Colostrum is the fluid produced by new, nursing mothers in the first days after the birth of their child. Humans produce colostrum, along with all other nursing mammals. If you or your partner has ever nursed a baby, you may remember that in the first few days of nursing, the milk is thick and a soft yellow color reminiscent of good, grass fed butter.
Cows, being mammals, also produce colostrum the first few days of nursing, and dried bovine colostrum is available as a supplement in tablet or powder form. Goat colostrum is also available. Bovine and goat colostrum are very similar in composition to human colostrum. Supplementing with colostrum may seem a bit, well, gross to some, but the benefits are so valuable to your immune system and gut that it’s worth exploring. This article will go over some colostrum benefits for your health.
1. Leaky Gut
As colostrum is the very first substance to go through a newborn’s intestinal tract, it makes sense that it helps to set your little one up for digestive health and wellness. In fact, babies who are only fed formula and miss out on the colostrum in breast milk are more susceptible to a wide range of illnesses.
Later in life, colostrum supplementation may help heal a damaged gut lining by supporting tight junctions between the cells that compose the lining of the intestinal tract. Supplementing with colostrum may help heal “leaky gut syndrome” – a condition where small food particles are able to slip between intestinal cells that are not tightly joined and enter the body cavity or the bloodstream, causing an allergic or inflammatory response.
2. Immune Health
The colostrum in human breast milk helps to establish a newborn’s innate immune system in a number of ways. Supplementing with colostrum later in life may help support immunity as well. Two possible ways colostrum can support your immune system are listed below:
1. Colostrum may support natural killer cell (NK cell) activity. NK cells are lymphocytes – white blood cells responsible for identifying and destroying pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Supplementing with colostrum may help support NK cell activity, thereby increasing resistance to pathogens.
A 2014 study on mice infected with the influenza virus demonstrated that colostrum supplementation enhanced NK cell cytotoxicity — the ability of NK cells to kill pathogens. The mice treated with colostrum lost less weight than controls while they were sick, and developed less of a viral burden in their lungs.
2. Colostrum may increase available immunoglobulins. Breast feeding, and specifically the colostrum in breast milk, builds and supports a newborn’s immune system in part by delivering immunoglobulin proteins. Immunoglobulins are antibodies that bind to pathogens and allergens and aid in their destruction. They are present in bovine colostrum.
A 2018 review of the effect of bovine immunoglobulins on the human immune system determined that taking colostrum delivered functionally active immunoglobulins to the intestinal tract.
Colostrum is filled with proline rich polypeptides (PRPs), which have been shown to help combat inflammatory response mechanisms. PRPs help to regulate the production of cytokines, key components of inflammation. PRPs may also inhibit the production of damaging reactive oxygen species, which also cause inflammation.
Colostrum also contains lactoferrin, an antioxidant potentially helpful for decreasing inflammatory reactive oxygen species. Lactoferrin has been shown to have an inhibitory effect on autoimmune responses and may be helpful with detoxification.
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Allergic Reactions to Colostrum
Colostrum is not milk — it contains almost zero lactose. However, if you are lactose intolerant or have a dairy allergy, check with your doctor to make sure colostrum will be safe for you. Many people who do not tolerate dairy may find that they don’t react badly to colostrum, and goat colostrum may be even easier to digest. Be aware that lower quality colostrum supplements may contain additives such as dairy or soy — so read the small print for all allergen information.
Choosing the Best Colostrum Supplement
A quality colostrum product will be one that comes from organic, grass-fed milk sources, and uses humane, ethical practices when it comes to how the animals are treated, including making sure baby calves get the colostrum they need before harvesting what’s left for human use.
Colostrum is available in tablet or powder forms. The colostrum powder is reminiscent of the taste of powdered milk. I’ve added it to protein shakes and smoothies, where I can’t even taste it at all.
Colostrum is a powerful substance that may help support immunity, improve gut health, and lower inflammation. Supplementing with high quality colostrum may improve your overall health and wellbeing.
Shona Curley lives and works in San Francisco. She is co-owner of the studio Hasti Pilates, and creator of the website www.redkitemeditations.com. Shona teaches meditation, bodywork and movement practices for healing Lyme disease, chronic illness and pain.
Hałasa M, Maciejewska D, Baśkiewicz-Hałasa M, Machaliński B, Safranow K, Stachowska E. Oral Supplementation with Bovine Colostrum Decreases Intestinal Permeability and Stool Concentrations of Zonulin in Athletes. Nutrients. 2017;9(4):370. Published 2017 Apr 8. doi:10.3390/nu9040370
Wong EB, Mallet JF, Duarte J, Matar C, Ritz BW. Bovine colostrum enhances natural killer cell activity and immune response in a mouse model of influenza infection and mediates intestinal immunity through toll-like receptors 2 and 4. Nutr Res. 2014;34(4):318-325. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2014.02.007
Ulfman LH, Leusen JHW, Savelkoul HFJ, Warner JO, van Neerven RJJ. Effects of Bovine Immunoglobulins on Immune Function, Allergy, and Infection. Front Nutr. 2018;5:52. Published 2018 Jun 22. doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00052
Janusz M, Zabłocka A. Colostral proline-rich polypeptides–immunoregulatory properties and prospects of therapeutic use in Alzheimer’s disease. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2010;7(4):323-333. doi:10.2174/156720510791162377