Colostrum is the first milk produced by humans and other mammals such as cows. It is nutrient-dense and has been used by humans for its health benefits since antiquity.
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Lately, the media has been abuzz with excitement about superfoods. Typically, the superfoods we hear the most about are exotic plants gathered from the far reaches of the globe. However, there is one superfood that flies under the radar, and definitely deserves more attention – colostrum. Colostrum may not be exotic, but it offers an array of health benefits that I believe are unparalleled in any other superfood. Read on to learn more about the ancestral uses of colostrum, the amazing health benefits it has to offer, and why you should incorporate it into your diet!
What is colostrum?
Colostrum is the first milk secreted by mammals shortly after they give birth to their offspring. The purpose of colostrum is to promote growth and establish a strong immune system in newborn babies. For this reason, colostrum is a treasure trove of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and immune-boosting proteins that fight pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. While colostrum is crucial to our development as infants, it also has been found to offer significant benefits during adulthood. Bovine colostrum, produced by cows, is very similar in composition to colostrum produced by human mothers, and has thus been investigated extensively for its health-promoting properties and for use as a dietary supplement. The array of nutrients found in bovine colostrum cannot be found in other dairy products, thus making colostrum a unique food.
Ancestral use of colostrum
Colostrum has been used since antiquity for its healing properties. Hieroglyphic texts indicate the ancient Egyptians used bovine colostrum for its healing properties. Colostrum has also been an important part of Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient medical system that originated in India, for thousands of years. In the Bible, colostrum is mentioned favorably numerous times as Halab, a word that can mean “new milk,” referring to the first milk secreted by animal and human mothers. (1) Scandinavian people also recognized the healing potential of colostrum, and have used it traditionally as a folk remedy and in various recipes. Finally, Masai tribesmen in Africa are also known to drink bovine colostrum, and are recognized for their extraordinary endurance, strength, and overall physical health. (2)
Top 10 health benefits of bovine colostrum
Through the research I have done on bovine colostrum, as well as my personal experience in supplementing with a specific brand of colostrum (Sovereign Laboratories Colostrum-LD), I have become quite passionate about the health benefits colostrum has to offer. The following list describes what I believe to be the top ten health benefits of bovine colostrum.
1. Repairs leaky gut
Colostrum is a superfood for reducing intestinal permeability, also referred to as “leaky gut.” In leaky gut, microscopic gaps develop between the cells composing the small intestinal wall; pathogens and food toxins can sneak through these gaps, leaving the gut and entering the bloodstream. Upon entering the bloodstream, they provoke an immune response and cause systemic inflammation. If left unchecked, systemic inflammation can contribute to the development of chronic disease. Restoring the integrity of the gut is thus crucial for promoting optimal health. The gut-healing properties of colostrum have been attributed to the growth factors it contains, which have been found to repair damaged cells in the gut. (3)(4) Studies have found that colostrum prevents intestinal permeability caused by stressors such as exercise, extreme heat, and NSAID use. (5)(6)(7)
2. Strengthens the immune system
Colostrum is an immune-boosting superfood. In newborn babies, it helps to establish immune function. It contains immunoglobulins, neutrophils, and macrophages, which regulate the activity of the immune system. (8) Many of the proteins in colostrum are antimicrobial, defending the body against infection.
Colostrum helps eliminate harmful pathogens from the body. Lysozyme and lactoferrin, two components of colostrum, kill gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli by damaging their cell membranes. (9) Lactoferrin in bovine colostrum also eliminate H.pylori, a significant cause of gastrointestinal infections. (10)
Lactoferrin, a protein found in colostrum, has potent antiviral properties. It has been found to inhibit the activity of HIV, human cytomegalovirus, herpes virus, and the influenza virus. (10)(11)(12)
Lactoferrin, a protein found in colostrum, is a potent natural anti-fungal. Numerous studies have found lactoferrin to be useful in the prevention of candida infection caused by antibiotic used. (13)(14)
6. Improves athletic performance
Bovine colostrum supplementation has been found to improve athletic performance. Colostrum has ergogenic effects, meaning it helps to boost physical performance and muscle growth, and enhances recovery from exercise. (15)(16)(17)(18) While researchers are not yet in complete agreement as to the mechanisms of action of colostrum on athletic performance, it has been suggested that insulin-like growth factor (IGF) and growth hormone (GH) may be responsible. IGF and GH promote muscle growth and increase blood glucose uptake by muscle, where the glucose can be used to power physical activity. (19) IGF-1 slows down protein breakdown, a phenomenon that occurs in muscles after physical activity, and speeds up protein synthesis, which promotes muscle growth.
As I mentioned previously, colostrum reduces intestinal permeability. This benefit of colostrum is important for athletes, as intense exercise performed on a regular basis has been found to induce intestinal permeability. Supplementation with bovine colostrum can attenuate intestinal permeability caused by intense physical activity. (20) Due to its immune-boosting properties, colostrum supplementation also attenuates the dip in immunity that occurs after strenuous exercise. (21)
Colostrum contains several anti-inflammatory compounds. Chronic inflammation is a significant contributor to chronic disease, so any steps we can take to reduce inflammation are key! Some of the anti-inflammatory substances found in colostrum include lysozyme, lactoferrin, alpha-tocopherol, and beta-carotene, anti-proteases. (22)(23) Colostrum also contains glutathione, the “master antioxidant” of the body. (24)
8. Reduces blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides
In Type 2 diabetic patients, bovine colostrum supplementation for just four weeks led to significant decreases in blood glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, and ketones. (25)
9. Chronic fatigue syndrome
Colostrum supplementation may be useful in the fight against chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Leaky gut, for which colostrum is a beneficial intervention, may be a major factor in CFS. In addition, IGF-1 and GH in colostrum may help correct low levels of serotonin, which has been implicated in pathogenesis of CFS. (26)
10. Increases lean body mass
Bovine colostrum supplementation, when combined with exercise, may help improve body composition. While the evidence is not conclusive, research suggests that colostrum may have the potential to increase muscle mass. (27)
Can I take colostrum if I’m allergic to dairy?
I do not normally include dairy in my diet, besides butter and ghee. I have previously tested allergic to whey and casein on an IgG food allergy test, so I was initially concerned that I might react poorly to bovine colostrum. However, I was pleased to learn that many bovine colostrum products contain only minute amounts of whey and casein, and therefore should not be cause for concern. In addition, the colostrum I use has lactase enzyme added, so that it is digestible even for people who are lactose-intolerant. The brand of colostrum I use and have had great success with is called Colostrum-LD, and it is made by Sovereign Laboratories. The colostrum is lypophilized, which enhances its absorption. The taste is very neutral and mixes well with water or other ingredients in a smoothie.
How much colostrum can I take?
The standard dose of colostrum is 20-60 g. When using powdered colostrum, this measurement is usually indicated in tablespoons. I suggest taking colostrum on an empty stomach for optimal absorption.
In terms of where to buy colostrum, I have heard of farmers occasionally selling raw colostrum from their pastured cows, but I am not sure if this is legal or attainable for most consumers. I suggest sourcing a dietary supplement-grade form of colostrum powder; make sure it comes from grass-fed cows that have not been fed antibiotics or hormones! The brand I use, Sovereign Laboratories Colostrum-LD Powder, has been encapsulated in liposomes for optimal absorption. I have personally found that the energy-boosting effects are rapidly noticeable with this product, which I suspect could be due to the liposomes. The colostrum in this product is also sourced from grass-fed dairy cows, and is completely free of antibiotic and growth hormones. (Note: If you purchase Sovereign Laboratories colostrum through Amazon, I will receive a tiny commission).