Medically reviewed by Suzanne Fisher, MS, RD, LDN
Bovine colostrum is a fluid produced by the mammary glands of cows. It is the first milk produced after a cow gives birth and provides the calf with vital nutrients, hormones, and substances that support the immune system.
Humans and other mammals also produce colostrum after childbirth.
In recent years, bovine colostrum has gained popularity as a dietary supplement due to its purported health benefits. Research shows a potential role of bovine colostrum in the areas of exercise, immunity, digestive health, and hormones, among others.
However, scientific evidence proving any benefits of bovine colostrum is limited.
This article will discuss the nutritional benefits and potential uses of bovine colostrum. It will also cover safety, precautions, dosage, and sources of bovine colostrum supplements.
What Is Colostrum?
Colostrum is the nutrient-rich milk produced and excreted by a mother's mammary glands after a baby is born. All mammals produce colostrum, a viscous (syrup-like) fluid that is typically yellow in color.
Female mammals make colostrum for up to five days after their babies are born. Colostrum has a different nutrient profile than breast milk and is vital to the health of the newborn.
Both human and bovine colostrum contain various micronutrients and macronutrients in addition to hormones, growth factors, and immune factors. Of the immune factors present in colostrum, immunoglobulin G (IgG) may be the most important because it provides immediate immunity to the newborn.
Compared to bovine colostrum, the concentrations of many of the nutrients and substances in human colostrum are different. Additionally, proteins found in human colostrum have different roles than those in bovine colostrum.
Although colostrum is mostly recommended for newborns, people in some cultures consume animal colostrum throughout their lives for general health. Animal colostrum is also sometimes used as an alternative medicine.
Bovine colostrum is used as a dietary supplement for its potential health benefits thought to be due to its bioactive compounds and nutrition profile.
Nutritional Benefits of Bovine Colostrum
One of the most appealing aspects of bovine colostrum is its nutritional benefits.
Bovine colostrum contains all three macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, protein), plus essential vitamins and minerals. It is also a source of immunoglobulins and antimicrobial substances.
Lactose is the most prevalent carbohydrate in bovine colostrum, making up 2%–3% of its content (however, lactose is often removed from supplement forms). Bovine colostrum is also made up of 6%–7% fat and 14%–16% protein, which includes both casein and albumin.
Micronutrients and other bioactive substances found in bovine colostrum include:
Immunoglobulins (IgG1, IgG2, IgA, and IgM)
Lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, and lysozyme are three types of proteins that possess antimicrobial properties. These three bioactive substances are thought to be essential to a newborn's immunity. These antimicrobial properties may also support the immune system of adults who use bovine colostrum supplements.
Potential Uses of Bovine Colostrum
Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.
Research on bovine colostrum has increased over the years. What researchers have found is that bovine colostrum supplements may provide a few health benefits, but more studies are needed.
May Support Immunity
Various studies have focused on bovine colostrum for immune support in athletes, older adults, newborns, and the general population.
The antimicrobial substances in bovine colostrum are thought to be responsible for its potential immunity benefits. However, although animal research has shown promising results, researchers are still not certain if bovine colostrum improves immunity in humans.
Athletes who partake in intense or prolonged exercise often experience decreases in immunity. In a small study, 27 young female basketball players (age 16–19) were given either 6.4 grams (g) bovine colostrum per day or a placebo (an ineffective substance given to control groups) for 24 weeks.
After assessing various immune system biomarkers and parameters, the researchers determined that bovine colostrum had a positive but insignificant effect on immunity in participants.
In another small study, preschool-aged children took either a placebo or bovine colostrum for 45 days. Researchers noted an increase in immunity in the children who used bovine colostrum. Over 20 weeks, children who took bovine colostrum were observed to experience fewer upper respiratory infections compared to those who took the placebo.
Many researchers believe that additional well-designed studies are needed to prove that bovine colostrum increases immunity in both healthy and sick populations.
May Help Treat Infections
Some studies suggest that bovine colostrum may help prevent and treat viral and bacterial infections.
One study concluded that adding bovine colostrum to human milk increased the antibacterial properties of the milk. Specifically, bovine colostrum was found to enhance antibacterial activity against Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Staphylococcus epidermidis (S. epidermidis), two bacteria strains that may be especially dangerous for preterm infants.
A meta-analysis of bovine colostrum reviewed studies performed on children with infectious diarrhea. Results from the five studies analyzed pointed to bovine colostrum as an effective treatment for infectious diarrhea caused by rotavirus and E. coli.
Compared to a placebo, children who used bovine colostrum had reductions in both stool frequency and detection of the virus or bacteria that caused diarrhea.
Another review of bovine colostrum focused on upper respiratory tract infections. Bovine colostrum supplementation was found to reduce the prevalence of these types of infections in the majority of studies included in the review. The dose of bovine colostrum used in the studies varied greatly, up to 60 g per day, with most studies using a dose of at least 10 g.
May Improve Digestive Health
More than half of your immune system is found in your gut. There is evidence that bovine colostrum may support healthy digestion and treat various gastrointestinal (GI) disorders through immunomodulation (regulation of immunity).
A systematic review found that bovine colostrum may improve gut permeability in athletes, leading to better absorption of nutrients from food. According to researchers from the review, bovine colostrum has also been shown to reduce postexercise gut inflammation.
Some research also shows a positive effect of bovine colostrum in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), necrotizing enterocolitis, intestinal failure, diarrhea, and other gut disorders in both human and animal trials. Bovine colostrum supplementation has been linked to reduced inflammation in many of these disorders. However, research results remain mixed, with some studies showing insignificant effects of bovine colostrum on the treatment of digestive disorders.
