivirals, herbs and supplements used for AIDS, herbs and supplements used for asthma, herbs and supplements used for seizures, herbs and supplements that may affect the immune system, herbs and supplements used for the liver, herbs and supplements used for the skin, and neurologic agents.

Author Information

  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. Corrado F, Pizza G, de Vinci C, et al. [Immunotherapy with transfer factor in hormone-resistant metastasized carcinoma of the prostate]. Arch Esp Urol 1989; 42 Suppl 2:191-6. View Abstract
  2. Espinosa Padilla SE, Orozco S, Plaza A, et al. [Effect of transfer factor on treatment with glucocorticoids in a group of pediatric patients with persistent moderate allergic asthma] Revista alergia Mexico 2009;56(3): 67-71. View Abstract
  3. Göring HD, Ott D, Schwalm I, et al. [Cellular immune defect and transfer factor therapy in epidermolysis bullosa simplex of the Weber-Cockayne type]. Dermatologische Monatschrift [Dermatol Monatsschr] 1988;174 (1):10-3. View Abstract
  4. Hana I, Vrubel J, Pekarek J, et al. The influence of age on transfer factor treatment of cellular immunodeficiency, chronic fatigue syndrome and/or chronic viral infections. Biotherapy 1996; 9(1-3):91-5. View Abstract
  5. Iseki M, Aoyama T, Koizumi Y, et al. [Effects of transfer factor on chronic hepatitis B in childhood]. Kansenshōgaku Zasshi. The Journal Of The Japanese Association For Infectious Diseases [Kansenshogaku Zasshi] 1989;63 (12):1329-32. View Abstract
  6. Mastromatteo V, Negri L, Pacchioni D, et al. [Effects of transfer factor on the number of circulating lymphocytes in patients with spinocellular carcinoma of the cervicofacial area]. Boll Soc Ital Biol Sper 1987;63(11):1043-50. View Abstract
  7. Metzner G, Fricke HJ, Schröder D, et al. [Human transfer factor. II. Clinical results with the large pool transfer factor]. Folia Haematol Int Mag Klin Morphol Blutforsch 1983;110 (4):526-39. View Abstract
  8. Negri L, Pacchioni D, Calabrese F, et al. [Changes in circulating lymphocytes and “E” rosettes in patients with colonic neoplasms treated with transfer factor]. Bollettino Della Società Italiana Di Biologia Sperimentale [Boll Soc Ital Biol Sper] 1987;63(11): 1051-8. View Abstract
  9. Orozco TT, Solano MO, Sandoval G, et al. [Inflammatory mediators in patients with atopic dermatitis after treatment with transfer factor]. Rev Alerg Mex 2004;51(4):151-4. View Abstract
  10. Paganelli R, Soothill JF, Marshall WC, et al. Transfer factor and cytomegalovirus viruia. Lancet 1981;8214:273-4). View Abstract
  11. Pilotti V, Mastrorilli M, Pizza G, et al. Transfer factor as an adjuvant to non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) therapy. Biotherapy 1996;9(1-3): 117-21. View Abstract
  12. Sosa M, Flores G, Estrada S, et al. [Comparative treatment between thalidomide and transfer factor in severe atopic dermatitis]. Rev Alerg Mex 2001;48(2):56-64. View Abstract
  13. Simko M, Mokrán V, Nyulassy S. [Immunomodulatory therapy of epilepsy with transfer factor]. Bratisl Lek Listy 1997; 98(4):234-7. View Abstract
  14. Valdés Sánchez AF, Fernández Ortega C, Gómez Echeverría AH, et al. [Atopic dermatitis. Treatment with transfer factor. A controlled clinical trial]. Rev Alerg 1991;38(6):158-62). View Abstract
  15. Wagner G, Knapp W, Gitsch E, et al. Transfer factor for adjuvant immunotherapy in cervical cancer. Cancer Detect Prev Suppl 1987;1:373-6. View Abstract

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.