Bovine colostrum, the pre-milk produced by female cows after giving birth to their young, is rich in proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and specific bioactive compounds. In the last four decades, bovine colostrum has gained considerable attention for its potential health benefits in humans of all ages. The unique, yet biocompatible composition of bovine colostrum contains health-enhancing immunoglobulins, anti-microbial peptides, and growth factors. This article will delve into the general health benefits and explore some specific conditions that may be improved through daily consumption of bovine colostrum.
Utilizing Nature as ‘Medicine’
Although colostrum is often referred to as “pre-milk,” “foremilk, or “first milk,” it is not milk. Instead, colostrum is its own unique secretion expressed from the breasts of female mammals – including humans – for about 72 hours following the birth of their offspring. Colostrum’s biological function is to seal up the microscopic holes in the newborn’s gastrointestinal tract (i.e., to heal the “leaky gut”), but not before it transfers immune bioactives (i.e., to jumpstart the immune system) and good bacteria (i.e., to help seed the GI tract).
Throughout history, humans have relied on the colostrum and milk of cows and other ruminant animals to provide nourishment. Unbeknownst to them, it also provided a plethora of bioactive components with medicine-like properties. Our ancestors may not have known what in colostrum kept them healthy, just that it did. Today, with modern science, we are discovering the true health potential of bovine colostrum as a dietary supplement, and how it can help the body heal itself.1,2
Bovine colostrum is particularly notable for its potential benefits to digestive health. Many diseases have their origins in the gut, or more appropriately, a ‘leaky gut’ and/or a dsybiotic gut (unbalanced gut microbiome). Bovine colostrum’s high content of growth factors, including epidermal growth factor (EGF) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) has been shown to promote the growth and repair of the intestinal lining.3 This makes bovine colostrum a promising supplement for conditions such as leaky gut syndrome and other intestinal disorders. Research has indicated a role in the management of esophagitis, short-bowel syndrome, NSAID-induced gut injury, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), necrotizing enterocolitis, and infective diarrhea.4,5
In addition to maintaining a string gut barrier, bovine colostrum’s immunoglobulins can help combat harmful bacteria and viruses that enter the gastrointestinal tract and threaten to overrun the gut microbiome. This immunoprotective quality can be beneficial for travelers’ diarrhea, other forms of gastroenteritis due to food poisoning, and infectious diarrhea in children.6
Bovine colostrum contains a high concentration of immunoglobulins, particularly IgG, which provides passive immunity by neutralizing harmful pathogens in the body.7 It’s also rich in lactoferrin, an iron-binding protein with powerful anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties.8,9 These components may enhance the body’s immune response and help prevent or combat infections.
Moreover, bovine colostrum shows potential in modulating immune responses in autoimmune diseases, which occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own cells. Reducing the inflammatory response could potentially halt the immune system’s attack on healthy tissue and return the body to a more homeostatic state. A 2017 study suggested that bovine colostrum could impede the development of type 1 diabetes in rodents by protecting the insulin-producing beta cells.10 Although still early, this study offers some hope for delaying or preventing the development of autoimmune diseases.
Athletic Performance and Recovery
Studies involving highly trained athletes indicate that bovine colostrum supplementation may be an integral part of their training regimen by improving performance. Colostrum did not necessarily improve performance per say, but it did hasten the recovery time between exercise bouts.11,12 The quicker recovery allowed for more training, which was postulated as resulting in increased performance in subsequent events. Bovine colostrum’s growth factors, specifically insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), can stimulate muscle protein synthesis and help the muscles recover more effectively after intense exercise.
Despite the overall health benefits of exercise, athletes and heavy exercisers of all fitness levels are prone to developing leaky gut, which makes them vulnerable to the health risks associated with leaky gut. Research shows that powdered bovine colostrum can truncate the increase in gut permeability which would in turn, improve both gut and immune health as well as keeping them from missing their all-important training sessions and competitive events.13,14
Furthermore, strenuous, endurance exercise depresses the immune system, and this drop in immunity makes athletes susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections, but studies show that daily colostrum can bolster the body’s own immune defenses.15,16
Bovine colostrum holds promise as a versatile supplement for improving human health across a wide range of conditions. From digestive and immune health to athletic performance and recovery, its unique and biocompatible composition of mammalian bioactives allows for multiple avenues of potential uses and benefits. However, while existing research is encouraging, further investigations are necessary to fully understand and optimize its use. Always consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any new supplementation regime.
