Colostrum is a form of milk produced by mammals, including humans. While human breast milk is white, and relatively thin, human colostrum is sticky and features an orange or yellow color.
Most species of mammals produce colostrum in the late stages of pregnancy – like just prior to giving birth.
Today, colostrum is being studied more and more for its health benefits. Colostrum is packed with valuable nutrients and vitamins. It’s nature’s way of giving energy to the child immediately after birth.
That’s why more and more people are taking colostrum as a health supplement. Typically, when you see “colostrum” on the shelves of a health food store, you’re looking at bovine colostrum as opposed to human colostrum.
No matter which type of colostrum you take, you may be able to enjoy some considerable health benefits. Today, we’re going to explore what makes colostrum such a unique and powerful natural compound.
What Is Colostrum?
As mentioned above, colostrum is a type of milk produced by the mammary glands of most mammals. This milk typically precedes ordinary breast milk during pregnancy.
Colostrum has gone by a few different names over the years. In ancient times, it was known as “first milk”. It’s also referred to as “beestings” or “bisnings”.
When compared to regular breast milk, colostrum has some unique properties. It contains antibodies designed to protect newborns against disease, for example. It’s also lower in fat and higher in protein than ordinary milk.
There’s a good reason why colostrum is different than ordinary milk: newborns have weak digestive systems. Their digestive systems aren’t mature enough to handle excessive amounts of fat.
Newborns also need colostrum to pass their first stool. Colostrum has a mild laxative effect and it gently cleanses the newborn’s digestive system. This laxative effect actually helps the child survive birth: during birth, the newborn body produces dead red blood cells. These dead cells release bilirubin as a waste product. Bilirubin can be toxic and cause jaundice, which is why it needs to be cleansed from the body.
How Does Colostrum Work?
Colostrum is rich with valuable vitamins and nutrients, including proteins, vitamin A, and sodium chloride. At the same time, colostrum contains a much lower amount of carbohydrates, fats, and potassium than ordinary milk.
Bovine colostrum is particularly rich with nutrients. It contains vitamins E, A, C, B6, and B12 along with calcium, chromium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. As if that wasn’t good enough, there are also 9 amino acids within colostrum, including arginine, cysteine, glutamic acid, alanine, tyrosine, glycine, proline, aspartic acid, and serine.
While the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids in colostrum are important, the most pertinent bioactive components in colostrum are growth factors and antimicrobial factors.
The antimicrobial factors are powerful antibodies which protect the newborn against disease pathogens. The growth factors, on the other hand, supercharge the growth of the gut, which means the newborn can begin to accept regular breast milk with higher fat content.
The antibodies in colostrum have actually played an essential role in medical history: when researchers discovered the first oral vaccine against polio, they used the immunoglobulin from bovine colostrum.
Ultimately, when giving babies (or any newborn mammal) colostrum, it’s like giving them their first vaccination. It’s also like giving them a super powered protein powder and multivitamin supplement all rolled into one.
Health Benefits of Colostrum
You already know why newborns need colostrum from an evolutionary standpoint. But why are more and more people around the world taking colostrum as a health supplement?
In scientific studies and clinical testing, colostrum has indicated some surprising health benefits. Here are some of the suggested health benefits of colostrum:
— Support Healthy Digestion: Colostrum is given to newborns to help them pass their first stool. It does this by acting as a mild laxative.
— Boost Immune System Functionality: As mentioned above, colostrum is rich with immunoglobulins, which act as a natural type of vaccine. That’s why naturopathic medicine and homeopathic medicine often recommend colostrum as a natural alternative to antibiotics.
— Improve Athletic Performance: Colostrum is similar to other types of dairy-based protein, like whey protein. That’s why it’s commonly used to improve athletic performance. Some athletes use colostrum to decrease recovery time and improve performance. In one study, Dutch field hockey players improved sprint performance and vertical jump performance while taking colostrum as a supplement. Colostrum does this by improving lean muscle mass.
— Improve Recovery Times: For the same reasons listed under “Improve Athletic Performance”, colostrum is also used to improve recovery times following athletic exertion or physical activity.
— Increase Lean Muscle Mass: Colostrum is similar to whey protein. In most studies, however, it’s actually proven to be superior to whey protein in terms of increasing lean muscle mass.
