Bovine colostrum is another product claiming to provide numerous health benefits to both children and adults. But what is cow colostrum exactly, and what does it do? What are its benefits, and can supplementing with it cause harm in any way?
Let’s find out!
What Is Colostrum?
Colostrum is a milky liquid occurring in mammals after giving birth. It shows up before regular milk appears, and it’s rich in various nutrients and bacteria- and virus-fighting antibodies.
Colostrum offers ideal nutrition for a rapidly developing newborn, strengthens the baby’s immune system, and protects the baby from infection.
What Is Bovine Colostrum?
Bovine (cow) colostrum is colostrum produced by cows. It’s a milky liquid occurring in the udder after giving birth and before the milk shows up. Cow colostrum is typically pale yellow and smells similar to buttermilk.
This fluid is naturally rich in vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, growth hormones, and digestive enzymes. It also contains lots of antibodies — 100 times more than regular milk.
Researchers also created hyperimmune bovine colostrum — a special kind of cow colostrum for greater effectiveness against select pathogens. It’s produced by cows vaccinated against specific organisms, so it’s extremely high in antibodies targeting them.
Cow Colostrum — Nutritional Profile
As mentioned above, cow colostrum is a rich source of a large number of nutrients:
- Carbohydrates (lactose, oligosaccharides, etc.)
- Proteins (casein, immunoglobulins, etc.)
- Minerals (magnesium, calcium, etc.), etc.
It also abounds in vitamins:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- B vitamins, etc.
Most importantly, colostrum owes its medicinal properties to three main compounds:
- Lactoferrin (a protein that enhances your immune response to bacterial and viral infections)
- Growth Factors (protein-based hormones that stimulate growth in animals — growth factors 1 and 2 (or IGF-1 and IGF-2))
- Antibodies (immunoglobulin proteins that help the body fight bacteria and viruses (IgA, IgG, and IgM)
What Is Colostrum Used For?
Studies have proven at least three health benefits of bovine colostrum, which we’ll discuss in the coming paragraphs. Still, colostrum could have more health benefits than we know.
Colostrum can be an excellent ally in battling diarrhea caused by bacteria and viruses, thanks to its antibacterial and antiviral properties. Research shows colostrum can effectively prevent diarrhea and/or reduce its duration and the severity of symptoms.
A 2011 study showed that combining 100 g of colostrum with conventional diarrhea treatment can reduce stool frequency in patients with HIV-associated diarrhea by 79% in four weeks.
According to the study, the combination of bovine colostrum and standard diarrhea treatment was 21% more effective against HIV-associated diarrhea than standard diarrhea treatment alone.
Another study suggested that hyperimmune bovine colostrum can successfully prevent travelers’ diarrhea.
It showed that taking 400 mg of hyperimmune cow colostrum with bicarbonate buffer three times a day provided 90.9% protection against this diarrhea-inducing bacteria.
The colostrum used in the study was harvested from cows immunized with 14 strains of enterotoxigenic E. coli.
Other studies suggest that hyperimmune bovine colostrum is also effective against other diarrhea-inducing bacteria and viruses, including rotavirus, C. difficile, Cryptosporidium, and Shigella.
Upper Respiratory Tract Infection Prevention
These bovine colostrum benefits likely come from the high concentration of antibodies (IgA and IgG) in colostrum that can help fight off viruses and bacteria.
Research indicates that taking colostrum can help reduce the risk of upper airway infections in athletes, who are more prone to such infections.
Colostrum can increase median levels of s-IgA (secretory IgA in saliva, a protein responsible for improving mucosal immunity), thereby protecting you from infection-causing microorganisms.
Research shows that taking cow colostrum is an excellent anti-flu measure, especially if used as another line of defense in people who were already vaccinated against flu.
Some studies go as far as to suggest that bovine colostrum is about three times more effective in preventing flu than vaccines.
Improving Gut Health
Lactoferrin and growth factors are mainly responsible for the health benefits of colostrum related to gut health.
Thanks to their presence, colostrum can help strengthen your gut wall, promote the growth of intestinal cells, fight gut infections, and prevent intestinal permeability (passing of particles from the gut to the bloodstream and other organs).
And this was all supported by both animal and human studies!
A study involving 12 athletic adults showed that a daily intake of 20 g of bovine colostrum can reduce the increase of intestinal permeability by 80%.
This is good news for people who exercise intensely, especially those involved in HIIT (high-intensity interval training) exercises.
Colostrum benefits for adults also include reducing the severity of colitis (colon inflammation) symptoms.
According to a study examining 14 adults with moderate to severe distal colitis, introducing bovine colostrum enemas alongside traditional colitis medication can help alleviate colitis symptoms.
Still, more extensive research is necessary to definitely confirm the effectiveness and safety of this type of colitis treatment.