- Godhia, M.L., & Patel, N. (2013). Colostrum – its Composition, Benefits as a Nutraceutical: A Review. Current Research in Nutrition and Food Science Journal, 1(1), 37-47.
- Playford, R.J., & Weiser, M.J. (2021). Bovine Colostrum: Its Constituents and Uses. Nutrients, 13(1), 265.
- Playford, R.J., Floyd, D.N., Macdonald, C.E., Calnan, D.P., Adenekan, R.O., Johnson, W., Goodlad, R.A., & Marchbank, T. (1999). Bovine colostrum is a health food supplement which prevents NSAID induced gut damage. Gut, 44(5), 653–658.
- Playford, R.J., Macdonald, C.E., & Johnson, W.S. (2000). Colostrum and milk-derived peptide growth factors for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 72(1), 5–14.
- Sienkiewicz, M., Szymańska, P., & Fichna, J. (2021). Supplementation of Bovine Colostrum in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Benefits and Contraindications. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 12(2), 533–545.
- Li, J., Xu, Y.W., Jiang, J.J., & Song, Q.K. (2019). Bovine colostrum and product intervention associated with relief of childhood infectious diarrhea. Scientific reports, 9(1), 3093.
- Hurley, W.L., & Theil, P.K. (2011). Perspectives on immunoglobulins in colostrum and milk. Nutrients, 3(4), 442-474.
- Legrand, D., Elass, E., Carpentier, M., & Mazurier, J. (2005). Lactoferrin: a modulator of immune and inflammatory responses. Cellular and molecular life sciences: CMLS, 62(22), 2549–2559.
- Drago-Serrano, M.E., Campos-Rodriguez, R., Carrero, J.C., & de la Garza, M. (2018). Lactoferrin and Peptide-derivatives: Antimicrobial Agents with Potential Use in Nonspecific Immunity Modulation. Current pharmaceutical design, 24(10), 1067–1078.
- Nikolic, I., Stojanovic, I., Vujicic, M., Fagone, P., Mangano, K., Stosic-Grujicic, S., Nicoletti, F., & Saksida, T. (2017). Standardized bovine colostrum derivative impedes development of type 1 diabetes in rodents. Immunobiology, 222(2), 272–279.
- Buckley, J.D., Brinkworth, G.D., & Abbott, M.J. (2003). Effect of bovine colostrum on anaerobic exercise performance and plasma insulin-like growth factor I. Journal of sports sciences, 21(7), 577–588.
- Buckley, J.D., Abbott, M.J., Brinkworth, G.D., & Whyte, P.B. (2002). Bovine colostrum supplementation during endurance running training improves recovery, but not performance. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 5(2), 65–79.
- Marchbank, T., Davison, G., Oakes, J.R., Ghatei, M.A., Patterson, M., Moyer, M.P., & Playford, R.J. (2011). The nutriceutical bovine colostrum truncates the increase in gut permeability caused by heavy exercise in athletes. American journal of physiology. Gastrointestinal and liver physiology, 300(3), G477–G484.
- Hałasa, M., Maciejewska, D., Baśkiewicz-Hałasa, M., Machaliński, B., Safranow, K., & Stachowska, E. (2017). Oral Supplementation with Bovine Colostrum Decreases Intestinal Permeability and Stool Concentrations of Zonulin in Athletes. Nutrients, 9(4), 370.
- Davison, G., & Diment, B.C. (2010). Bovine colostrum supplementation attenuates the decrease of salivary lysozyme and enhances the recovery of neutrophil function after prolonged exercise. The British journal of nutrition, 103(10), 1425–1432.
- Jones, A.W., March, D.S., Thatcher, R., Diment, B., Walsh, N.P., & Davison, G. (2019). The effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on in vivo immunity following prolonged exercise: a randomised controlled trial. European journal of nutrition, 58(1), 335–344.