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Colostrum Supplements: are they safe and do you need one?

February 7th, 2024

Over the past year, colostrum supplements have gained popularity claiming benefits like strengthening the immune system, gut health, muscle growth and fat loss. So let’s dive in: are these claims evidence-based or is this just another diet culture trend?

In this post we’ll cover:

  • What is colostrum
  • Nutritional breakdown of colostrum
  • Human vs. bovine colostrum
  • The science of colostrum supplementation
  • Are colostrum supplements safe?
  • My opinion

Hi, I’m Krista! I am a Registered Dietitian on a mission to show people how to feel better in their bodies without diets! Healthy eating shouldn’t be so restrictive + complicated. Instead, I preach balance. Eating balanced means nourishing your body and your soul so you can optimize physical health without sacrificing your mental health.

What is colostrum?

Colostrum (aka “liquid gold” or pre-milk) is the thick, nutrient-rich first milk naturally produced by females that have recently given birth. Breastfeeding mothers provide colostrum to their newborns, offering them high levels of immuno-protective antibodies to boost their baby’s immune system and help fight infection.

Nutritional breakdown of colostrum

The precise composition of breastmilk varies significantly throughout the lactating period – it changes and adapts based on the infant’s needs. Talk about the best personalized diet! Colostrum contains all of the nutrients babies need for their first few days of life.

The components of human colostrum are:

  • vitamins A, D, B, K, magnesium, copper and zinc
  • protein
  • carbohydrate
  • fat
  • immunoglobulins (primarily IgA in humans)
  • growth factors
  • enzymes
  • antimicrobial peptides
 
After a few days, colostrum changes to transitional milk and after several weeks to mature milk. 

 

Human vs bovine colostrum

While all mammals produce colostrum, supplements are typically derived from cows (bovine colostrum) and goats. For this post, I will focus on bovine colostrum as it’s much more common.

Bovine colostrum is pasteurized and then dried into pills or powders. It is similar to human colostrum in terms of what it provides, however, there are differences in the compositions and proportions.

Source of Tables 1-3.

The science of colostrum supplementation

While colostrum’s popularity is increasing, there is limited evidence of the benefits of bovine colostrum in adult humans.

Newborns can absorb growth factors from colostrum more effectively due to their underdeveloped intestinal tract. However, adults have fully developed intestinal tracts that break down these beneficial compounds before they can be absorbed into the bloodstream. 

Here is the research we have available now:

1. There may be a minor reduction in upper respiratory tract infections with colostrum supplementation, more research is needed.

2. A study done on 18 volunteers showed bovine colostrum may possess some potential to increase vaccine efficacy.

3. Colostrum, due to being a dietary protein, appears to promote building lean body mass. This is comparable to supplementing a similar dose of whey protein.

4. There is solid evidence to show that colostrum supplementation helps to reduce traveller’s diarrhea when using colostrum from a cow immunized to E. coli as well as diarrhea associated with HIV/AIDS.

5. One study of 16 participants with type 2 diabetes who supplemented bovine colostrum showed a small improvement in cholesterol, triglycerides and blood glucose

6. One study on 14 people with distal colitis showed suppression of symptoms and inflammation using a colostrum solution as an enema, compared to a placebo.  No studies are currently available on oral supplementation of colostrum for IBD. 

 

The biggest takeaway here is that the research is severely lacking. It is currently unknown whether or not there are benefits of supplementing bovine colostrum on generally healthy adult humans (unique to other protein supplements, such as whey protein). 

 

Are colostrum supplements safe?

Although there is limited research on colostrum supplements, the evidence suggests they are safe for most people. They are not suitable for people with milk allergies or lactose intolerance.

Supplementing bovine colostrum may cause side effects such as bloating, upset stomach, gas or diarrhea.

Like many other supplements, bovine colostrum supplements are currently not regulated in the US or Canada.  Therefore, look for high-quality brands with third-party testing and always speak to your healthcare provider before adding supplementation.

My opinion

To be honest, I thought most of the “wellness” social media influencers were encouraging their audience to eliminate dairy, so I’m surprised to see that they’re now recommending we all need to take colostrum. #contradiction

These supplements are expensive (see below). Which I know is a subjective con, however, if I’m spending my hard-earned money, I personally want to spend it on something I know is effective. 

Right now, I can’t say I agree with the buzz and popularity of the supplement, but I won’t fully dismiss it as a diet culture trend.  There may be benefits to supplementation in certain populations, however, for a generally healthy adult supplementation may be unnecessary.  If you’re looking to increase muscle mass, strengthen your immune system, improve your gut health, or lose weight – there is so much that can be done nutritionally without having to pay for an expensive (potentially ineffective) supplement. 

PLEASE NOTE:

All blog posts are written for general nutrition improvement and should only be used as a guide. This article is intended for educational purposes only and is not designed to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any condition. It is not specific advice for any individual. Before adding supplements to your regimen, please speak to your healthcare professional.

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