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Should You Supplement with Bovine Colostrum?

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Last Updated: Oct 02, 2021

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Colostrum is the milk that mammals produce right before giving birth. It’s important for newborns to consume colostrum because the substance is packed with the mother’s antibodies, insulin-like growth factors, enzymes, fat and other vital nutrients that don’t exist in regular milk. 

In other words, colostrum acts like an immunization for newborns.

What I wasn’t aware of until recently is the fact that colostrum is also available as a dietary supplement (albeit from cows and not humans), and that there are purported benefits associated with bovine colostrum supplementation, even among adults.

As a result, I decided to dig into the available scientific research on the subject and to test a high-quality bovine colostrum supplement made by Sovereign Laboratories. 

Health Benefits of Colostrum

Colostrum has so many scientifically-proven health benefits that doctors even give it to babies who are born prematurely and unable to nurse. 

When our son Lucas was born nine weeks before his due date, my wife used a pump to extract colostrum, which our doctors fed to him via a stomach tube. 

In addition to the antibodies and immunoglobulins in colostrum, it also serves as a vital source of protein, carbohydrates (lactose), fat and fluids for newborns. 

In case you’re wondering, 100ml of human colostrum has approximately 59 calories from 5.3 grams of carbs (lactose), 3.7 grams of protein, and 2.9 grams of fat.

Note that the lactose in colostrum and breastmilk doesn’t usually cause digestive issues for breast-fed babies because they also make sufficient amounts of lactase, the enzyme that helps break down lactose into glucose and galactose. 

As a result, there’s zero doubt in the scientific community that colostrum has significant health benefits for newborns, and that its absence can lead to several health issues later in life, including compromised immune systems.

Human Colostrum vs. Bovine Colostrum

Calf drinking milk copy
Calves rely on colostrum to build their immune system and quickly grow muscle tissue.

Human colostrum is crucial for the development of newborns. But if human colostrum isn’t available, can bovine colostrum be used instead?

Before I try to answer that question, let’s talk about the major differences between human and bovine colostrum. 

Bovine colostrum contains less lactose (milk sugar) but higher amounts of the milk protein casein than human colostrum. The latter helps the calf’s development of muscle tissue. That’s important because calves, like most mammals in the animal kingdom, need to be on their feet shortly after birth in case they have to run away from predators.

Human babies are immobile and dependent on their parents for many months, but their brains develop rapidly during the first few months of life and thus benefit from the glucose in colostrum and breast milk as a form of fuel.

Fun fact: Breastfed newborns use fat as their primary source of energy and are thus in ketosis until their parents introduce solid foods. That’s because breastmilk doesn’t have enough glucose to fulfill the energy needs of the fast-growing brain

Additionally, there are significant differences in the makeup of the antibodies (immunoglobulins) contained in human and bovine colostrum. 

For example, human colostrum doesn’t contain significant amounts of immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies to protect against bacterial and viral infections. That’s because the mother passes those to the fetus via the placenta. 

As a result, the primary antibody in human colostrum is immunoglobulin A (IgA), which is important for, among other reasons, protecting the intestinal lining (epithelial cells) of the gut

On the flip side, calves are born with no immune system and rely solely on colostrum for all the (IgG) antibodies necessary to fight infection and inflammation.

Considering the differences between human and bovine colostrum, the question remains whether or not bovine colostrum supplementation has any health benefits for humans.

Effects of Bovine Colostrum Supplementation

Colostrum helps strengthen the immune system located in the gut
Colostrum helps strengthen the parts of the immune system that are located in the gut.

Any time I consider ingesting a compound that’s foreign to the human body — regardless of whether it’s a plant-based, animal-based, or a synthetic compound — I ask myself two questions:

  • What are the potential benefits?
  • What are the potential side effects?

As far as bovine colostrum is concerned, I haven’t seen any scientific evidence showing negative side effects of supplementation in healthy adults or children. 

However, if you suffer from lactose intolerance, you might experience GI upset after consuming bovine colostrum because of the residual amounts of lactose some supplements contain.

