Sunday, October 25, 2009



Colostrum is the clear/cloudy “pre-milk” that female mammals secrete following giving birth and prior to producing milk. Colostrum for dietary supplements is usually derived from bovine sources and contains various immunoglobulins (also called antibodies) and antimicrobial factors (i.e. lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, lysozyme) as well as growth factors such as IGF-I and IGF-II. The concentration of IGF-I in bovine colostrum is 200-2,000 mcg/liter, whereas normal milk contains less than 10 mcg/liter. In normal healthy adults, IGF-I occurs at a concentration of approximately 200 mcg/liter in serum. In terms of immunoglobulins, colostrum generally provides concentrations of IgG, IgM, and IgA that are 100-fold higher than in normal milk. The most prevalent claims for dietary supplements containing colostrum are in the area of generalized immune function as well as the specific areas of diarrhea prevention/treatment, overall gastrointestinal support, and improved recovery from intense exercise.


The amino acid sequences of human and bovine IGF-I are identical. The increase in serum IGF-I observed in several human studies is most likely due to an enhanced stimulation of endogenous IGF-I synthesis rather than a direct absorption of the growth factor from the adult gastrointestinal tract. It is likely that the natural target of colostrum-derived growth factors is the gastrointestinal tract, whereby the increased growth and turnover of the intestine provides for a healthier gut and an increased uptake of dietary components that may enhance growth, immune competence, and athletic performance generally.

Scientific Support

Bovine colostrum contains the same disease resistance factors (immunoglobins) which are found in human breast milk and unpasteurized cow's milk. The wide variety of “immune factors” which may be effective against various viruses, bacteria, yeast and other invaders. Among these immune factors are immunoglobins (IgA, IgG, IgM), lactoferrin, lactalbumin, glycoproteins, cytokines (such as IL-1, IL-6, and interferon Y) and various polypeptides, growth factors, vitamins and minerals. The antibodies present in colostrum are thought to combine with disease-causing microorganisms in the GI tract. By adhering to pathogens, colostrum antibodies may be able to reduce the adhesive properties of bacteria and decrease their ability to attach to the intestinal wall (which could prevent their entrance into the body). It is unlikely that the “full” antimicrobial benefits of colostrum can be realized unless you happen to be a baby cow – because the immunoglobulins are largely digested in the adult gut and cannot be absorbed intact (Mero et al. 2002). It may be possible, however, for partially digested immunoglobulin fragments to retain a small portion of their functional properties and deliver these immune benefits upon absorption.

Numerous studies have been conducted in adults and children to show the benefits of ingesting colostrum in neutralizing the activity of several strains of bacteria and parasites that cause diarrhea (Ashraf et al. 2001, Bolke et al. 2002, Huppertz et al. 1999, Mitra et al. 1995, Nord et al. 1990, Okhuysen et al. 1998, Plettenberg et al. 1993, Rump et al. 1992, Sarker et al. 2001, Tacket et al. 1988, Tawfeek et al. 2003). Both the prophylactic and treatment effects of colostrum feeding against bacterial and parasitic infections of the gastrointestinal tract may be the result of direct antimicrobial effects of colostrum-derived immune factors and/or a generalized stabilization of gut barrier function (Bolke et al. 2002, Playford et al. 2001). In studies of chronic gastritis, symptoms were improved and inflammation was reduced, but there was no evidence that colostrum was directly effective against H. pylori (the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers).

In terms of sports performance, several studies have investigated athletes while consuming colostrum (up to 60 grams per day) compared to placebo or to whey protein. These studies have found variable effects on IGF-I levels, but general benefits in terms of overall athletic performance and exercise recovery (Antonio et al. 2001, Brinkworth et al. 2002, Buckley et al. 2002, Buckley et al. 2003, Coombes et al. 2002, Hoffman et al. 2002) found no differences in plasma IGF-1 concentrations in either group during the study period, but the colostrum group ran further and did more work than the placebo group (equal to a 2% increase in performance). Another study examined rowing performance in a group of elite female rowers. Eight rowers completed a 9 week training program while consuming either colostrum (60 grams per day) or whey protein. By week 9, rowers consuming colostrum had greater increases in the distance covered and work done compared to the whey protein group.

Additional studies on bovine colostrum consumption suggests that it can also deliver some generalized anti-inflammatory benefits (Bolke et al. 2002, Playford et al. 2001) and help prevent and treat the gastric injury associated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Such effects may also be of value for the treatment of other ulcerative conditions of the bowel such as colitis and irritable bowel syndrome (Khan et al. 2002).