Potential Downsides of Colostrum
Now that we’ve got familiar with cow colostrum benefits, it’s time to explore its downsides too.
The high price is one of the biggest downsides of this health-boosting substance. It typically ranges from $50 to $100 for 16 oz. Though a 16-oz pack roughly amounts to a whopping 300 uses, this is a large sum of money to set aside for a bottle of supplements.
Cow colostrum is unsuitable for those allergic to milk and dairy products.
Additionally, some colostrum supplements contain soy (manufacturers sometimes use soybean oil or soy lecithin as a binding agent, etc.), so they may be unsuitable for those with soy allergies. That’s why you should always remember to check the label.
Potentially Harmful Ingredients and Pathogens
Though colostrum and colostrum supplements are generally safe for humans, they may contain certain potentially harmful substances. Depending on the way cows are raised, colostrum supplements may contain synthetic hormones, pesticides, or antibiotics.
That’s why you should always choose supplements tested for the presence of these substances.
Additionally, if not properly pasteurized, bovine colostrum may contain Salmonella. A study identified traces of this harmful bacteria in eight out of 55 colostrum samples, implying that not all colostrum undergoes proper pasteurization.
There are some ethical issues related to taking bovine colostrum. The most important question that arises is whether we’re depriving newborn calves of much-needed nutrition by collecting bovine colostrum and turning it into supplements.
Bovine Colostrum Supplements — Choosing the Right One
Colostrum supplements owe their increasing popularity to recent studies that confirm their health and nutritional benefits. The popularity of these supplements made various colostrum products flood the shelves, making it difficult to find the right one.
That’s why we decided to create this guide tackling the most important factors to keep in mind when selecting the best product for you.
A good cow colostrum supplement should be as close to its original state as possible. In other words, colostrum supplements should contain as many antibodies, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial substances as the freshly collected colostrum.
But before reaching you, cow colostrum needs to undergo at least a minimal amount of processing at low temperatures to eliminate harmful pathogens like Salmonella. Therefore, colostrum is pasteurized, spray-dried, or freeze-dried.
These processes enable you to enjoy all the benefits of colostrum supplements (e.g., gut health support, diarrhea symptoms alleviation, travelers’ diarrhea prevention, flu prevention, etc.) while keeping you safe.
After processing, this healthy liquid is dried and used to create pills or powders.
Besides adequate processing, cattle quality plays a pivotal role in colostrum quality.
For example, pasture-fed cows are exposed to live enzymes and nutrients from the soil. As a result, they tend to produce more antibodies in their colostrum than lot-fed cows.
Fat in colostrum is necessary for faster and easier absorption. However, higher fat content makes the colostrum product more prone to spoilage and rancidity.
Defatted cow colostrum supplement has a longer shelf life than full-fatted colostrum. However, it may lack some of the vital components.
Overall, colostrum with its fat content intact is the best option, as it preserves more nutrients and beneficial components.
Beware of the products claiming to provide “first milking” or “six-hour” colostrum.
The first colostrum is typically given to the calf in order to preserve the cattle, so such statements could be deceiving.
Additionally, colostrum collected in the later milkings is just as effective for humans as the one collected during the first milking, so you don’t have to be worried about its potency. This doesn’t reduce the colostrum benefits of the product in the slightest.
Gelatin capsules are more inexpensive, but vegetable capsules seem to be better at preserving colostrum for longer. Their moisture content is significantly lower, so they’re able to protect colostrum’s delicate components better.
Therefore, investing twice as much money in vegetable capsules seems like a good idea.
Always aim to get a cow colostrum supplement that’s tested by a reliable laboratory and certified free of:
- Synthetic hormones
- Heavy metals
- Harmful pathogens, etc.
We hope this article helped you realize all the potential benefits and downsides of colostrum and colostrum-based supplements. We also hope it helped you find the right product for you and the highest value for your money.
What is bovine colostrum?
This is a milky, liquid substance full of antibodies and nutrients collected from cows hours after parturition. It’s often used to make colostrum supplements.
What color is colostrum?
Colostrum is pale yellow, but it can assume a different color in supplement form due to additives.
What is colostrum powder?
It’s a type of colostrum supplement in powder form (colostrum is dried and turned into powder) that’s used to treat and prevent certain conditions caused by bacteria and viruses.
What is colostrum good for?
Colostrum is used to prevent and treat certain conditions caused by viral and bacterial infections.
Now let’s take a look at its benefits in more detail.
What is cow colostrum beneficial for?
- Treating diarrhea (infectious diarrhea, diarrhea caused by rotavirus, diarrhea caused by E.coli, HIV-associated diarrhea, etc.)
- Preventing upper respiratory tract infections in athletes
- Preventing flu
- Improving gut health, etc.