On the flip side, I’ve seen several studies indicating that supplementing with bovine colostrum can help with upper airway infection, gastrointestinal disorders (e.g., infectious diarrhea), the flu, athletic performance and more.

So let’s dive into the purported health benefits in some of the areas that I consider most relevant due to the current global health situation and my lifestyle.

Influenza (Flu) Prevention

Based on an epidemiologic (observational) study from 2007, supplementing for eight weeks with orally-administered colostrum reduced the incidence of complications and hospital admissions (related to the flu) by 300%, even among people who received the influenza vaccination.

While observational studies have inherent problems and often can’t prove causation (only correlation), the potential benefits of supplementing with colostrum clearly outweigh the low risk for potential side effects.

So if you’re elderly or immunocompromised, and getting the flu would likely increase your risk of hospitalization or severe complications, you might want to consider supplementing with colostrum during the flu season.

Gastrointestinal Disorders and Immune Function

Studies performed on children and immunocompromised adults (e.g., people with HIV infections) indicate that supplementing with bovine colostrum can prevent gastrointestinal tract infections (e.g., caused by escherichia coli) or reduce their impact (i.e., prevent diarrhea).

The studies’ authors concluded that “the administration of passive immunity in the form of bovine immunoglobulins can be protective against a range of pathogens and is especially effective in immunocompromised individuals.”

In other words, colostrum has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that offer beneficial effects against pathogens.

As I mentioned above, given the low risk of potential side effects, I’d seriously consider supplementing with colostrum if you suspect that your immune system isn’t functioning properly due to intestinal permeability (leaky gut), a disturbed gut microbiome, or other causes. 

Exercise Performance

Considering my relatively healthy lifestyle and everything I do to support my immune system, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about supplements. However, what piqued my interest in colostrum was its potential to improve my athletic performance and recovery.

In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study conducted with soccer players, scientists concluded that supplementing for six weeks with low-dose bovine colostrum resulted in faster recovery and a better ability to maintain athletic performance.

Additionally, there is mounting evidence that supplementing with bovine colostrum “is beneficial for certain groups of athletes, such as those involved in strenuous training (e.g. endurance athletes), in terms of immunity and resistance to infection.”  

That’s pretty cool, and perhaps reason enough to supplement with colostrum — even if you’re only a serious fitness enthusiast (like I am) and not a professional athlete.

Ethical Questions

One of the questions you have to ask yourself when you’re thinking about leveraging colostrum supplements is this: Where did that colostrum come from, and what animal isn’t getting it because of you? 

That’s why it’s important to only buy from supplement manufacturers that responsibly harvest the substance. 

In the case of bovine colostrum, that means allowing the calf to drink first, and then only harvesting the excess bovine milk.

That’s exactly what Sovereign Laboratories does, so I feel good about using their supplements.

Colostrum-LD by Sovereign Laboratories

Sovereign Laboratories Colostrum-LD - 1
I take two tablespoons mixed with water every night before going to bed.

Pros

  • Improved absorption and bioavailability
  • Third-party tested for potency
  • GMO-free
  • Made with pasture-raised cows
  • Responsibly sourced

Cons

  • Contains residual amounts of lactose
  • Price

Potency

Sovereign Laboratories manufacturers Colostrum-LD in FDA, GMP and USDA-certified facilities that ensure each serving contains a minimum of 1.5% lactoferrin, 1.5% growth factors, and between 3.5% and 5% colostrum peptides (PRPs).

Lactoferrin helps with the absorption of iron (“ferrum” means iron in Latin) in the intestine and the delivery of this important mineral into cells. Some studies suggest that lactoferrin acts as a protective agent against bacterial, viral or fungal infection, and may help boost the immune system

While scientists understand the general role of lactoferrin in the human body, more research is needed to identify the exact benefits of lactoferrin supplementation. 

Insulin-like growth factors can help stimulate the regeneration and proliferation of cells in the gut lining (epithelium).

Studies have shown that growth factors derived from bovine colostrum can turn on genes that promote the growth and regeneration of intestinal epithelial cells

Considering the fact that the lining of the gut, which prevents pathogens from reaching your bloodstream, is only five to seven cells thick, it’s incredibly important to do everything you can to strengthen that barrier. 

