Colostrum: Immune-Boosting, Anti-Aging Super Supplement?

Colostrum: Immune-Boosting, Anti-Aging Super Supplement?

By Stephen Brenna, Pn1, Pn2, PPSC

Colostrum: Immune-Boosting, Anti-Aging Super Supplement?  

The social media ad-scape has taken "wonder supplement" trends to a whole new level over the last several years. Seemingly out of nowhere, certain supplements go viral and suddenly everyone is clicking through to order the new solution to whatever physical issue they're having.

Oftentimes these supplements end up decaying in kitchen cabinets following a few weeks of use, never to be heard from again.

Recently, bovine colostrum supplements have been making their rounds on social media platforms. The prime example of the marketing onslaught has been from a popular brand (which we’ll refer to as “Brand A”) that currently ranks at the top of keyword search results for “colostrum”. Their products have recently racked up thousands of online reviews and tens of thousands of units sold. 

The homepage of Brand A’s website leads with the headline "Your Revival of Health", and goes on to promise a transformation of your health, starting at its foundation.

So is colostrum the supplement that's finally going to change it all for you? Let's start with a little background.

WTF is Colostrum?

Colostrum is a nutrient-rich "first milk" produced by mammals shortly after giving birth, and is crucial for the development of the newborn. It contains a variety of beneficial nutrients including all three macronutrients, numerous micronutrients, digestive enzymes, growth and immune factors.

While human mothers produce colostrum, supplemental forms are commonly derived from bovine (cow) sources. After it is extracted, bovine colostrum is pasteurized to remove potentially harmful pathogens and then freeze dried into powder that can be used in capsules, or mixed into liquids.

Now that we know what colostrum is, the next question is, why would an adult human want to ingest a substance usually reserved for newborn calves? The answer lies in a few key compounds contained in colostrum.

Why Supplement With Colostrum?

Colostrum contains many vitamins and minerals you've heard of, such as calcium, magnesium, B-vitamins, and vitamins A, C, and E; it also contains several beneficial compounds you may not be as familiar with, including:

  • Lactoferrin: A protein that helps bind iron. Lactoferrin plays a key role in the body's immune response, and its antimicrobial and antiviral properties are considered crucial for the development of a newborn's immunity. Adults may also benefit from its immune-boosting properties.
  • Growth Factors: Colostrum is high in two protein-based hormones, insulin-like growth factors 1 and 2 (IGF 1 & 2). These growth factors are thought to stimulate recovery, stimulate muscle-synthesis, and have anti-aging benefits for the skin.
  • Antibodies: Also known as immunoglobulins, colostrum contains high concentrations of the antibodies IgA, IgG, and IgM, which the body uses to fight off harmful bacteria and viruses.

In short, the most evidence-based benefits of supplementing with colostrum appear to be related to immune-boosting properties. In nature, the colostrum newborns receive from their mothers plays a major role in "programming" their brand new immune systems, protecting them from pathogens they will be exposed to in life. It appears that adults can reap similar immunity-related benefits from supplements.

But wait, what about those growth factors? Better recovery, muscle growth, and glowing skin sound pretty good to me! Let's dig a little deeper.

Colostrum as a Fountain of Youth

A deeper look into Brand A’s site tells us that "Modern Living Breaks Down Your Immune Barrier" and that their colostrum product strengthens these barriers, including the skin. The logic presented is that when these barriers are weakened, bad stuff like pathogens, allergens, and toxins get into our bloodstream. Anything but the toxins!

Now, there is a grain of truth to the potential for colostrum and the growth factors it contains to strengthen our "immune barrier", but it's not happening at the level of the skin. When we orally consume colostrum, the digestive enzymes in our gut break down the growth factors it contains before they ever reach our bloodstream.

So to the athletes out there, no, colostrum is not going to act like human growth hormone (HGH) and give you super recovery powers or make you “jacked.”

And to the (mostly) women that find themselves on the receiving end of colostrum ads selling beauty, it's most likely not restoring your skin and hair to a childhood glow, at least not directly.

Where colostrum does have the potential to "strengthen your immune barriers" is at the level of the gut. While the growth factors don't make it into your bloodstream, a 2017 study published in the journal Nutrients found that oral supplementation of colostrum decreased intestinal permeability in a study group of 16 athletes at-risk for gut permeability. 

Gut permeability, aka “leaky gut,” is a condition in which a weakened gut barrier allows some of the "bad stuff" mentioned above to reach your bloodstream, increasing inflammation and potentially causing a host of negative downstream effects. Supplementing with colostrum may benefit the integrity of your gut lining, potentially reducing inflammation. One way in which this reduced inflammation may outwardly manifest is in more even skin tone and healthier looking hair.

So Should I Buy It or Not?

While it may seem like we're panning colostrum as another over-hyped supplement trend, it appears to have legitimate benefits when it comes to boosting immunity and improving gut health. It has also shown promise to reduce the severity of bacterial or viral infection-related diarrhea, such as in the case of H. Pylori infection. In addition, colostrum's safety profile largely looks good, with few, if any side effects reported.

Overall, supplementing with colostrum may reduce your susceptibility to infections, and promote a healthy gut environment, which can lead to a number of positive downstream effects including better looking skin and hair. We're just here to provide some things to consider the next time you're scrolling through social media and find your thumb hovering over that "Place Order" button.

If you've already made your purchase, try rubbing the colostrum powder on your face. See what happens.