Colostrum from cows is being touted as an immunity supplement on social media, but experts aren't sure it's necessary
A new wellness trend is gaining traction on social media among health enthusiasts: bovine colostrum. The potent supplement, which comes from the udders of cows right after they give birth but before their milk comes in, supposedly has the potential to enhance immunity, improve digestion, promote better sleep quality and expedite muscle recovery.
Touted as "liquid gold," colostrum is the first substance that lactating mammals produce. The substance serves as an exceptionally nutritious first meal for newborns, bridging the gap until the mother's milk production starts. Supplement manufacturers are harvesting bovine colostrum — from cows — and converting it into convenient pills and powders.
But does it actually work? PEOPLE talked to several experts about the pros and cons of the trendy supplement.
What is colostrum?
Packed with vitamins, minerals, growth factors, and immune-boosting antibodies, some health experts are calling colostrum "nature's very own super supplement." They say it offers a daily dose of essential nutrients and immune support in one pill.
“Human colostrum contains essential nutrients for newborn babies, including vitamins A, D, B, K, magnesium, copper, and zinc,” Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, author of Unapologetic Eating and founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness, tells PEOPLE. “Colostrum also contains antibodies and other compounds that help to strengthen the baby's immune system and promote growth. "
According to Rumsey, colostrum has more protein and immunoglobulins than breast milk, and it's lower in fat, which makes it easier for newborns to digest. While bovine colostrum seems to be similar to human colostrum with a variety of vitamins and nutrients, it’s unclear if this translates to any benefits for humans, Rumsey says.
How can colostrum help adults?
While colostrum's popularity is increasing, there is limited evidence of the benefits of bovine colostrum in humans, says Rumsey.
“One review, funded by a company that creates colostrum products, suggests that bovine colostrum might have a beneficial effect on things like diarrhea and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), but more research needs to be done before we can know for sure if there are any actual benefits,” she said.
Still, it has its supporters. “The growth factors and antimicrobial proteins found in colostrum can promote gut health by supporting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, reducing inflammation, and improving digestive function,” Christa Brown, MS, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian in New Jersey, tells PEOPLE. The supplement can be beneficial for preventing and managing various infectious diseases due to the fact that it is rich in antibodies and can enhance the immune system's response to infections and pathogens.
“It may be helpful for individuals with gastrointestinal issues like leaky gut syndrome or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)," she adds.
Does colostrum have different benefits than milk?
Mature milk boasts a well-rounded nutrient profile including protein, fat and carbohydrates for energy and satiety. In contrast, colostrum is rich in antibodies, known as immunoglobulins, offering robust immune protection while containing lower levels of fat and lactose.
“Colostrum is a natural substance produced by mammals, and some individuals prefer natural sources of nutrition over synthetic or processed supplements,” says Brown, explaining why they might turn to colostrum as opposed to a Vitamin C powder, for example.
In terms of efficacy and safety, Brown says colostrum from healthy cows is generally safe for most people when consumed as a supplement. It also comes with a hefty price tag: A 30-day supply can cost as much as $70.
What are the risks?
Colostrum is generally considered safe for most people when taken at recommended doses. As with any dietary supplement, there may be side effects.
“Some individuals may experience mild digestive discomfort, such as bloating, gas, or diarrhea, when taking colostrum supplements,” says Brown. “This is more likely to occur when consuming high doses. There is also a risk of contamination or adulteration in colostrum products, particularly if they are not sourced from reputable manufacturers.”
To minimize risk, choose high-quality supplements from trusted sources, Brown says.
In addition, people with allergies to components found in colostrum, such as proteins or lactose, may experience reactions. Symptoms can include hives, itching, swelling, or difficulty breathing.
While colostrum may provide certain benefits, it is still not regulated by the FDA. Individuals should always consult healthcare professionals before adding any new supplements to their diets.
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