Are Colostrum Supplements ‘Liquid Gold’?

Bovine colostrum supplements, dubbed "liquid gold," are making waves among health influencers despite the lack of evidence supporting most of the manufacturers' claims.

Colostrum is a pre-milk fluid produced by mammals in the first 48-72 hours after giving birth. It is particularly rich in enzymes, antibodies, and growth factors that promote growth and the ability to fight diseases in newborns' immature digestive and immune systems.

For example, colostrum facilitates the establishment of Lactobacillus bifidus flora in the digestive tract, the bacteria that play a major role in maintaining gut health.

Colostrum supplements, which come in powder and pill form, are usually derived from bovine (AKA cow) and, less frequently, goat sources. They are touted to strengthen the immune system and alleviate gastrointestinal issues, among other benefits.

In other words, they are marketed as having similar benefits in adults as colostrum has in infants, although the evidence on the benefits of colostrum supplementation in the general adult population is very limited.

This does not stop influencers from advertising "the miracle milk," making claims not always backed by science.

"Studies show that colostrum is more effective than the flu shot. Why wouldn't you take it? This helps support your immune system, your gut health, your skin, and your hair. It can help with your sleep. If you're working out, your muscle mass, your energy, your focus. Literally, top to bottom," a TikToker says in a video holding a jar of colostrum powder that costs over $100.

Is colostrum more effective than the flu vaccine?

Dr. Adrian Chavez, a nutrition scientist and educator, traces the claim that colostrum is more effective than the flu shot to a 2007 study. The trial involved 144 participants who were divided into four groups. Two of these groups included individuals who underwent flu vaccination: 44 participants took colostrum, and 39 did not take any type of immunostimulant or antiviral drug.

The third group received only colostrum without a flu shot, and the fourth group of 23 did not take any prophylaxis.

The flu rates in the vaccination group and the control group of the participants who took no prophylaxis were 1.44 times higher than in the colostrum group. Moreover, the incidence of complications and hospital admission was significantly higher in the group using vaccination only.

"This might be one of the worst studies I've ever seen cited to back up a claim like this. This study didn't have nearly enough participants to make these types of conclusions. The participants were not randomized to get the flu vaccine. And individuals who got the flu vaccine are just at much higher risk for getting the flu," Chavez said in a video.

He added that the trial hadn't been replicated in the 17 years since it was published and called such claims "dangerous and misleading."

The flu vaccine is recommended for all individuals aged six months and older with only rare exceptions. Although vaccinated individuals can still catch the flu virus, vaccination reduces the risk of illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population.

People who are most at risk of flu are vaccinated at the highest rates. In the large group of vulnerable individuals, some will get infected despite receiving the flu shot. However, the vaccine can reduce the severity of their symptoms and lower the risk of hospitalization and death from the flu.

What are the benefits of colostrum?

Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may benefit from colostrum supplements, says Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD. She points to a 2022 study published in Nutrients that found that bovine colostrum may boost gut health by improving gut permeability in athletes.

Keeping your gut lining strong makes it less permeable, allowing fewer toxins into your bloodstream. However, more studies are needed to confirm this potential benefit.

Andrews

Other research has suggested colostrum supplementation may potentially have a positive effect on the course of acute infectious diarrhea in children. In a small study published in 2019, children with diarrhea who received a bovine colostrum supplement had significantly fewer symptoms after 48 hours than those who didn't take the supplement, Andrews says.

One study suggests the potential use of colostrum in IBD management as it may promote mucosal healing.

Andrews says athletes may benefit from colostrum supplementation. A 2023 review found that football players using colostrum showed decreased markers of inflammation caused by intense physical activity as it contains immunologically active compounds.

She adds, "It appears safe for use."

Some athletes use colostrum supplements to accelerate fat burning, add lean mass, or increase strength. However, there is not enough evidence to support such benefits.

Colostrum supplements are also marketed for skin problems, with promises to reverse wrinkles or fix acne. A 2024 study that included 52 mature women with aging skin discovered that facial cream with sheep colostrum increased skin moisture, reduced transepidermal water loss, and improved skin firmness.

However, the study shows the benefits of a topically applied cream containing colostrum. The effects may be different when colostrum is ingested as a supplement pill or powder.

Studies exploring the effects of colostrum are small, and many observed effects are insignificant. Many studies use a dose of between 20 and 60 grams of colostrum, while some popular brands sell their supplements in servings of as little as 1 gram.

What are the risks of colostrum?

Andrews says colostrum is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Therefore, anyone who is trying to get pregnant, is pregnant, or is breastfeeding should not use colostrum supplements without discussing their use with a healthcare provider.

"Individuals with autoimmune conditions may not want to use colostrum supplements as their immune systems may already be altered by the disease process or medications that they take. This would include conditions such as type 1 diabetes, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis," Andrews tells Healthnews.

Other potential side effects of bovine colostrum include nausea, increased gassiness, and stomach ache, as well as skin rashes and itching.

Colostrum is undoubtedly the "liquid gold" for infants with developing immune and digestive systems. In specific adult populations, such as athletes and people with IBD, colostrum supplements may potentially help with gut issues, although further research is needed.


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