Lately I’ve been hearing some buzz about supplementing colostrum for improved health.
Yes, colostrum. As in what is found in the initial let down of breast milk.
Of course, my first reaction was along the lines of “ewww.” Breast feeding is natural and essential and amazing of course, but as a mom the memory of creamy liquid dribbling out of my raw nipples somewhat muddies the beauty of it all. But then I heard about the countless reasons people use it. Like for:
- Improved energy
- Increased strength
- Burn fat and build lean muscle
- Improve athletic performance
- Gastrointestinal concerns
- Improved immunity
- Injury repair/healing
- Menopause symptoms
- Slowing the effects of aging
- Improved mood/reduced anxiety
Then I thought, well who the hell cares where this stuff comes from, I want pretty much all those things! I better look into this right this minute!
So that’s what I did.
And here I am to tell you what I discovered.
Colostrum: What is it?
Despite thinking colostrum is only a human-thing, it turns out all mammals produce it in the early stages of nursing. So any concerns you might have about drinking some other woman’s breast milk can be set aside since colostrum supplements are created from cows (bovine colostrum).
Colostrum – human, bovine, or otherwise – is a powerhouse of wellness. It contains proteins, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals, hormones, and antibiodies that protect against illness and disease. It is nature’s way of guarding babies against all the new things they are exposed to in the first days of life while giving them all the essential building blocks they need to grow. It is for this reason – the incredible quality of its nutrients and the positive effects they have on the human body – that colostrum found a platform in the supplemental industry.
How Does it Work in Humans?
While colostrum in general contains incredibly useful properties, there are two components of bovine colostrum thought to benefit humans most:
1. Antibodies: One of the primary purposes of colostrum in mammals is to pass immunity on from the mother to their offspring through immunoglobulins; antibodies designed to fight illness and disease. To capitalize on this, farmers vaccinate their cows against certain pathogens dangerous to humans – resulting in the cow’s body developing immunoglobulins that fight against these specific diseases. The antibodies are then passed on through a cow’s colostrum, potentially providing improved immunity to the human who consumes it, thus reversing the effects of some illnesses while protecting us from others.
2. Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF-I): Bovine colostrum contains IGF-1, a growth factor also produced in humans. This hormone’s primary job is tissue growth; liver, skin, muscle, bone, and a whole slew of other cells. While IGF-I is prevalent from birth into our teens, it steadily drops after puberty (hello wrinkles and creaky joints!). Thus, introducing IGF-I into adults is thought to boost their levels of growth factor, potentially resulting in improved muscle, bone, and tissue health while slowing the effects of aging. In fact, many professional athletes use colostrum in hopes of improving their athletic performance naturally.
What Does Science Have To Say About It?
After extensive exploration, I was unable to find any definitive studies on the effectiveness of bovine colostrum in humans. Even WebMd only goes so far as to say that bovine colostrum is “possibly effective” for respiratory infections, diarrhea, and influenza while having “insufficient evidence” for pretty much everything else. Not exactly a concrete endorsement.
That being said, what studies I did find provided a positive outlook relating to the use of colostrum for gastrointestinal disorders (you can view some of the research here and here), though additional studies are needed to fully confirm this finding.
I also found some evidence that supplemented bovine colostrum has shown to improve lean mass, reduce fatigue in high performance athletes, and improve strength and reduce bone loss in active older adults.
So while there isn’t conclusive evidence to tell us an official “yes” or “no” on the effectiveness of supplemental colostrum, there is some encouraging information to support its usage. However, for the most part it seems this support is limited to gastrointestinal health and exercise-related activities (as opposed to the extensive list I mentioned at the beginning of this article, bummer!).
My Personal Experience with Colostrum Supplements
Of course scientific support is the only way to be certain about the effectiveness of any therapeutic treatment, but there’s something to be said about what others have experienced when trying non-traditional remedies. Since the pharmaceutical industry dominates the scientific community, I’m not entirely surprised that published studies on colostrum are limited. So I want to share my own anecdotal evidence concerning the use of colostrum in my own circle of life.
After having listened to a podcast by the Healthy Gut Girl on healing leaky gut with liposomal colostrum, the very next day I bought some from Sovereign Laboratories and used Kitty Martones discount code HGG10. Well, much to the demise of my excitement for this amazing healing supplement, I am one of the very few that it actually caused gut issues. I could not tolerate colostrum at all. It made me SO gassy with loose stools. Gross I know. This brand is suitable for lactose intolerant people but I don’t have issues with lactose. I do have mild sensitivities to some dairy like mozzarella and avoid dairy in my diet regularly. Maybe my gut bugs weren’t apt to handle it and I needed to give it a longer chance but a few weeks seemed like a enough torture! Regardless, it didn’t work for me. BUT, my friend had the opposite affect. He suffered from explosive loose stools daily. Once he started taking colostrum he began to have regular BM’s when food sensitivity tests and diet change failed in the past.
If You Try a Colostrum Supplement, Here’s Some Things to Consider:
- Colostrum contains lactose, so if you are lactose intolerant/sensitive, look for a brand of supplement that has removed or significantly reduced the amount of lactose in its product to avoid tummy upset.
- Colostrum is very unstable when it comes to heat (in other words, heat will pretty much undo all of the positive properties of the supplement itself), so do not take colostrum with hot liquid and store it in a cool-ish place
- Make sure to get a liposomal form of colostrum. This means the colostrum is packaged in a tiny lipid bubble that can bypass the stomach with integrity and hit the small intestine to be absorbed in an effective form.
- Because of its instability with heat look for a brand that used a “non-thermal” process of pasteurization or offers a product with a thermal protective coating like glycerol to make sure you are getting all of the benefits you’re paying for
- The quality of the colostrum can be effected by where it was sourced; a factory farmed grain-fed cow that had nowhere to graze will likely provide far less benefit than a cow raised organically
- Always check with your health care provider to make sure there are no contraindications between a supplement and any medications you may be taking.