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August 27, 2019 3 min read

By Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD

Colostrum is the breast fluid released by mammals, including humans, before they start producing breast milk. It’s made by the mother immediately after a baby is born. Colostrum is an important source of nutrients, and contains antibodies that help build the immune system in  infants. It’s also responsible for establishing a baby’s gut microbiome, which is considered sterile at birth.

Although colostrum supports healthy growth and development of infants, some research suggests that taking bovine (cow) colostrum supplements can also support immunity and gut health of humans throughout adult life. As such, they’re gaining popularity as a dietary supplement among consumers today.

Colostrum and Immunity

An interesting fact about bovine colostrum is that it was actually used to support the immune system before antibiotics were created. When the first polio vaccine was invented, the immunoglobulin used came from colostrum. It’s not really surprising, then, that colostrum supplements are now being used for the purpose of boosting immunity.  

Cows are exposed to a lot of harmful pathogens during their lives and naturally produce immunoglobulins (defense proteins that act as antibodies) against them in response. People who take bovine colostrum supplements could potentially benefit from this, as the supplements may contain immunoglobulins for human infections like E.coli, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus.

"...some research suggests that taking bovine (cow) colostrum supplements can also support immunity and gut health of humans throughout adult life."

Bovine colostrum also contains proteins that support immune health, like lactoferrin and antibodies IgA, IgG and IgM. A 2006 study found that when 35 adult runners took bovine colostrum daily for 12 weeks, the amount of IgA antibodies they had in their saliva increased by 79% from baseline.

Another study of 29 male cyclists found that consuming 10 grams of bovine colostrum per day for 5 weeks lowered their risk of upper respiratory infection. It also prevented post-exercise reduction in immune cells sometimes seen in athletes, compared with a placebo.

Colostrum and Gut Health

As for gut health, bovine colostrum may help strengthen your digestive immunity and help fight gastrointestinal infections. A 2002 study found that adding bovine colostrum enemas to regular medications successfully reduced gastrointestinal symptoms among 14 adults with colitis.

Furthermore, the lactoferrin and antibodies in bovine colostrum may help prevent and treat infection-related diarrhea. For example, success has been seen when colostrum is given to adults with HIV-associated HIV-associated diarrhea.

Hyperimmune colostrum, which is made by cows repeatedly given an immunization of certain pathogens. This colostrum is collected within 24 hours of the cow giving birth, and has been found to contain more antibodies against the given pathogen than other cows who were not immunized with it.

A 2011 study found that, when given 1200 mg of hyperimmune colostrum per day that contained E. coli antibodies, 30 healthy adults were 90% less likely to get traveler’s diarrhea than those given a placebo.

Downsides to Colostrum

If you’re considering taking a colostrum supplement for any reason, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Colostrum is not allergy-friendly for people who are allergic to milk. Some supplements may also use other common allergens as ingredients, like soy, so be sure to check the label.
  • Because bovine colostrum comes from cows, supplements can presumably contain things like antibiotics, synthetic hormones and pesticides if these were used during the cow’s life.
  • There’s not enough evidence to know whether these supplements are safe during pregnancy and lactation, so it’s best to avoid them if you fall into either category.

Overall, there is evidence to support taking colostrum as a way to support a healthy immune system.

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