Overall, bovine colostrum shows promise as a potential treatment for digestive health, but more research is needed.
Safety & Precautions
Bovine colostrum supplements are generally considered safe but may cause mostly mild side effects in some people.
The majority of studies on bovine colostrum use have reported few to no side effects. The most commonly reported side effects from the available research on bovine colostrum include:
Typically, side effects will subside after a few days of using bovine colostrum. However, if side effects persist or get worse, then it's best to stop using it and consult a healthcare provider.
Aside from the risk of side effects, some people may need to avoid bovine colostrum altogether.
Bovine colostrum contains lactose. While some supplements have removed lactose, many bovine colostrum supplements are not suitable for people with lactose intolerance. People with a milk allergy should also avoid using bovine colostrum.
Since bovine colostrum comes directly from cows, these supplements will not fit into a vegan diet.
It is unknown what (if any) dose of bovine colostrum is safe for people who are breastfeeding or pregnant. It's recommended that you talk with a healthcare provider before using bovine colostrum if you are nursing or expecting a child.
Talk with a healthcare provider before trying bovine colostrum to make sure it's a safe option for you.
Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs.
At this time, there are no general recommendations for bovine colostrum dosage.
For adults, the average dose of bovine colostrum supplements ranges from 500 milligrams (mg) to 1,000 mg (equal to 1 g) per day.
Various studies, however, have safely used bovine colostrum doses as high as 60 g per day. Other studies have found success in giving bovine colostrum at a dose of 10–20 g per day. Some research also supports smaller doses of 500 mg per day.
As you can see, bovine colostrum may be used in a wide range of safe and effective doses. More research is needed to determine general dosage guidelines for this supplement.
It's recommended that you follow the dosage directions provided on the supplement label or packaging. If you're unsure how much bovine colostrum to take, talk with a qualified healthcare provider.
Sources & What to Look For
You can use bovine colostrum in food or supplement form. Although, it is most commonly used as a supplement for health purposes.
Food Sources of Bovine Colostrum
Fresh, liquid bovine colostrum can be consumed. However, it may be difficult to find fresh bovine colostrum in stores or on websites. Additionally, raw bovine colostrum that has not been pasteurized may contain potentially harmful pathogens.
Once pasteurized, bovine colostrum is sometimes added to certain dairy products (yogurt, cheese, or kefir) and infant formulas. Research on finding safe ways to incorporate bovine colostrum into foods is ongoing.
Bovine Colostrum Supplements
Bovine colostrum supplements are typically easier to come by than foods. You can find these supplements for sale online or in specialty supplement or nutrition stores. Certain grocery and retail stores also sell bovine colostrum supplements.
Colostrum from cows is often dried and turned into a powder which can then be used to make supplements. You can use bovine colostrum supplements in powder form or as capsules, tablets, or capsules. Liquid supplements are also available.
It's important to make sure that the supplement you choose fits safely into your diet.
Many bovine colostrum supplements contain lactose, although some brands are lactose-free or lactose-reduced. Bovine colostrum supplements are also not vegan. Typically, though, bovine colostrum supplements are gluten-free.
When shopping for bovine colostrum, keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any other U.S. governing agency does not closely regulate supplements.
The FDA doesn't approve a supplement's effectiveness or quality at any time. However, the FDA can remove unsafe supplements from the market.
To give yourself some peace of mind, look for supplements that have been approved by third-party agencies like U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF.org, or ConsumerLab.com. These and other qualified agencies check supplements for contaminants and ensure that nutrition labels are accurate.
Remember, though, that third-party testing doesn't mean that a supplement is safe for everyone. Always talk with a healthcare provider before using a new supplement to make sure it's a good option for you.
Bovine colostrum is the first milk produced by the mammary glands of cows just after giving birth. Other mammals, including humans, also make colostrum as it is a vital part of newborn nutrition.
Bovine colostrum may offer health and nutrition benefits when used as a supplement. It is mostly thought to support the immune system and treat certain gastrointestinal disorders, but more research is needed.
Talk with a healthcare provider to learn more about bovine colostrum and see if it's right for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it safe to take bovine colostrum every day?
Generally, bovine colostrum is thought to be safe for most people to take. However, it's unknown if bovine colostrum is safe to use long term. Additionally, there are no set dosage guidelines for bovine colostrum, and dosing varies widely.
In one study, young female athletes used bovine colostrum supplements every day for 24 weeks with no reported side effects.
More long-term safety studies are needed on bovine colostrum.
Who should not take bovine colostrum?
People with a dairy allergy should not take bovine colostrum. Those who are lactose intolerant should also avoid bovine colostrum unless supplements are labeled as lactose-free.
It is also recommended that people who are pregnant or breastfeeding avoid using bovine colostrum.
Check with a healthcare provider before using bovine colostrum if you have any medical condition or use prescription medications.
Is colostrum bad for your liver?
There is no solid evidence that colostrum is bad for your liver. In fact, some research points to colostrum as a potential liver protector.
An older study from 2012 found that bovine colostrum improved liver damage in mice. These results have not been repeated in humans, however, so more research is needed.
Does bovine colostrum contain estrogen?
Bovine colostrum is a source of various hormones, including estrogen.
In most adults, estrogen from bovine colostrum is not thought to be absorbed in the gut. This means that the estrogen content of bovine colostrum is mostly insignificant.
To be safe, people with certain diseases that may be affected by estrogen should speak with a healthcare provider about using bovine colostrum.
Read the original article on Verywell Health.