Superfood or fad? The truth about colostrum supplements


by Baylor Scott & White Health

May 15, 2024

Curious about colostrum powder? You’re not alone. If you spend any time on social media, you may have noticed well-being influencers talking about this latest supplement, but is it worth adding to your diet?

Manufacturers of colostrum supplements suggest it can enhance gut health, boost your immune system, enhance your skin and more. But is there any truth to these claims? Let’s get the facts.

What is colostrum?

Colostrum is the first form of nutrition humans (and other mammals) receive from breast milk and it plays a vital role in building a baby’s immune system. It develops during pregnancy and lasts for several days after birth. As it’s so rich in nutrients, it’s sometimes known as “liquid gold.”

Colostrum provides all the nutrients and fluid newborns need in the first few days after birth, as well as helps protect them from illness or infection. Compared to breastmilk, colostrum is higher in protein, slightly lower in sugar and significantly lower in fat. It also contains more antibodies, immune cells and growth factors.

The trending colostrum supplements many people are now taking are made from bovine colostrum—a powdered form of the colostrum a cow releases after giving birth.

“For these supplements, colostrum from cows is pasteurized and dried into pills or into powders that can be mixed with liquids,” said Alessandra Stasnopolis, RDN, LDN, a clinical dietitian and wellness coordinator in the Baylor Scott & White Health wellness department.

What are the benefits of colostrum for adults?

There have been many studies that show how colostrum is beneficial to newborns, but there is a lack of research to support claims that colostrum can make a significant difference to the health of adults.

A few studies have suggested that colostrum can play a role in:

  • Boosting immune function
  • Enhancing athletic performance and recovery
  • Promoting better brain function
  • Improving gut health
  • Promoting skin elasticity
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Supporting bone health

In addition to these potential benefits, colostrum contains lactoferrin, which has antibacterial, antitumor, antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects.

Colostrum for gut health

One of the most popular uses of colostrum is for improved digestion and gut health. There are many claims that it can help strengthen your gut, reduce bloating and fight infections in the digestive tract. Since bovine colostrum is designed to protect a newborn calf’s gut, it may do the same for human adults. People who are living with autoimmune disorders that cause inflammation in the gut may see an ease in symptoms, but the effects on gut health are yet to be proven.

Colostrum vs. milk

One of the appeals of bovine colostrum is that it contains more nutrients than you find in regular milk at the grocery store. Specifically, it’s higher in carbohydrates, fat, protein, magnesium and several vitamins.

“Compared to mature milk, colostrum has more fat, protein, vitamins and minerals, growth factors, cytokines and nucleotides that provide immune support, and less lactose,” Alessandra said. “But, the concentration of these compounds decreases rapidly in the first three days of breastfeeding, with the exception of lactose content.”

This means that although colostrum does contain more nutrients compared to mature milk, these levels go down very quickly. The manufacturers of colostrum supplements claim to capture these benefits while the nutrient levels are at their highest, but there is limited research to support this.

Can colostrum improve athletic performance?

For many athletes, protein bars or other supplements are a top choice for a pre-workout snack. Similarly to protein, colostrum advocates suggest it may help with maintaining lean body mass, as well as better strength performance and optimal recovery.

While some say bovine colostrum may have positive impacts for athletes, specifically for those who are exercising regularly with high-intensity workouts like running and cycling, the benefits are still unproven.

“More studies need to be done to see the effect in athletics, but the research is promising,” Alessandra said.

If you’re looking to help improve athletic performance, Alessandra sees whey protein as a viable alternative, enjoyed in combination with a simple to moderate carbohydrate source. Rather than trying a colostrum drink, she suggests a fruit smoothie with whey protein or yogurt with fruit as a great choice for a post-workout snack.

Are there any risks of taking colostrum supplements?

It is important to remember that supplements, including bovine colostrum supplements, are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

The potential risks of bovine colostrum include:

  • Colostrum isn’t necessarily pasteurized, which means it does not go through a standard sterilization process.
  • Bovine colostrum is high in saturated fats and if consumed in excess can possibly increase cholesterol and the risk of developing heart disease. 

Always talk to your doctor or health provider before trying a new supplement, particularly if you are already taking medication.

What should you look for in a colostrum supplement?

If you are thinking of adding colostrum to your wellness routine, here are some things to consider:

  • Look for supplements that are third party tested, meaning an organization that is not the supplement company itself has evaluated the supplement and vouched for its quality.
  • Purchase pasteurized products to cut down on the risk of foodborne illness.
  • Do your research on where your supplement is coming from and how safe it is. Quality can vary from product to product and is impacted by genetics, environment, breed, timing of milking, age and more.
  • Colostrum supplements can be expensive and, as the benefits may be minimal, it could be a waste of money to incorporate these into your daily diet.

While it can be tempting to try the latest social media craze, it’s important to remember that there are many other things out there are comparable to colostrum. And often you don’t need to add supplements into your routine if you are eating a well-balanced diet.

“Colostrum is no better than consuming fruits and veggies, whey protein and other healthy foods, all of which can deliver on their promises,” Alessandra said.

If you’re struggling to figure out what to add into your routine to reach your wellness goals, guidance is in reach. Connect with a registered dietitian today.

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