What is colostrum

Colostrum is also called liquid gold for its deep yellow color, colostrum is the thick first milk that women make during pregnancy and just after birth. Colostrum milk is very rich in nutrients, fluid and includes antibodies to protect your baby from infections in the early days. Colostrum color and thickness are due to the fact that it is higher in these protective factors. Compared with more mature human milk, colostrum is also higher in protein, slightly lower in sugar, and significantly lower in fat. Colostrum also helps your newborn infant’s digestive system to grow and function. Your baby gets only a small amount of colostrum at each feeding because the stomach of a newborn infant is tiny and can hold only a small amount.

Colostrum changes into mature milk by the third to fifth day after birth. This mature milk has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein to help your
baby continue to grow. It looks thinner than colostrum, but it has the nutrients and antibodies your baby needs for healthy growth.

Research suggests that breastfed babies have lower risks of 1):

  •  Asthma
  • Childhood leukemia
  • Childhood obesity
  • Ear infections
  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Lower respiratory infections
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis, a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in preterm infants
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Type 2 diabetes

Breastfed babies may also be sick less often, which can help keep your baby’s health costs lower.

Breastfeeding is good for the mother’s health too. Breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancer, and ovarian cancer in mothers 2).

Table 1. Composition of human and bovine colostrum

Composition of human and bovine colostrum
[Source 3)]

Colostrum supplement

Bovine colostrum has been used in therapeutic medicine for years by many cultures around the world 4). Bovine colostrum supplements are sold in the form of powder and tablets. Just like human colostrum, bovine colostrum is a milk secreted by cows during the first few days after calving, and its importance for the health of calves has been known for a long time 5). Colostrum contains not only nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals but also bioactive components like growth factors and antimicrobial factors 6). Colostrum contains immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, proline-rich polypeptide, cytokines, vitamins, minerals and growth factors, and is characterized by higher protein content than regular milk. However, the content of the different food constituents in bovine colostrum is not well-defined and varies among products available on the market. Bovine colostrum is a protein-rich cocktail that contains several nutritional and immunological factors that provide a strong nutritional base for the newborn animal 7). Growth factors in colostrum include insulin‐like growth factors and transforming growth factors and are believed to play an important role in the development of skeletal muscle 8), gastrointestinal differentiation 9) and cell repair 10). The importance of colostrum for human neonate immune system development is well recognized 11) and the presence of closely homologous bioactive components in bovine colostrum has led to the growing use of bovine colostrum in humans.

The results of the study done by Appukutty et al. 12) showed that there was a main effect of time and significant impact on antioxidant levels including, lipid peroxidation, superoxide dismutases, xanthine oxidase and total antioxidant, all of which indicate a positive influence following colostrum supplementation. There are studies reporting that antioxidants are incapable of extending exercise-induced lifespan extension in rats 13). Exercise-induced reactive oxygen species itself are known to increase endogenous reactive oxygen species defense capacity in skeletal muscles 14) and antioxidant supply may prevent the induction of molecular regulators of endogenous antioxidant defense in the skeletal muscles during exercise. But the results of this study showed that the exercise group had increased levels of oxidative stress. Moderate levels of reactive oxygen species in any tissue are necessary for the normal homeostatic process but excessive production causes oxidative stress. With increased intensity and prolonged exercise, a skeletal muscle mitohormesis process might have been suppressed to cause increased oxidative stress. Accumulated reactive oxygen species during prolonged exercise might have enhanced oxidative damage in skeletal muscles as the muscle proteins are highly redox sensitive 15). Chiang and Chang 16) reported antioxidant properties of caseins and whey proteins in colostrum. Colostrum contains significantly higher quantities of antioxidants which is very crucial for health to protect against oxidative stress in infants. It is known that at birth, the newborns will go through many challenges and one such challenge is adaptation to the oxygen-rich environment compared to the low-oxygen intrauterine environment 17). However, this situation may be overcome by the generation of excessive reactive oxygen species [ROS]. Few studies have shown that higher concentrations of antioxidants instead of protecting skeletal muscles against oxidative stress, increases oxidative damage during exercise. Higher concentrations of antioxidants are reported to eliminate the reactive oxygen species which normally play an important role in the regulation of redox sensitive muscle proteins during muscle contractions 18). But the results of this study 19) demonstrated that concurrent colostrum treatment was able to improve the total antioxidant levels and increase the skeletal muscle superoxide dismutase level and reduce the lipid hydroperoxide and xanthine oxidase formation. These results demonstrated that bovine colostrum may have a significant antioxidant effect in skeletal muscle after muscular exercise.

