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3 Health And Fitness Benefits Of Colostrum Supplements

From ‘first milk’ to ‘liquid gold’ to ‘mother’s medicine’, colostrum has been awarded many terms of endearment. However, the number of nicknames for colostrum pale in comparison to the wealth of health and fitness benefits ingesting and supplementing with the substance may offer. (Yes, fitness!) 

Here’s what colostrum supplements are all about so you can decide whether or not they’re right for you. 

  • ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Karen Linardakis-Cooney B.C.H.H.P., C.N., is a board-certified holistic health practitioner and a nutritionist with The Vitamin Shoppe. Brittany Michels, R.D.N, M.S., C.P.T, is a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer, and nutritionist with The Vitamin Shoppe. Mia Syn M.S., R.D.N., is a registered dietitian.

Tell Me More About Colostrum 

Colostrum is the milk-like substance mothers and other mammals secrete from their mammary glands during the first three to five days immediately following childbirth. More nutrient-dense than the breast milk produced following the weeks and months after initial birth, human colostrum is “rich in vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, growth hormones, and digestive enzymes,” says ​​board-certified holistic health practitioner Karen Linardakis-Cooney B.C.H.H.P., C.N., a nutritionist with The Vitamin Shoppe. It’s also jam-packed with disease-fighting proteins, protective antioxidants, and immune-boosting antibodies and antimicrobials, she adds. Fed to newborns as soon as they’re birthed, colostrum has been shown to boost infant immunity, as well as support newborn growth and development.

In recent years, supplement companies have attempted to make the magic of colostrum available to people in other phases of life through bovine (cow) colostrum. “Human colostrum and bovine colostrum are actually very similar in their molecular makeup and nutritional composition,” says Cooney. As such, bovine colostrum supplements have a lot of promise, with early research suggesting it can support gut health, speed up recovery, and even reduce the symptoms of certain diseases. 

The Benefits Of Bovine Colostrum, Explained

1. Immune Support

Colostrum’s main claim to fame is immune support. “Colostrum is filled with white blood cells, which can produce high amounts of antibodies,” says Cooney. Antibodies, also known as immunoglobulins, are the soldiers the immune system uses to fight off bad bacteria and infectious viruses, she explains. They attach to the foreign pathogens and can either automatically disarm them or enable other immune cells to get to work beating them down. So, “by consuming the white blood cells in colostrum, infants develop the antibodies that help the body identify and neutralize foreign invaders,” Cooney says. 

While the immune system is thought to fully develop within a child’s first seven to eight years of life, bovine colostrum supplementation may have immune-boosting benefits for adults, according to registered dietitian Brittany Michels, R.D.N, M.S., C.P.T, a nutritionist with The Vitamin Shoppe. Indeed, the researchers of a 2023 review published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology report that bovine colostrum supplements have a high concentration of immunoglobulins (antibodies) that have the potential to support a balanced immune response. 

The researchers concluded that, due to its immunomodulatory properties, bovine supplementation should be considered a preventative health measure that can help safeguard gastrointestinal and respiratory health and support the body in the face of offenders.

2. Gut Health

Meat and milk are amongst two of the most common foods to cause GI distress, but bovine colostrum supplements suggest that not all cow-based products should be ruled out by people with sensitive stomachs. One 2022 review published in Nutrients journal, for example, found that bovine colostrum supplementation may reduce intestinal permeability and thus may help relieve various GI symptoms.  

Colloquially known as “leaky gut,” intestinal permeability refers to the state wherein the epithelial cells, which make up the gut lining, lose integrity. The integrity and tight-weaving between these cells support nutrient absorption and prevent foreign pathogens from invading the bloodstream. When these walls become permeable, digestive waste leaks into the bloodstream or other organ systems. This leakage can cause a range of symptoms, such as pain, diarrhea, and bloating, according to research published in Gut. By helping repair the permeations in the gut wall, research suggests bovine colostrum supplementation may help ease the intensity and frequency of these symptoms. 

Read More: Use This Checklist To Help Your Gut Bounce Back After A Stomach Flu

The Nutrients review also found that by supporting immune health, bovine supplementation may help relieve gastrointestinal symptoms of those who have immune-related GI issues. Meanwhile, a second study published in Advances in Nutrition found that bovine colostrum may also help counteract the increase in inflammatory agents (called cytokines) that contribute to flares amongst those who experience frequent digestive irritation.

3. Exercise Recovery

If you’re a regular gym-goer or athlete, bovine colostrum may have a worthy place within your sports supplement stack. Indeed, colostrum may support recovery following intense physical exercise. 

One small study published in Nutrients looked at the impact of having football players supplement with 3.2 grams of bovine colostrum supplements over the course of six months. All of the players performed a standard exercise test featuring shuttle runs at the beginning of the trial, mid-way through, and then again at six months. As part of each test, the participants had their blood samples taken ahead of the exercise, immediately after, and three hours after recovery. At the end of the six-month experiment, the footballers who supplemented with the colostrum observed significant improvements in their inflammatory markers, while those who took the placebo did not. 

A second study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, which looked at the effects of 3.2 grams of daily bovine colostrum supplementation on soccer players’ performance, had similar findings. The players who supplemented with colostrum accrued less exercise-induced muscle damage after a high-intensity practice, compared to those who did not supplement. 

Read More: A Lesser-Known Benefit Of Whey Protein? Immune Support

The fact is, some inflammation following exercise is normal, and actually supports muscle repair and regeneration so long as it is regulated, according to research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. Left unchecked, however, too much inflammation can put individuals at increased risk for injury, as well as chronic inflammatory conditions. For athletes who exercise intensely, and even twice per day, bovine colostrum may be one way to support a healthy inflammatory response and promote recovery, says Michels. 

Are Bovine Colostrum Supplements Safe? 

“Bovine colostrum supplements are generally considered safe for most healthy people when taken in appropriate doses,” says registered dietitian Mia Syn M.S., R.D.N. One review reported that bovine colostrum is generally well-tolerated, non-toxic, and safe for human ingestion. Still, “it is always best to consult with your doctor before adding any new supplement to your daily regimen,” she says. They’ll be able to give you dosing recommendations based on the particular effect you’re after, she says. 

Since bovine supplements are made from the milky product released by cows within three days of them giving birth, the main group of individuals who should not experiment with bovine colostrum supplementation are those with dairy allergies, according to Linardakis-Cooney. Additionally, some of these supplements contain soy, and thus people with soy allergies should read the ingredient list carefully. 

How To Pick A Bovine Colostrum Supplement 

Once you get the green light from your provider and start shopping your options, you might have questions about which is best for you. 

Bovine colostrum supplements differ in quality based on many factors, such as the breed and age of the cow, as well as when the colostrum is obtained and how it’s processed, says Michels. Most colostrum supplements are frozen, pasteurized to remove potentially infectious pathogens (like Escherichia coli or Salmonella), and then turned into a powder. Meanwhile, whether the cows your colostrum is sourced from are grass-fed or given organic feed is also important to consider.

To make sure you’re getting the 24 carat liquid gold version of colostrum, avoid products that use heat in the process, as heat can destroy some of the beneficial components of colostrum, Michels says. Products will usually use phrases like “cold-chain pasteurization” or “freeze-dried” to highlight that they did not use heat during the manufacturing process. 

Michels also recommends trying to find a powder with the antibody IgG present. One of the most beneficial components of colostrum, “the antibody IgG is an antibody that our immune cells make to fight off bacteria, viruses, and infections,” she explains. Both Codeage Immuno Colostrum and The Vitamin Shoppe brand Colostrum fit the bill.

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