If you were breastfed when you were born, the very first food that ever passed your lips was likely colostrum. Often referred to as “liquid gold,” colostrum is the substance breasts produce before they begin making breastmilk.
Thicker and denser than breastmilk, colostrum contains highly concentrated nutrients and powerful antioxidants. This liquid provides newborn babies with nutrition to boost their immune systems as they enter a world of unknowns.
The idea behind colostrum supplements is to provide this highly concentrated nutrition to people well after infancy. Made with bovine (cow) colostrum, these supplements contain similar nutrients to human colostrum.
Lately, these supplements—in both pill and powder form—have seen a major uptick in popularity as folks have sought them out for improved immunity, gut health, muscle growth, and more. Still, colostrum supplements are relatively new to the market. Find out if research backs up manufacturer claims, if baby cow food is safe for humans, and whether it’s worth trying.
Potential Colostrum Benefits
After perusing the glowing online reviews of colostrum supplements, you might start believing they’re a literal miracle. Advocates say colostrum can elevate brain function, prevent allergy symptoms, and a number of other things. However, because colostrum is a fairly new supplement, research hasn’t had a chance to examine every health claim made about it. These potential benefits are the ones that have been most widely studied.
May Boost Your Immune System
Nature has designed colostrum to fortify newborns’ weak immune systems—so it’s no wonder immune health is the benefit most often sought from these supps. Some studies confirm that bovine colostrum could support immune health, but others aren’t so promising.
A study on elderly people, for example, found that a colostrum-derived supplement increased the activity of their natural killer cells (the kind that limits the spread of tumors and infections). However, research from 2021 pointed out that although some animal studies have shown the immune benefits of cow colostrum in humans, the benefits aren’t so clear.
The researchers concluded that markers of an enhanced immune system were “lacking” in people. Long story short? We probably need more studies before we know exactly how effective colostrum is for immune health. Plus, different colostrum supplements might have different effects, depending on their potency.
“Colostrum is rich in antibodies which could help strengthen the immune system, but as with any supplement, you can’t really be assured of the consistency in each pill you’re taking,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, the creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It—Taking You from Label to Table. Meaning some supplements may be better than others, and it’s hard to know what you’re getting.
May Have Gut Health Benefits
Recent research on athletes found that bovine colostrum may boost gut health by improving gut permeability. When your gut lining is strong, it becomes less permeable, allowing fewer toxins into your bloodstream, explains Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, the owner of Sound Bites Nutrition. Still, she says more studies are needed to be certain of this potential benefit.
Similarly, other research has linked colostrum supplementation to treating diarrhea. In a 2020 study, children with diarrhea who received a bovine colostrum supplement had significantly fewer symptoms after 48 hours than those who didn’t.
May Lessen Cancer Therapy Side Effects
If you’re undergoing chemotherapy or radiation as cancer treatment, you may want to talk to your doctor about taking colostrum supplements. A 2023 review found that, especially when administered with probiotics, colostrum reduced side effects of cancer treatments, such as hot flashes and chronic fatigue, and appeared to increase treatment effectiveness.
Other Health Claims
The more you read about colostrum, the more benefits you’ll see attributed to it. But so far, research hasn’t confirmed that colostrum works any wonders for issues like muscle growth, brain health, skin health, or allergy problems.
“Although there are studies that point to their benefits, more extensive research is needed to firmly establish a connection between these supplements and the benefits they tout,” says Taub-Dix.
Risks and Side Effects of Colostrum Supplements
Most of us drink milk from cows, and that’s clearly safe for human consumption—so what about the precursor to cow’s milk? Because manufacturers use pasteurization and sterilization processes, yes, colostrum supplements are generally safe for human consumption. Then again, there are some groups of people who should steer clear.
“Individuals taking immuno-suppressive therapies should discuss the use of colostrum supplements with their healthcare provider first,” says Andrews.
This holds true for pregnant and breastfeeding people as well. And no matter what your health status is, be sure to run it by a healthcare provider before you start taking colostrum. You’ll want to make sure it won’t interfere with any medications you’re on.
If you have a milk allergy, you should opt out of bovine colostrum to avoid adverse reactions. (People with lactose intolerance should be fine taking it, though, since it contains little to no lactose.) This supplement also won’t be right for you if you’re vegan, since it’s an animal product—but vegetarians who consume dairy can take it without issue.
Additionally, some skeptics have raised the question of whether the nutrients in bovine colostrum are essential for humans since they differ from those in human colostrum. Though this may be true, there are plenty of animal products that also hold benefits for people—and research shows some potentially promising effects of bovine colostrum for us two-legged mammals.
How to Choose and Use Colostrum Supplements
Choosing any supplement (at least, choosing one wisely) can be a bit of a minefield. Because dietary supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s up to you to do some of your own investigating and quality control.
When purchasing bovine colostrum, look for brands that have been tested by a third party (such as NSF, USP, or Consumer Labs) for purity and quality. Another indicator of quality is a brand’s IgG percentage since colostrum is graded based on its content of immunoglobulin G (IgG). More potent colostrum has a higher IgG percentage.
Generally, experts indicate that “good” colostrum has an IgG concentration of ≥50 milligrams per milliliter. Dosages can vary, but 1.5 (half a teaspoon) is fairly standard. If you purchase your colostrum as a powder, you can mix it into water or another liquid or toss it in food where it will dissolve, such as oatmeal, a smoothie, or gravy. Or, if you snagged a bottle of colostrum capsules, take your pill on an empty stomach with some water to help with absoption.