Health Benefits of Colostrum Supplements

Milk-derived supplement may enhance immunity and performance

Bovine colostrum (simply referred to as colostrum) is a type of milk secreted by cows within the first few days of giving birth. Available as a dietary supplement, colostrum is rich in immunoglobulins (antibodies) known to stimulate the immune system. Proponents claim that colostrum offers a number of health benefits, including the treatment of colitis, diarrhea, and upper respiratory tract infections. Colostrum is also said to improve immunity as well as enhance athletic performance.

Scientists have also developed a special type of colostrum, known as hyperimmune bovine colostrum, which is produced by vaccinating cows against certain disease-causing microorganisms. Although clinical trials are underway to evaluate the effectiveness of hyperimmune colostrum, the evidence remains scant as to its actual benefits.

colostrum supplements
Verywell / Alexandra Gordon

Health Benefits

Colostrum has gained popularity among athletes due to its purported ability to burn fat, build muscle, and enhance athletic performance. Hyperimmune colostrum has also spurred interest among scientists who believe that it may be able to treat a wider range of medical conditions.

Gastrointestinal Problems

Colostrum may help prevent gastrointestinal problems caused by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In a small study published in 2001, researchers found that colostrum helped protect against gastrointestinal damage caused by the long-term use of indomethacin (an NSAID typically used to treat osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis).

In 1991, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted hyperimmune colostrum a special "orphan drug status." This is a classification that allows manufacturers to develop a drug without competition. The status was granted specifically for the treatment of chronic HIV-related diarrhea caused by the parasite Cryptosporidium.

To date, no such benefit has been found. There is, however, evidence that it may provide relief of idiopathic diarrhea (diarrhea of unknown origin) in people with advanced HIV infection as well as diarrhea caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli).

A 2010 review of studies from New Zealand suggested that colostrum may be beneficial in managing chronic diarrhea in people with advanced HIV if used in tandem with HIV antiretroviral drugs.

Athletic Performance

Several studies have suggested that colostrum supplements may improve exercise performance. In one study published in 2001, scientists prescribed a group of active men and women either colostrum or whey protein. During the eight-week study, each of the subjects participated in aerobic exercise and heavy resistance training at least three times per week.

Study results showed that members of the colostrum group had a significant increase in lean body mass, while members of the whey protein group had a significant increase in body weight.

In a 2009 review of studies on colostrum and exercise performance, investigators concluded that taking colostrum supplements may be most effective during periods of high-intensity training and recovery from high-intensity training.

Similar findings were published in 2014 in which older adults given colostrum supplements had greater lower-body muscle strength after eight weeks compared to a matched set of adults given a whey powder. Upper-body strength, muscle thickness, lean tissue mass, r bone mineral content was not affected.

Flu Prevention

Colostrum may aid in flu prevention, according to a small study published in 2007. Among the study participants who took colostrum supplements for two months, the number of days with flu was three times shorter than among people not given the supplements.

Similar findings were described in a 2016 study from Egypt in which children provided a daily colostrum supplement for two months had 37 percent fewer upper respiratory tract infections than children not provided the supplement.

Despite some positive findings, there remains no evidence that colostrum can either treat the flu, lessen its severity, or reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalization or death. It should not be considered a viable alternative to the annual flu vaccine.

Possible Side Effects

Although there are no guidelines as to the proper use of bovine colostrum, it is generally considered safe for use with no known drug interactions. Side effects are uncommon, although research among people with HIV has described rare reports of nausea, vomiting, anemia, and abnormal liver function.

Dosage and Preparation

Colostrum supplements are available in powdered form as well as in capsules and gel caps. There are even colostrum nasal sprays marketed as allergy relief remedies. Colostrum supplements can be purchased online without a prescription as well as in vitamin supplement stores and some larger drugstore chains.

Dosages can vary, but many manufacturers recommend a daily 20-gram to 60-gram dose for athletic performance or improved intestinal health. When used to manage or treat diarrhea, colostrum supplements should be taken before a meal.

Colostrum is not among the substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Colostrum is also found naturally in human breast milk, albeit for only the first few days following the delivery.

What to Look For

Supplements like bovine colostrum are not as stringently regulated in the United States as pharmaceutical drugs. Since the quality can vary, only purchase supplements that have been certified by an independent certifying body like the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, and ConsumerLab.

Some colostrum supplements are sold in vegetarian gel caps and are suitable for lacto-ovo vegetarians. You may also want to check that the supplement is derived from cows that have not been treated with bovine somatotropin (rBST), a growth hormone used to increase milk production.

It is important to remember that, despite some promising results, there have not been any large-scale clinical trials investigating the health benefits of colostrum. To this end, you need to be wary about any supplement that claims to be curative.

While it not uncommon for manufacturers to claim that colostrum can "boost immunity" or "enhance performance," any suggestions that it can cure or alleviate symptoms of a disease should be regarded with extreme skepticism.

Self-treating any medical condition or delaying the standard care of treatment can have serious consequences and should be avoided.

Other Questions

Can I take colostrum if I'm lactose intolerant?

If you are intolerant to cow's milk, you will most likely be intolerant to bovine colostrum as well. Even in powdered form, colostrum contains lactose, the type of sugar your body reacts adversely to.

Can you get mad cow disease from colostrum?

To date, there have been no known reports of transmission of bovine spongiform encephalopathy ("mad cow disease") from cattle to humans via bovine colostrum. Even among milk drinkers, only three cases of mad cow disease have been reported in the United States between 1996 and 2011.

If there is any evidence of the pathogen in the extracted milk, pasteurization, sterilization, and dehydration would all but certainly kill it.

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