Bovine colostrum is viral online for its benefits for digestion, skin and more. But it works? Are there side effects?


Cow colostrum, a nutrient-rich liquid produced by cows after giving birth, is one of the latest wellness fads all the rage on social media.

Sometimes called “miracle milk,” the benefits of bovine colostrum are important for newborn calves. However, lately human adults are also turning to pill and powder supplements based on this product.

Proponents and manufacturers of cow colostrum supplements claim that it can improve intestinal health, boost the immune system, prevent skin aging, and increase athletic performance. But what really are its possible benefits and the side effects it can cause?

What is bovine colostrum?

Colostrum is the milk that humans and other mammals produce in the first few days after giving birth, explains Dr. Nate Wood, a professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine and a chef. When it comes from a cow, it is called bovine colostrum.

This thick fluid is formed in the mammary glands during pregnancy and is secreted from the breasts after childbirth. But it is different from breast milk: “It contains more antibodies, immune cells and growth factors,” explains Wood.

Antibodies and immune cells are produced by the immune system and help protect against infection, while growth factors are special hormones that stimulate development, he explains.

The high concentrations of antibodies and immune cells in colostrum are key because newborns have an immature immune system that predisposes them to infections, he adds.

Bovine Colostrum Nutrition

Human colostrum contains important macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and antioxidants that help nourish newborns in their first days, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Among them, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc and carotenoids.

The deep orange or golden color of the liquid, along with its benefits for newborns, is why it is often called “liquid gold.” Its supply is limited: It turns into milk within two to five days, reports the Cleveland Clinic.

Bovine colostrum is equally packed with nutrients, antibodies, antimicrobial proteins and growth factors, which help and protect newborn calves, says Beth Czerwony, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic's Digestive Diseases Institute.

bovine colostrum for humans

Humans have been consuming and using bovine colostrum for centuries for various purposes. And it is increasingly sold without a prescription as a dietary supplement.

“Humans are not able to produce enough colostrum to use as a supplement, so (people) turn to cows because they are higher producers,” says Czerwony.

Once collected, bovine colostrum is pasteurized, processed and packaged, Czerwony says. Consumers can find it in liquid, powder, pill, and tablet form.

Hyperimmune bovine colostrum is a special type of colostrum from cows vaccinated against certain diseases: it is rich in antibodies that fight various viral and bacterial infections, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Benefits of bovine colostrum

“In newborns, (human) colostrum can help prevent infections and stimulate growth, but recently more and more adults have started taking bovine colostrum supplements,” says Wood.

The idea is that bovine colostrum has the same effects and helps strengthen the immune system, increase strength and support other bodily functions. But, “for now, the current research on bovine colostrum is not conclusive enough to draw any conclusions,” Wood says.

The results of many studies on bovine colostrum in humans are contradictory. “Some indicate benefits and some do not…most are very small and/or not very robust,” he says.

Bovine colostrum for intestinal health

One of the most popular uses for bovine colostrum is for digestion and gut health, says Czerwony. Many claim that supplements can prevent diarrhea or help with gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory disease and colitis.

There is evidence from small human and animal studies to suggest that bovine colostrum supplements may improve intestinal health by reducing inflammation and decreasing intestinal permeability.

Several trials have shown that hyperimmune bovine colostrum can help prevent or shorten the duration of diarrhea in children and adults. Early research suggests that bovine colostrum may also reduce diarrhea associated with HIV/AIDS.

One study found that bovine colostrum enemas, which are introduced into the rectum, may have beneficial effects for people with mild to moderate distal colitis, but more research is needed.

However, many of the studies investigating the benefits of bovine colostrum have been conducted in rats or in vitro (in a test tube), and not in humans.

Bovine Colostrum for Immune Function

Another common use for bovine colostrum is for immune function, experts note. There is good evidence that it helps strengthen and support the immune system of newborn calves, but can this antibody-rich liquid do the same for adult humans?

“It seems possible – at least in theory – that taking bovine colostrum supplements could help prevent people from getting sick as often,” says Wood. But the research to date is not strong enough to support this claim, he adds.

A 2022 systemic review that analyzed data from 445 participants in seven trials determined that bovine colostrum supplementation may reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections, but more extensive research is needed.

Another review published in 2021 found that although the beneficial immune effects of bovine colostrum have been demonstrated in animals, there is a lack of evidence that it can improve the immune system to defend against infections in humans.

bovine colostrum for exercise

According to Czerwony, bovine colostrum is popular among athletes, who say it can help improve performance, increase strength and speed recovery.

Despite these anecdotal reports, studies that have investigated the effects of bovine colostrum on exercise have been inconclusive so far.

A narrative review published in the journal Nutrients in 2021, analyzing previous research on bovine colostrum and exercise, concluded that there was some positive evidence for the beneficial effects of bovine colostrum on physical performance and recovery, but it remains minimal in the literature. present.

“The average adult taking a bovine colostrum supplement will not notice any difference in how they feel or perform,” says Wood.

bovine colostrum for skin

Proponents of bovine colostrum on social media promote it as a skin health supplement. Many claim that the nutrients and growth factors in bovine colostrum can improve skin elasticity, reverse signs of aging, and promote skin regeneration and wound healing.

Unfortunately, experts point out that there is not enough rigorous scientific evidence that ingesting bovine colostrum or applying it topically can do any of these things.

“We really can't say for sure that bovine colostrum has any significant benefits,” says Wood.

Side effects of bovine colostrum

Overall, experts say there is a lack of data on the possible side effects of bovine colostrum.

The website notes that bovine colostrum can cause mild gastrointestinal discomfort, such as nausea and gas. There may also be more serious side effects if taken by a person allergic to milk, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Is it safe to take bovine colostrum?

In general, bovine colostrum appears to be safe for most people, Czerwony says — except for those with allergies or sensitivities to cow's milk, who should stay away. Always consult your doctor before starting a new supplement, he adds.

Overall, there is a lack of rigorous studies and published data on the safety and risks of bovine colostrum supplements.

“We are not sure about potential safety issues. For example, bovine colostrum contains a specific growth factor called IGF-1. Previous research has shown that IGF-1 can stimulate the growth of certain types of cancer, such as prostate and breast cancer,” says Wood.

Additionally, studies conducted to date on bovine colostrum have not determined which dose is best or for whom, experts warn. There is no recommended daily intake or official dosing guidelines, says Czerwony.

Dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and nutritional labels are not approved before products go on the market. Bovine colostrum supplements can vary greatly depending on how they are obtained and processed.

“Because of these potential risks and no clear evidence of any benefit, I do not recommend bovine colostrum supplements to any of my patients,” says Wood.

Even if it doesn't hurt you, bovine colostrum will probably hurt your wallet. A supplement for several months can cost from $30 to $120. “The buyer must be alert,” says Czerwony.

Alternatives to bovine colostrum

If you are looking to strengthen your immune system, gain strength or find an alternative to vegan colostrumexperts suggest trying evidence-based lifestyle interventions.

“I would recommend eating a plant-based diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, and for strength, eating enough protein and resistance training at least twice a week,” says Wood.

Proteins like lentils, beans, salmon, and nuts can help build muscle while still being heart-healthy, Wood adds. Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and staying up to date on vaccinations can also help boost your immune system.