Scientific Evidence for Colostrum
Colostrum supplementations in humans hasn’t been studied extensively over the years. However, the scientific studies that have been performed are worth mentioning. Those studies include all of the following:
2002 Study Shows Colostrum Is Superior Than Whey for Athletic Performance
A 2002 study on colostrum was published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. This study involved elite field hockey players who played on the Dutch national team. Players received 60 grams of colostrum or whey protein daily, depending on which group they were in. There were no significant changes in body composition or endurance tests between the two groups. However, the group which supplemented with colostrum were able to improve sprint performance and vertical jump performance more than the group which took whey. (Source: PubMed.gov)
2001 Study Shows Colostrum Significantly Improves Lean Muscle Mass
Another commonly-cited study on colostrum involved comparing the effects of colostrum to the effects of whey protein on “active men and women” (i.e. not professional athletes). In this study, the group which took colostrum experienced a significant increase in bone-free lean body mass, while the whey group just experienced an overall increase in body weight. (Source: PubMed.gov)
1999 Study Improves Recovery Times from Infectious Diarrhea
In addition to sports performance studies, there have also been some studies on colostrum’s use as an antibacterial agent or antibiotic. One landmark study performed in 1998 involved a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 80 children. All children had rotavirus diarrhea. After receiving colostrum as a supplement, the children experienced reduced symptoms and shortened recovery times. (Source: NYU.edu)
Other studies have reinforced the athletic performance-boosting benefits of colostrum as well as its effectiveness as an antibiotic.
Colostrum Side Effects
Colostrum appears to be safe to consume. However, those who are allergic to other bovine lactic secretions – like dairy milk – will likely be allergic to bovine colostrum.
WebMD.com states that “Most people don’t experience any side effects from bovine colostrum.”
The only group which appears to experience colostrum side effects is those who are HIV-positive. HIV-positive individuals have reported nausea, vomiting, and decreased liver functionality after taking colostrum.
It’s also important to note that there is no evidence that Mad Cow Disease and other bovine diseases can be spread through milk products.
How to Take Colostrum
Some people save human colostrum during pregnancy. Human colostrum can appear 3 to 4 months into pregnancy. It will typically leak from the breasts, and many women won’t notice it until just before birth or just after birth.
Some people take human colostrum as a health supplement, but most people take bovine colostrum instead. Bovine colostrum can be found in health food stores around the world. It can also be ordered online. Human colostrum is much more difficult to legally purchase or find.
The usual recommended dose of colostrum is 10 grams per day. However, when taken in encapsulated form, a lower dose may be used due to the higher bioavailability and purity of the formula. In certain studies on colostrum’s effect on athletic performance, athletes received doses as high as 60 grams per day.
The main benefit of taking colostrum is for better immune system support, although others take it to boost recovery times and support healthy digestion.
In fact, when taking colostrum for athletic support, studies have shown that taking 20 grams per day in combination with exercise training can dramatically improve lean muscle growth.
You can find packages of pure colostrum pills for as little as $10 or $20 online. You can also find more expensive colostrum-based supplements – like powders – for anywhere from $50 to $100.
Uses for Colostrum
Colostrum is used in a surprising range of foods and natural supplements. Here are a few of the ways in which colostrum is used around the world:
-In India, solidified colostrum is sold as a sweet type of candy
-In Ukraine, there’s a traditional dish called Molozyvo which is a sweet cheese made of cow colostrum
-Used in Ayurvedic (ancient Indian) medicine to treat chronic diseases, including allergies, digestive disorders, heart disease, gout, depression, and other illnesses
-It’s used to make a wide range of desserts and puddings, including fruit beestings, beestings cheese, beestings curd, beestings tarts, and beestings pudding.
Conclusion: Who Should Take Colostrum?
Colostrum is one of the most powerful fluids naturally secreted by mammals. It’s rich with antibodies, proteins, vitamins, and nutrients. When given to newborns, it helps them grow up into happy, healthy adults. When taken as an adult, it can lead to some surprising health benefits.
Independent, peer-reviewed, and widely-published studies have proven the benefits of taking colostrum as an athletic supplement. Athletes have been able to boost lean muscle mass, improve recovery times, and increase their athletic performance at the gym and when playing professional sports.
People call colostrum “high octane milk” for good reason: it’s a powerful “super milk” which can be used to enjoy some powerful health benefits. Better yet, bovine colostrum is widely available for purchase as a health supplement and has no documented side effects (aside from those who are already allergic to dairy products).