Is colostrum from cows a miracle milk or mere snake oil?
If your social media algorithms are plugged into the vitamin and supplement industry, you’ve likely come across marketing for bovine colostrum, a dietary supplement that, proponents say, aids in immunity, digestion, sleep, muscle recovery and even vaginal dryness.
Health professionals, however, have mixed views about colostrum as a supplement. Though they say it can certainly help some issues, more research needs to be done to determine if it helps in others.
“Though having a moment of popularity, colostrum is not a miracle solution,” says Serena Poon, a certified nutritionist and celebrity chef. “Just like with all supplements, colostrum will have the best results when consumed alongside a healthy lifestyle that includes healthy eating, movement and mental and spiritual well-being.”
What is colostrum?
Colostrum is the fluid created by mammary glands after pregnancy and before breastfeeding. Humans secrete colostrum, as do cows. Bovine colostrum is used for dietary supplements.
Both human and non-human colostrum contain antibodies and immunoglobulins, offering health benefits to newborns.
“We know in humans, but also in other animals, that this colostrum has a lot of antibodies,” says Dr. Anthony Rossi, a board-certified dermatologist in New York. “The mom can pass on their antibodies for certain bacteria or for certain diseases to the newborn. Bovine colostrum is a very similar idea, in that there contains a lot of high levels of antibodies in this milky fluid that can potentially help with certain things.”
What does colostrum actually help with?
Bovine colostrum’s full utility as a supplement is still undergoing research and testing; however, Rossi says its immune-boosting properties can help with issues like the flu, diarrhea (particularly diarrhea caused by rotavirus) and airway disease caused by bacteria. It may also help immunocompromised people, he says.
However, there aren’t many proven health benefits beyond that − at least not yet. Because of this, he thinks bovine colostrum may not be the most bang for your buck if you’re interested in it for skin health, athletic performance or other concerns.
“It’s all a cost-benefit analysis,” he says. “If someone’s going to invest that type of money, they should look for products that have good clinical trials behind them.”
Juli Keene, a certified clinical nutritionist in Los Angeles who has recommended bovine colostrum to clients struggling with chronic illness, says the most promising benefits of the supplement pertain to the immune system and gut health.
“Think of it as a highly concentrated boost of protein, which is what babies − human babies and cows babies − need,” Keene says. “What scientists are seeing from the studies is that it’s especially aligned with the immune system.”
Many people take daily vitamins.What they should know first.
I’m interested in colostrum. What should I do before trying it?
If you’re interested in colostrum supplements, consider the following:
- Consult a professional: For serious issues, talk to a professional first. “I don’t think people with serious autoimmune or gut issues should be playing with it without a practitioner,” Keene says. “If they want to try it for simple reflux or immune building, they can. I always say start with the lowest dose of supplements too.”
- Make sure your colostrum is high quality: Not all colostrum is created equal. Make sure you’re getting it from a reputable, safe source. “There are some diseases that you can get from cows,” Rossi says, “so you have to be careful about things that are contaminated.”
- Avoid it if you have a milk allergy: “There have been reports of allergic reactions, so if you have a milk allergy, you’d likely want to steer clear of colostrum,” Poon says.
- Consider alternatives depending on your issue: “There are a lot of plant-based products that offer similar benefits that I would personally turn to instead,” Poon says. “For example, vitamin C also helps stimulate collagen production to improve skin elasticity and there are blends of plant-based ingredients that will nourish gut health.”
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