While your overall lifestyle and dietary habits play a major role in gut health, supplementing with colostrum could be another effective tool you can leverage.

Types of antibodies
Antibodies are glycoproteins that bind to specific antigens in the body.

Immunoglobulins are antibodies that help your body fight bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. Studies have shown that supplementing with bovine immunoglobulins (from colostrum) may be helpful “to support immune function in vulnerable groups such as infants, children, elderly and immunocompromised patients.”

In other words, if you have a strong immune system, supplementing with colostrum might not offer you additional protection. But if you don’t, it’s worth considering. 

Observing how COVID-19 managed to wreak havoc among certain demographics while leaving others largely unharmed, it’s no stretch to imagine that quite a few people have less-than-optimally functioning immune systems.

If you fall into one of the higher-risk groups, I highly recommend making changes to your lifestyle, and that you even consider taking supplements to help support your immune system.

Much like immunoglobulins, colostrum peptides can modulate the immune response of intestinal epithelial cells. In other words, certain building blocks of the protein found in colostrum can further help boost your immune system.

Bioavailability

Liposomal delivery
Wrapping nutrients into a layer of fat increases their chances of making it through the harsh environment that is the GI tract.

One of the biggest issues with colostrum supplements (and many other supplements, for that matter) is getting the bioactive compounds through the GI tract and into the bloodstream.

That’s because the acidic environment of the stomach destroys many of their bioactive ingredients. 

Sovereign Laboratories has solved this issue by coating their colostrum powder in fat. The company calls this proprietary process liposomal delivery (“lipo” meaning fat). 

While liposomal delivery doesn’t guarantee 100% bioavailability of the encapsulated medication or supplement, it appears to significantly improve it

Potential Side Effects

Any medication or supplement has the potential to cause undesirable side effects, and cow colostrum contains residual amounts of milk sugar (lactose) that many adults are sensitive to or don’t tolerate at all

Sovereign Laboratories has added lactase to its formula, an enzyme that helps the body break down lactose and thus significantly reduces the risk of GI upset (even if you’re lactose intolerant). 

Fun fact: Milk in the grocery store labeled as lactose-free isn’t really free of lactose. The label just means that the manufacturer added lactase to help break down the milk sugar. 

The other issue Sovereign Laboratories claims you might experience after starting to supplement with bovine colostrum is a mild cleansing effect, also known as a Herxheimer reaction

While the classic Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction is associated with side effects of the treatment of syphilis, it’s often used to describe temporary, negative side effects of any treatment that causes the body to release stored toxins from fat tissue (or of a change of the gut’s microbiome).

When I started supplementing with Colostrum-LD, I didn’t follow the recommended dosage protocol, which was to slowly increase the dosage over the first few days. 

Instead, I took the full amount (2 tablespoons) from day one, and I only experienced mild gas that went away after two or three days. The truth is that I don’t even know for sure if that gas was caused by the colostrum or something I ate.

Price

Colostrum-LD is available in pouches ranging from 1.76 ounces all the way up to 32 ounces, with a cost of between $13.95 and $179.95 per pouch. 

While the 32oz pouch seems expensive, it contains 182 servings, resulting in a palatable price of less than $1 per serving. If you decide to sign up for a 30-day or 60-day subscription, you get a 5% discount.

Shop Sovereign Laboratories*

In addition to the different sizes, you can also choose between “regular” and vanilla flavor. I have the latter, and it has just a hint of vanilla — it’s not overpowering by any means. 

So even if you’re not a fan of vanilla (I’m not), you won’t be turned off by its flavor.

I have never tried the company’s “regular” flavor, but I was told it tastes like powdered milk.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can bovine colostrum reduce the risk of a viral infection?

While there is plenty of evidence to suggest that colostrum can reduce the rate of upper respiratory tract infections (e.g., rotavirus infections) in babies and children, I’ve only seen one case report to suggest that adults might benefit too.

Can I give colostrum to my pets?

Yes, you certainly can. There is plenty of evidence suggesting that bovine colostrum offers most of the same benefits to animals as it does to humans. In fact, colostrum supplementation appears to be a popular treatment method for companion animals among veterinarians.

