First it was collagen; now colostrum has taken over the supplement spotlight. Said to boost immunity, gut health, skin health, and brain function, is colostrum worth the hype?
Colostrum is the first milk produced postpartum by mammals and has a different and more beneficial nutrient profile than mature milk. It’s often called “liquid gold” because of its rich, golden color and valuable benefits. Colostrum is highly concentrated and provides protein and immune-boosting immunoglobulins that build baby’s immune system. To produce a supplement, bovine colostrum is collected, pasteurized, and dried into pills or powders that can be mixed with liquid.
Colostrum has benefits for adult mammals as well. Let’s take a look at how colostrum may benefit your health and even the health of your pet.
I’m discussing the use of bovine colostrum supplements in this post.
What is Colostrum?
As mentioned above, colostrum is a milky fluid produced after birth and before breast milk production begins. It’s extremely nutritious and contains more nutrients than regular milk. Colostrum is rich in vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, disease-fighting proteins (immunoglobulins), growth hormones, digestive enzymes, and bioactives that give the body instructions to reactivate cell growth for hair regeneration and lean muscle building while accelerating tissue repair for whole body energy and recovery. The nutrient profile looks like this:
- Lactoferrin: a protein that fights infections and boosts immunity
- Growth factors (to stimulate growth)
- Antibodies proteins (immunoglobulins) that fight infections
- Rich in protein & peptides
- Vitamin A, B12, Vitamin K
- Low levels of lactose
- Fat, carbs
- Amino acids
I’ve been recommending colostrum to my IBD and IBS clients for years now, as I do see great gut healing benefits in these populations. Colostrum can heal the gut lining and therefore improve absorption of nutrients. It’s also rich in immune boosting immunoglobulins that benefit leaky gut healing.
Here are some other impressive benefits:
- As I mentioned, I primarily recommend colostrum for gut health. It promotes the flourishing of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract to improve digestion and nutrient absorption while also reducing inflammation levels. Useful for boosting low secretory IgA levels (and therefore boosting gut immune health) and reducing inflammation in IBD cases. “In human trials, there is substantial evidence of efficacy of bovine colostrum in inflammatory bowel disease and in infectious diarrhea.” (source) Highly recommend if you have celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, or Crohn’s disease, or if you struggle with reflux/heartburn. Colostrum is also very beneficial for leaky gut healing (increased intestinal permeability). May also have a beneficial effect for colon cancer patients, both for immune and gut support. (source)
- Boost immune health: colostrum contains incredibly powerful antibodies that can help fight off infections. After all, its main purpose is to boost baby’s immune system at birth. It’s composed of a number of immune-active proteins such as immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, and other antimicrobial peptides. Boosts T lymphocytes and natural killer cells, especially in elderly populations. (source) Research shows that colostrum supplements may be particularly effective in boosting immunity in elite athletes. (source) Overall, colostrum boosts your immune health and helps you ward off infections.
- Muscle growth & sports performance: colostrum boasts impressive benefits for athletes in particular. It helps exercise recovery, provides essential growth factors that can help maximize muscle development (boosts muscle growth), and alleviates inflammation to help post workout recovery. There are actually a lot of studies on colostrum and sports nutrition. (source)
- Supports wound healing: Colostrum’s potent combination of growth factors and cytokines can aid in the healing process, reducing inflammation and promoting healthy new tissue for a speedy recovery. I have seen this first hand. I took colostrum for several months to boost immune & gut health. I sliced my thumb fairly seriously during this time (a deep wound), and it completely healed with no scar in just under 2 weeks.
- Colostrum is also great for skin & hair health: it can reduce signs of aging, boost elasticity, and encourage healthy cell growth for vibrant skin. May also strengthen the skin barrier (just as it does gut barrier function, and there is a close relationship between skin & gut health) to guard against the damage caused by pollutants, toxins and UV light. Colostrum bioactives have also been shown to reactivate hair follicle stem cells, support the hair microbiome, and work to combat hair loss by reversing inflammation and blocking chemical-induced damage to the follicle.
- May help reduce allergy symptoms: colostrum helps modulate pro-inflammatory cytokines and reduces allergy symptoms. May improve asthma and lung function and significantly reduce nasal allergy symptoms. (source)
- Inflammation: Because colostrum is a great source of antioxidants, it may support a healthy inflammatory response in the body. (source) Bovine colostrum also reduces nuclear factor (NF)kB activation, a proinflammatory pathway.
I’ve also seen reports that colostrum benefits brain health, but I haven’t seen a lot of research on that yet.
How to Use Colostrum
First off, I should stress that quality matters immensely in choosing a colostrum supplement. Depending on how the cows are raised, bovine colostrum may contain antibiotics, pesticides, or synthetic hormones. You can absolutely purchase colostrum supplements that have been tested to ensure that the final product does not have these compounds. Make sure you look for colostrum that is processed properly (not heated to temperatures that may kill beneficial bioactives) and responsibly sourced from cows (preferably grass fed) not fed antibiotics or hormones.
The only two colostrum supplements I’ve vetted and recommended and trust are Designs for Health and Armra.
I most often recommend the Designs for Health Tegricel colostrum which uses the latest technology to produce a pure, potent colostrum. Plus it comes from healthy, nutritionally supplemented cattle raised in the U.S. on USDA and FDA certified dairy farms. These cattle are carefully fed a scientifically designed diet that contains the proper balance of legumes and grasses, along with minerals and trace minerals to ensure consistently high potency colostrum. It’s also in capsule form and more cost effective than Armra.
Armra is also a very high quality product that is sustainably sourced and properly processed. It’s in powder form for those who prefer that. It’s also twice as expensive as Designs for Health.
Colostrum for Pets
You can give colostrum to your pets for the same reasons you would use it personally. I think it’s especially useful for dogs with digestive issues (like my labradoodle). I don’t know much about cats (I’m a dog person), but I’m sure it would be fine for cats also.
Who Should Not Use Colostrum
People who are truly allergic to milk (IgE allergy) should not consume bovine colostrum. While the processing removes the casein (which is what most dairy sensitive people react to), it does still contain some lactose and isn’t appropriate for those with true dairy allergies. That said, dairy sensitive people tend to do well with colostrum, and because of its gut healing benefits, it may improve food intolerance issues. Colostrum is obviously not vegan, so it’s not appropriate for strict vegans.
Colostrum also does contain some (possibly trace) amounts of estrogen, so it may not be appropriate for those with estrogen dominant cancers. Milk and colostrum naturally contain various hormones, even if the cows are not fed exogenous hormones.
In addition, some people may be concerned about the ethics of how bovine colostrum is sourced and whether it’s taken from calves that need it. After birth, cows produce colostrum in excess, with calves only consuming between 33%-50% of it. The surplus is considered a waste product in the dairy industry, so it’s upcycled, ensuring that calves get fed all they need first and no colostrum goes to waste.
Colostrum is certainly having a moment, but is it worth the hype? My verdict is yes, absolutely. I think it’s most beneficial for those with IBS & IBD. It also boosts immunity and may also help skin & hair. I’ve tried it myself (the designs for health capsules) and frequently recommend it for those working on gut health. Try it here.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.