Bovine Colostrum – It’s good for the calf, but is it good for you?

by Stephen

“Much of the research on bovine colostrum, especially regarding athletic performance, comes from Australia. Some studies suggest benefits for athletes—reducing fatigue, improving running performance and building muscle, for instance.”

Colostrum is a hot supplement in the athletics world. In fact, many world-class athletes are known to take it regularly.

According to Dr. Louise Burke, the head of nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra “Colostrum could be the most important natural substance to help athletes (from weekend warriors to professional athletes) achieve their desired results.”

It’s common to hear that “research shows” colostrum can help:

  • Increase strength and endurance
  • Build lean muscle mass
  • Burn body fat
  • Boost immune function, which typically dips after strenuous exercise
  • Shorten recovery time
  • Accelerate healing of injuries

Is colostrum worth all the hype? Are the above claims fact or fiction? Here is the skinny on colostrum:

What it is:

Colostrum is the milky fluid secreted by all lactating mammals, including humans, in the first few days after giving birth, before breast milk is produced.

This “first milk” contains hormones and factors that, among other things, promote cell development and growth, prime a newborn’s immune and digestive system, and help protect against infection.

Like milk, it also contains protein, fat, milk sugar, vitamins, and minerals. Bovine (cow) colostrum is marketed in supplement form, often in formulas containing other “immune-boosting” ingredients.

Claims, purported benefits:

Treats everything from arthritis and autoimmune diseases to ulcers, colitis, and various infections. Also slows aging, builds muscle, and improves mood and athletic performance.

The Latest Research

It’s a big leap to think that bovine colostrum will benefit people.

Colostrum’s chemistry is largely specific to each species. And what’s good for newborn calves is not necessarily good for newborn humans, let alone adults. It’s not even certain if or how much the antibodies and other special substances in bovine colostrum can survive the human digestive tract and/or be absorbed.

Much of the research on bovine colostrum, especially regarding athletic performance, comes from Australia. Some studies suggest benefits for athletes—reducing fatigue, improving running performance and building muscle, for instance.

But the studies have generally been small and not well designed and used varying types and doses of colostrum supplements. Most focused on young athletes. Plus, not all had positive results—and when they did, the effects were small. Colostrum supplies protein, so some of the effects on muscle may simply be due to the extra protein.

A few studies have also found that colostrum supplements affect levels of certain antibodies and/or other immune system cells in both athletes and non-athletes. But none have shown that these changes result in real-world benefits, like reduced infections.

And other research, including a Dutch study in 2011, have found no effect on immune variables in athletes. The Natural Standard gives bovine colostrum a C rating—meaning unclear or conflicting evidence—for everything from immune function and exercise performance to protection from infection and childhood diarrhea.

Bottom line:

The benefits of colostrum supplements are unproven, and their safety unknown. Colostrum can vary in its constituents, and you don’t know exactly what you’re getting in supplements. Contaminants such as PCBs and pesticides may accumulate in it. If there are hormones and active immune factors that are actually absorbed, it’s not known what effect they may have on the risk of cancer, heart disease, or immune disorders and whether they may interact with drugs. Pregnant and nursing women and young children should especially avoid them.

*Source: 2013 Berkeley Wellness Report

 

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