Can I give bovine colostrum to infants or toddlers?

Yes, you can give bovine colostrum to kids of all ages as a supplement — but I highly recommend talking with your pediatrician or lactation consultant first. 

What I don’t recommend is giving your infant bovine colostrum instead of human breast milk. In other words, don’t stop breastfeeding your baby because you have access to bovine colostrum supplements.

If you have a “thumbs up” from your pediatrician to supplement with bovine colostrum, Sovereign Laboratories sells an infant and toddler version of its product*

Note that the kid version is the exact same formula as the adult version; it’s just the packaging and serving size recommendations that differ.

Who should supplement with bovine colostrum?

If your lifestyle is similar to mine and you’re already doing most things right to support your health and well-being, then you might not benefit from supplementing with colostrum — unless your goal is to improve your athletic performance.

However, if you’re immunocompromised, or suffer from autoimmune or metabolic conditions that negatively impact your immune system, you may benefit from bovine colostrum while also making improvements to your overall lifestyle.

Don’t consider colostrum (or any other supplement for that matter) a replacement for a healthy lifestyle. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on my blog, dietary supplements are meant (as the name implies) to supplement an otherwise healthy lifestyle (not to replace it).

Can bovine colostrum help alleviate the symptoms of colitis?

Based on the scientific evidence I’ve seen, bovine colostrum can help alleviate the symptoms of ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory GI issues. 

In one randomized placebo-controlled study in adults suffering from colitis, bovine colostrum correlated with a significant reduction in pain after only four weeks of supplementation compared to the placebo group.

Is bovine colostrum keto friendly?

Yes, you can definitely include colostrum as part of your ketogenic diet, because each serving of Colostrum-LD has less than one gram of carbs.

Is bovine colostrum paleo friendly?

While human colostrum is definitely paleo, dairy products (including bovine colostrum) are not. However, many people who follow a Paleolithic diet consume certain dairy products, such as butter and cheese. If you’re one of them, you can certainly include bovine colostrum as well.

Is bovine colostrum carnivore diet friendly?

Technically, bovine colostrum is neither paleo nor carnivore friendly.

But, as with the paleo, many followers of the carnivore diet consume dairy products and feel great doing so. If you’re one of them, feel free to supplement with bovine colostrum.

For reference, I follow a Paleolithic ketogenic diet that includes mostly pastured meats, eggs and a few plants, and I supplement with bovine colostrum.

Wrap-Up

It’s been several years since I’ve gotten sick, despite having been in close contact with people who were sick. In fact, I’ve been in close contact with several people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 and fell ill just a few days after I was in contact with them.

I attribute the fact that I haven’t gotten sick recently to the strength of my immune system, which I try to support and bolster with everything I do.

The problem is that I do a lot of different things to make sure my immune system is working optimally, including eating a healthy diet devoid of plant toxins and processed carbs, exercising regularly, protecting my sleep, managing stress and using a few supplements. 

So it’s difficult to say which part of my healthy lifestyle contributes most to the strength of my immune system. 

That also means that I don’t know for certain which of the supplements I use don’t make a significant difference. 

As far as bovine colostrum is concerned, I strongly believe that it has a lot of potential and it should be worth your consideration — especially if you’re still on a journey towards a healthier lifestyle.

Personally, I keep supplementing with bovine colostrum during the cold and flu season to further reduce my risk of infection (especially after intense CrossFit workouts).

Now I’d like to hear from you! Did you know about colostrum supplements, and what are your thoughts on them? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Medical Disclaimer

The information shared on this blog is for educational purposes only, is not a substitute for the advice of medical doctors or registered dieticians (which we are not) and should not be used to prevent, diagnose, or treat any condition. Consult with a physician before starting a fitness regimen, adding supplements to your diet, or making other changes that may affect your medications, treatment plan or overall health. MichaelKummer.com and its owner MK Media Group, LLC are not liable for how you use and implement the information shared here, which is based on the opinions of the authors formed after engaging in personal use and research. We recommend products, services, or programs and are sometimes compensated for doing so as affiliates. Please read our Terms and Conditions for further information, including our privacy policy.

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