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Colostrum is the fluid that new mothers' breasts produce during the first day or two after birth. It gives newborn infants a rich mixture of antibodies and growth factors that help them get a good start.
Although colostrum has been available since the first mammals walked the earth, it is relatively new as a nutritional supplement. The resurgence of breastfeeding in the 1970s sparked a revival of interest in colostrum for both infants and adults.
However, most commercial colostrum preparations come from cows, not humans. The antibodies a mother cow gives to her calf are designed to fend off bacteria that are dangerous to cows; these may be very different from those that pose risks to humans. Nonetheless, colostrum also contains substances that might offer general benefits, such as growth factors (which stimulate the growth and development of cells in the digestive tract and perhaps elsewhere) and transfer factor (which may have general immune-activating properties). In addition, some researchers have used a special form of colostrum called hyperimmune colostrum, created by inoculating cows with bacteria and viruses that affect humans. The cow in turn makes antibodies to them and secretes those antibodies into its colostrum. Hyperimmune colostrum has shown considerable promise as an infection-fighting agent.
Hyperimmune colostrum, however, is not available over-the-counter as a dietary supplement. Non-hyperimmune colostrum might have some value too, but the evidence is much weaker.
Breastfeeding is the healthiest way to nourish a newborn, and a mother's colostrum is undoubtedly good for a baby. But don't believe claims (by at least one manufacturer) that most babies would die without colostrum. Colostrum is good for health, but it's not essential for life.
Colostrum is available in capsules that contain its immune proteins in dry form.
The usual recommended dosage of colostrum is 10 g daily. In studies of colostrum as a sports supplement for athletes, the much higher dose of 60 g a day was used.
What Is the Scientific Evidence for Colostrum?
Preliminary evidence suggests that hyperimmune colostrum might help prevent or possibly treat infectious diarrhea.
For example, a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 80 children with rotavirus diarrhea found that hyperimmune colostrum (prepared by immunizing cows with rotavirus) reduced symptoms and shortened recovery time. 1 Similar results were seen in another double-blind trial of about the same size. 2 However, colostrum prepared by immunizing cows with a monkey form of rotavirus was not found effective for treating rotavirus in a double-blind trial of 135 children. 3 The difference between these results may lie in the level and type of antibodies found in the particular colostrums used.
Both hyperimmune and normal colostrum have been tried for prevention or treatment of Cryptosporidiuminfection in people with AIDS, but the evidence that it works is weak at best. 4 Other studies suggest that hyperimmune colostrum might help prevent infection with shigella, 5 as well as E. coli(a common cause of traveler's diarrhea). 6 However, studies have not found it effective for treating the diarrhea resulting from shigella or E. coliinfection once it takes hold. 7 A study of Bangladeshi children infected with Helicobacter pylori(the organism that causes digestive ulcers) found no benefits with hyperimmune colostrum. 8
Colostrum contains the growth factor IGF-1, which may help build muscle, and on this basis colostrum has been proposed as a sports supplement. However, results are conflicting on whether it really works.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, use of colostrum over an 8-week training period did not improve performance on an exercise-to-exhaustion test; however, it did improve performance on a repeat bout 20 minutes later. 9 This suggests potential benefits for enhancing recovery of energy following heavy exercise.
Another 8-week, double-blind study found that use of colostrum enhanced sprinting performance, but not endurance exercise in elite hockey players. 10 Previous double-blind studies found improvements in rowing performance and vertical jump. 11 A small double-blind study found that colostrum, as compared to whey protein, increased lean mass in healthy men and women undergoing aerobic and resistance training. 12 However, no improvements in performance were seen in this trial.
Interestingly, it appears that the IGF-1 in colostrum is not directly absorbed into the body. 13 Nonetheless, consumption of colostrum does appear to increase IGF-1 levels in the blood. 14 The explanation for this is unclear.
- Sarker SA, Casswall TH, Mahalanabis D, Alam NH, Albert MJ, Brüssow H, Fuchs GJ, Hammerström L. Successful treatment of rotavirus diarrhea in children with immunoglobulin from immunized bovine colostrum. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 17(12):1149-54.
- Mitra AK, Mahalanabis D, Ashraf H, Unicomb L, Eeckels R, Tzipori S. Hyperimmune cow colostrum reduces diarrhoea due to rotavirus: a double-blind, controlled clinical trial. Acta Paediatr. 84(9):996-1001.
- Ylitalo S, Uhari M, Rasi S, Pudas J, Leppäluoto J. Rotaviral antibodies in the treatment of acute rotaviral gastroenteritis. Acta Paediatr. 87(3):264-7.
- Plettenberg A, Stoehr A, Stellbrink HJ, Albrecht H, Meigel W. A preparation from bovine colostrum in the treatment of HIV-positive patients with chronic diarrhea. Clin Investig. 71(1):42-5.
- Tacket CO, Binion SB, Bostwick E, et al. Efficacy of bovine milk immunoglobulin concentrate in preventing illness after Shigella flexneri challenge. Am J Trop MedHyg. 1992;47:276-283.
- Tacket CO, Losonsky G, Link H, et al. Protection by milk immunoglobulin concentrate against oral challenge with enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli. N Engl J Med. 1988;318:1240-1243.
- Casswall TH, Sarker SA, Faruque SM, et al. Treatment of enterotoxigenic and enteropathogenic Escherichia coli -induced diarrhoea in children with bovine immunoglobulin milk concentrate from hyperimmunized cows: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2000;35:711-718.
- Casswall TH, Sarker SA, Albert MJ, et al. Treatment of Helicobacter pylori infection in infants in rural Bangladesh with oral immunoglobulins from hyperimmune bovine colostrum. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 1998;12:563-568.
- Buckley JD, Abbott MJ, Brinkworth GD, et al. Bovine colostrum supplementation during endurance running training improves recovery, but not performance. J Sci Med Sport. 2002;5:65-79.
- Hofman Z, Smeets R, Verlaan G, Lugt R, Verstappen PA. The effect of bovine colostrum supplementation on exercise performance in elite field hockey players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 12(4):461-9.
- Buckley JD. Bovine colostrum: Does it improve athletic performance? Nutrition. 18(9):776-7.
- Antonio J, Sanders MS, Van Gammeren D. The effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in active men and women. Nutrition. 17(3):243-7.
- Mero A, Kähkönen J, Nykänen T, Parviainen T, Jokinen I, Takala T, Nikula T, Rasi S, Leppäluoto J. IGF-I, IgA, and IgG responses to bovine colostrum supplementation during training. J Appl Physiol. 93(2):732-9.
- Mero A, Miikkulainen H, Riski J, Pakkanen R, Aalto J, Takala T. Effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on serum IGF-I, IgG, hormone, and saliva IgA during training. J Appl Physiol. 83(4):1144-51.