Taken together, the available evidence for bovine colostrum is supportive of its benefits as an effective immune-supporting supplement – particularly when interactions with pathogens in the intestinal tract are possible. It is unlikely, however, that colostrum would provide immune benefits against airborne pathogens and upper respiratory tract infections such as cold and influenza or against pollen-related allergic responses (Leiferman et al. 1975).

Safety / Dosage

No adverse side effects are expected up to doses of 60 grams per day – but those individuals with milk allergies should avoid bovine colostrum. Doses of 10 grams and up have been used in the majority of human studies and it is unknown if lower doses will provide any meaningful immune or gastrointestinal benefits. Many capsule-form products provide no more than 1 gram of colostrum per serving, while powder forms may deliver levels associated with clinical effectiveness (10 grams and higher).


1.Antonio J, Sanders MS, Van Gammeren D. The effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in active men and women. Nutrition. 2001 Mar;17(3):243-7.

2.Ashraf H, Mahalanabis D, Mitra AK, Tzipori S, Fuchs GJ. Hyperimmune bovine colostrum in the treatment of shigellosis in children: a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial. Acta Paediatr. 2001 Dec;90(12):1373-8.

3.Bolke E, Jehle PM, Hausmann F, Daubler A, Wiedeck H, Steinbach G, Storck M, Orth K. Preoperative oral application of immunoglobulin-enriched colostrum milk and mediator response during abdominal surgery. Shock. 2002 Jan;17(1):9-12.

4.Brinkworth GD, Buckley JD, Bourdon PC, Gulbin JP, David A. Oral bovine colostrum supplementation enhances buffer capacity but not rowing performance in elite female rowers. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2002 Sep;12(3):349-65.

5.Buckley JD, Abbott MJ, Brinkworth GD, Whyte PB. Bovine colostrum supplementation during endurance running training improves recovery, but not performance. J Sci Med Sport. 2002 Jun;5(2):65-79.

6.Buckley JD, Brinkworth GD, Abbott MJ. Effect of bovine colostrum on anaerobic exercise performance and plasma insulin-like growth factor I. J Sports Sci. 2003 Jul;21(7):577-88.

7.Casswall TH, Sarker SA, Albert MJ, Fuchs GJ, Bergstrom M, Bjorck L, Hammarstrom L. Treatment of Helicobacter pylori infection in infants in rural Bangladesh with oral immunoglobulins from hyperimmune bovine colostrum. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 1998 Jun;12(6):563-8.

8.Coombes JS, Conacher M, Austen SK, Marshall PA. Dose effects of oral bovine colostrum on physical work capacity in cyclists. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Jul;34(7):1184-8.

9.Davidson GP, Whyte PB, Daniels E, Franklin K, Nunan H, McCloud PI, Moore AG, Moore DJ. Passive immunisation of children with bovine colostrum containing antibodies to human rotavirus. Lancet. 1989 Sep 23;2(8665):709-12.

10.Ebina T, Sato A, Umezu K, Ishida N, Ohyama S, Oizumi A, Aikawa K, Katagiri S, Katsushima N, Imai A, et al. Prevention of rotavirus infection by oral administration of cow colostrum containing antihumanrotavirus antibody. Med Microbiol Immunol (Berl). 1985;174(4):177-85.

11.Greenberg and Cello. 1996. Treatment of severe diarrhea caused by Cryptosporidium parvum with oral bovine immunoglobulins concentrate in patients with AIDS. J. AIDS and Hum. Retrovirol. 13:348-354.

12.He F, Tuomola E, Arvilommi H, Salminen S. Modulation of human humoral immune response through orally administered bovine colostrum. FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 2001 Aug;31(2):93-6.

13.Hofman Z, Smeets R, Verlaan G, Lugt R, Verstappen PA. The effect of bovine colostrum supplementation on exercise performance in elite field hockey players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2002 Dec;12(4):461-9.

14.Huppertz HI, Rutkowski S, Busch DH, Eisebit R, Lissner R, Karch H. Bovine colostrum ameliorates diarrhea in infection with diarrheagenic Escherichia coli, shiga toxin-producing E. Coli, and E. coli expressing intimin and hemolysin. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1999 Oct;29(4):452-6.

15.Khan Z, Macdonald C, Wicks AC, Holt MP, Floyd D, Ghosh S, Wright NA, Playford RJ. Use of the “nutriceutical”, bovine colostrum, for the treatment of distal colitis: results from an initial study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2002 Nov;16(11):1917-22.

16.Leiferman KM, Yunginger JW, Larson JB, Gleich GJ. The effect of immune milk as a treatment for ragweed pollinosis. Ann Allergy. 1975 Dec;35(6):367-71.

