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Colostrum: Immune Booster or Just Supplement Hype?

Published on December 11, 2023


By Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell has worked as a copywriter, writer, author, and editor for 35 years, specializing in the field of healthcare since 2009. She recognized the need for reliable health information while supporting friends through unique health challenges and refocused her career to bring clarity and compassion to healthcare communications. Lisa is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a lifelong Northern Californian.

http://lisastockwell.com/
Colostrum: Immune Booster or Just Supplement Hype?
Colostrum: Immune Booster or Just Supplement Hype?

There’s a new supplement fad in town, and it’s based on the first nutrients most humans ever ingest after they are born: Colostrum.

No one questions whether Colostrum, the liquid produced when starting breastfeeding, is the perfect first food for a newborn baby. Its unique composition provides essential nutrients, antibodies, and compounds like growth factors and prebiotics that are crucial for helping the newborn's underdeveloped immune system, digestion, and overall health and development. 

But will Colostrum supplements provide adults with the same benefits? Bovine Colostrum has been touted as a superfood to optimize your health. Early research suggests it may be effective in supporting certain digestive health issues. However, little evidence supports its use for a broader range of health issues in either sick or healthy adults. 

Given Colostrum’s wide range of bioactive substances, it does have intriguing possibilities that justify ongoing consideration and study. In this article, we look at the components of Colostrum and the potential benefits that interest scientists the most.

What are Colostrum Supplements?

Colostrum supplements are capsules or powders made from bovine Colostrum. Bovine Colostrum is the first milk produced by cows after giving birth, which is particularly rich in nutrients, antibodies, and other beneficial compounds. Colostrum supplements are made by pasteurizing and processing bovine Colostrum into a powder that is then put in capsules or packaged as a powder. 

Colostrum, which is approximately 80 to 90 percent water, contains higher concentrations of many beneficial compounds compared to mature breastmilk that provide immune support, growth stimulation, and overall nourishment.

Key components found in Colostrum include:

  • Protein: Colostrum has higher levels of total protein than mature breastmilk. Significant proteins include casein, lactalbumin, lactoferrin, and serum albumin.
  • Immunoglobulins: Antibodies are found in very high concentrations in Colostrum. IgG is the most abundant.
  • Vitamins and minerals: Colostrum contains vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium.
  • Immunocompetent cells: Colostrum has more white blood cells that fight infection and stimulate the immune system and inflammatory response — specifically leukocytes, cytokines, and interleukins.
  • Growth factors: Substances like IGF-1, EGF, and TGF-β promote growth and development of the newborn.
  • Oligosaccharides: Complex sugars act as prebiotics, feeding good gut bacteria.
  • Nucleotides: These building blocks for DNA/RNA support immune function and rapid cell growth.

The exceptionally high levels of antibodies in Colostrum play a crucial role in providing passive immunity to the newborn. While researchers are investigating the potential effects of these components on adult health, there is no conclusive evidence that Colostrum provides the same effects in adults as it does in newborns.

The Potential Health Benefits of Colostrum

While the actual health benefits of bovine Colostrum supplements require more extensive research to fully validate, preliminary studies show some promising results. 

Colostrum May Support Gastrointestinal Health

Several small studies show Colostrum may promote a robust gut barrier and prevent leakage of particles from the gut into the bloodstream. By reducing intestinal permeability, a key factor underlying many gastrointestinal issues, Colostrum may improve gut health.REF#3209 

Research also indicates athletes may be prime candidates to benefit from Colostrum supplementation, since they tend to have heightened intestinal permeability and an elevated risk of hypersensitivity disorders like allergies.REF#3210

Since Colostrum contains immunoglobulins and other proteins, it may also help promote a healthy inflammatory function and balance immune activity in the intestinal lining.REF#3211 While larger human trials are needed, the unique composition of Colostrum shows promise in encouraging a well-functioning and resilient gastrointestinal system through natural means. 

If you are looking for a natural way to support digestive health, consider one of the herbal supplements backed by science. Gaia Herbs offers a range of gut health supplements, including our best-selling Oil of Oregano

Colostrum May Support Immune Function

A handful of studies examine Colostrum's potential to boost immune function. It has shown potential to enhance immunity by increasing T-cells and natural killer cells, your body's defenders against germs. Trials with certain athletes also report fewer illnesses with supplementation during training.REF#3212 It’s possible it may support immune function through its support of gut health. But scientists need to conduct more rigorous, large-scale studies to prove Colostrum bolsters immune function and leads to real-world benefits like fewer infections. 