Bovine colostrum is currently promoted as a supplement in sports nutrition for muscle recovery, anaerobic sports functions and also to some extent for its anti-aging property 20). Limited research to date suggests that bovine colostrum supplementation enhances exercise performance and recovery 21). Bovine colostrum supplementation at 60 g/day for 8 weeks has been shown to improve repeat sprint performance in elite hockey players 22), peak vertical jump power and peak cycle power 23) and peak running speed during a repeated bout of intense exercise 24). In addition, a 20 g/day dose and a 60 g/day dose over 8 weeks have both been reported to improve cycle time trial performance 25). Whether a smaller and hence more economical dose can enhance exercise performance is yet to be established.

On the contrary, other research could not prove positive effects supplementing with bovine colostrum on strength or speed performances 26). One of the earliest studies that investigated the effect of bovine colostrum supplementation on sporting performance in humans showed that eight days of low-dose bovine colostrum supplementation during speed and strength training did not have any effect on vertical jump or recovery from exercise 27). However, later studies have shown that eight-weeks of bovine colostrum supplementation of 20 g per day during endurance and resistance training significantly increased lean body mass, but no effect was observed on bench press performance 28); while daily supplementation of 60 g bovine colostrum per day for eight-weeks significantly improved sprint ability and indicated a trend towards improved vertical jump test performance 29).

Several studies have reported the use of bovine colostrum for immune responses and sporting performance with doses ranging from 20 to 60 g per day 30). Bovine colostrum supplementation at 60 g/day enhances repeat running and cycling performance during normal training periods and the recent study has reported a dose as low as 10 g per day that have proven to have a significant effect on human cycling performance during high intensity training 31). Improvements in performance study were observed in a 12-minute cycloergometer test after ingesting 20 g/day of bovine colostrum compared to 60 g/day 32), and thus, it is feasible to suggest supplementing with 20 g/day of bovine colostrum, with the goal being to improve the immune function, and possibly improving performance.

In another study on the effect of bovine colostrum supplementation in older adults during resistance training 33), showed colostrum supplementation during resistance training was beneficial for increasing leg press strength and reducing bone resorption in older adults. Both colostrum and whey protein groups improved upper body strength, muscle thickness, lean tissue mass, and cognitive function.

Colostrum health benefits

The European Food Safety Authority Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies 34) was asked to provide a scientific opinion on a list of health claims related to bovine colostrum in relation to the following claimed effects: “immune health/source of immunoglobulins”, “supports immune function during periods of intense physical exercise”, “supports an improvement in exercise performance when combined with regular training”, “supports an increase in lean body mass when combined with resistance exercise”, “supports recovery following intense exercise”, “digestion health: bovine colostrum might help for the treatment of colitis/prevents diarrhoea, diminishes colicky symptoms/bovine colostrum is effective in the management of gastrointestinal disorders”, and “anti-asthénique (récupération)”. The European Food Safety Authority Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies considers that the food constituent, bovine colostrum, which is the subject of this opinion, is not sufficiently characterized in relation to the claimed effects considered in this opinion. The Panel concludes that a cause and effect relationship cannot be established between the consumption of bovine colostrum and the claimed effects considered in this opinion 35).

The European Food Safety Authority Panel notes that the references provided for the substantiation of the health claims considered in this opinion have used as intervention either concentrated bovine colostrum protein (i.e. standardised, low heat, low fat, low lactose colostrum powder containing 20 % Immunoglobulin G (IgG) by weight) which includes both casein and whey proteins, 36), 37), 38), whole bovine colostrum in powder form for which only energy and macronutrient composition was provided 39), or immunoglobulin-enriched bovine colostrum 40), and that the characterization of the food, which is the subject of the health claims, is unclear. The Panel also notes that the concentrations of various components of bovine colostrum which are proposed to contribute to the claimed effects (e.g. lactoferrin, immunoglobulins, epidermal growth factor, transforming growth factor, etc.) have not been provided.

The European Food Safety Authority Panel 41) considers that the food constituent, bovine colostrum, which is the subject of this opinion, is not sufficiently characterized in relation to the claimed effects.

The European Food Safety Authority Panel 42) concludes that a cause and effect relationship cannot be established between the consumption of bovine colostrum and the claimed effects.


On the basis of the data presented, the European Food Safety Authority Panel 43) concludes that:

The food constituent, bovine colostrum, is not sufficiently characterized in relation to the claimed effects considered in this opinion. A cause and effect relationship cannot be established between the consumption of bovine colostrum and the claimed effects considered in this opinion.

Colostrum side effects

Studies of human volunteers in the various intervention trials have shown no inducement of antibodies and no intact uptake of bovine immunoglobulins 44). All of this is supported by the cultural evidence of traditional consumption of colostrum in diverse pastoralist groups around the world. Milk-allergic individuals can be expected to have allergic potential with bovine colostrum. Indeed, a recent serological study of milk-allergic patients found IgE cross-reactivity with colostral IgG 45).

References   [ + ]

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