17.McClead RE Jr, Butler T, Rabbani GH. Orally administered bovine colostral anti-cholera toxin antibodies: results of two clinical trials. Am J Med. 1988 Dec;85(6):811-6.

18.Mero A, Kahkonen J, Nykanen T, Parviainen T, Jokinen I, Takala T, Nikula T, Rasi S, Leppaluoto J. IGF-I, IgA, and IgG responses to bovine colostrum supplementation during training. J Appl Physiol. 2002 Aug;93(2):732-9.

19.Mero A, Miikkulainen H, Riski J, Pakkanen R, Aalto J, Takala T. Effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on serum IGF-I, IgG, hormone, and saliva IgA during training. J Appl Physiol. 1997 Oct;83(4):1144-51.

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21.Nord J, Ma P, DiJohn D, Tzipori S, Tacket CO. Treatment with bovine hyperimmune colostrum of cryptosporidial diarrhea in AIDS patients. AIDS. 1990 Jun;4(6):581-4.

22.Okhuysen PC, Chappell CL, Crabb J, Valdez LM, Douglass ET, DuPont HL. Prophylactic effect of bovine anti-Cryptosporidium hyperimmune colostrum immunoglobulin in healthy volunteers challenged with Cryptosporidium parvum. Clin Infect Dis. 1998 Jun;26(6):1324-9.

23.Playford RJ, Floyd DN, Macdonald CE, Calnan DP , Adenekan RO, Johnson W, Goodlad RA, Marchbank T. Bovine colostrum is a health food supplement which prevents NSAID induced gut damage. Gut 1999 May: 44(5):653-8.

24.Playford RJ, MacDonald CE, Calnan DP, Floyd DN, Podas T, Johnson W, Wicks AC, Bashir O, Marchbank T. Co-administration of the health food supplement, bovine colostrum, reduces the acute non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug-induced increase in intestinal permeability. Clin Sci (Lond). 2001 Jun;100(6):627-33.

25.Plettenberg A, Stoehr A, Stellbrink HJ, Albrecht H, Meigel W. A preparation from bovine colostrum in the treatment of HIV-positive patients with chronic diarrhea. Clin Investig. 1993 Jan;71(1):42-5.

26.Rump JA, Arndt R, Arnold A, Bendick C, Dichtelmuller H, Franke M, Helm EB, Jager H, Kampmann B, Kolb P, et al. Treatment of diarrhoea in human immunodeficiency virus-infected patients with immunoglobulins from bovine colostrum. Clin Investig. 1992 Jul;70(7):588-94.

27.Sarker SA, Casswall TH, Juneja LR, Hoq E, Hossain I, Fuchs GJ, Hammarstrom L. Randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of hyperimmunized chicken egg yolk immunoglobulin in children with rotavirus diarrhea. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2001 Jan;32(1):19-25.

28.Sarker SA, Casswall TH, Mahalanabis D, Alam NH, Albert MJ, Brussow H, Fuchs GJ, Hammerstrom L. Successful treatment of rotavirus diarrhea in children with immunoglobulin from immunized bovine colostrum. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 1998 Dec;17(12):1149-54.

29.Tacket CO, Losonsky G, Link H, Hoang Y, Guesry P, Hilpert H, Levine MM. Protection by milk immunoglobulin concentrate against oral challenge with enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli. N Engl J Med. 1988 May 12;318(19):1240-3.

30.Tacket, Binion, Bostwick, Losonsky, Roy and Edelman. 1992. Efficacy of bovine milk immunoglobulins concentrate in preventing illness after Shigella flexneri challenge. Amer. J. Trop. Med. Hyg. 47:276-283.

31.Takahashi, Eisenhuth, Lee, Schachtele, Laible and Binion. 1992. Nonspecific antibacterial factors in milk from cows immunized with human oral bacterial pathogens. J. Dairy Sci. 75:1810-1820.

32.Tawfeek HI, Najim NH, Al-Mashikhi S. Efficacy of an infant formula containing anti-Escherichia coli colostral antibodies from hyperimmunized cows in preventing diarrhea in infants and children: a field trial. Int J Infect Dis. 2003 Jun;7(2):120-8.

33.Warny M, Fatimi A, Bostwick EF, Laine DC, Lebel F, LaMont JT, Pothoulakis C, Kelly CP. Bovine immunoglobulin concentrate-clostridium difficile retains C difficile toxin neutralising activity after passage through the human stomach and small intestine. Gut. 1999 Feb;44(2):212-7.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This monograph can be found in The Health Professional's Guide to Dietary Supplements (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins) by Shawn M. Talbott, PhD and Kerry Hughes, MS.

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