For now, eating a balanced diet with immune-supporting vitamins and minerals may offer more reliable benefits. You may also want to add a natural supplement to support your immune health through the upcoming winter season. Our award-winning Immune Shine®, with Maitake, Chaga, Elderberry, Ginger, and Astragalus, can help to sustain your overall well-being.* Black Elderberry is another great option that provides both antioxidant and immune support due to its natural concentration of flavonoids.* Available as delicious gummies or syrup, it can be taken alone or added to recipes to support overall immune health.* 

Colostrum May Support Athletic Performance

Research on colostrum for athletic performance enhancement is mixed. Taking Colostrum supplements has been shown to improve power for short, explosive exercises. But it did not increase stamina for longer workouts, maximum lifting strength, or growth factor levels for athletes in training.REF#3213

Multiple reviews conclude there is insufficient evidence that colostrum reliably improves exercise performance and body composition. Larger, high-quality controlled trials are still needed.

While Colostrum shows early promise in benefits for immunity and gastrointestinal health, robust clinical research is still lacking. High-quality studies with larger sample sizes are critical for validating Colostrum's health effects. Careful monitoring of optimal dosing is also necessary.

Until we learn more about Colostrum’s effects on endurance and vitality, Rhodiola Rosea is a great herb for supporting healthy stamina, so you’ve got staying power.*

Safety Considerations for Colostrum

Colostrum supplements are generally considered safe and appear well tolerated by most healthy adults. But some precautions are warranted:

  • Some people may experience mild gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • People with allergies to dairy products should not take Colostrum.
  • People with lactose intolerance may experience bloating, gas, or diarrhea from the lactose content.
  • Some supplements may contain soy and should be avoided if you have a soy allergy.
  • Bioactive compounds in Colostrum supplements can vary based on the cow's age, how quickly it was collected after the cow gave birth, and processing methods.
  • There is a risk of contamination or improper handling of the Colostrum if not collected and tested properly. Purchasing reliable, safety-tested brands can reduce this risk.
  • Safety has not been established for pregnant or nursing women.
  • Due to trace amounts of naturally occurring estrogen, people with hormone-sensitive cancers should not take Colostrum.
  • Because Colostrum supplements come from cows, this is not a vegan option.

As with any supplement, it's best to consult a healthcare provider before use, especially if you have medical conditions or are taking medications. Moderation and purchasing high-quality supplements can minimize potential risks.

Are Colostrum Supplements Right For You? 

Colostrum's nutritional profile, with higher protein and lower lactose than regular milk, makes it an appealing supplement. If you do want to try it, research where and how the supplement company gets its Colostrum to ensure it’s following best practices for cow health and wellbeing.

However, while Colostrum shows promise as a supplement due to its unique composition, further studies on its clinical benefits are needed to make it a more viable supplement option.

Bottom line? With typical doses costing around $1 per serving, Colostrum supplements are quite pricey for daily use. Many of its beneficial nutrients, like proteins, vitamins, and minerals, may be attained more affordably through a balanced, plant-based diet, exercise, and good sleep.

REFERENCES:

  • 1. , "A Systematic Review of the Influence of Bovine Colostrum Supplementation on Leaky Gut Syndrome in Athletes: Diagnostic Biomarkers and Future Directions", Nutrients. 1 1. , "A Systematic Review of the Influence of Bovine Colostrum Supplementation on Leaky Gut Syndrome in Athletes: Diagnostic Biomarkers and Future Directions", Nutrients.
  • 2. , "Oral Supplementation with Bovine Colostrum Decreases Intestinal Permeability and Stool Concentrations of Zonulin in Athletes", Nutrients. 2 2. , "Oral Supplementation with Bovine Colostrum Decreases Intestinal Permeability and Stool Concentrations of Zonulin in Athletes", Nutrients.
  • 3. , "Colostrum Therapy for Human Gastrointestinal Health and Disease", Nutrients. 3 3. , "Colostrum Therapy for Human Gastrointestinal Health and Disease", Nutrients.
  • 4. , "Diverse Immune Effects of Bovine Colostrum and Benefits in Human Health and Disease", Nutrients. 4 4. , "Diverse Immune Effects of Bovine Colostrum and Benefits in Human Health and Disease", Nutrients.
  • 5. , "Effect of bovine colostrum on anaerobic exercise performance and plasma insulin-like growth factor I", Journal of Sports Sciences. 5 5. , "Effect of bovine colostrum on anaerobic exercise performance and plasma insulin-like growth factor I", Journal of Sports Sciences.