Colostrum is the fluid produced by mammary glands immediately following birth, just before breast milk is produced. The fluid is packed with the vitamins, minerals, growth factors and antibodies newborns need to fight off infections and grow. Bovine colostrum comes from cows and contains a slightly different mix of antibodies and nutrients than human colostrum. It's been used for centuries in ayurvedic medicine to treat various ailments and was widely used in Western medicine before the advent of antibiotics.
Uses: Bovine colostrum is taken primarily for digestive conditions, though it's also used in attempts to fight cancer and depression, improve athletic performance and boost immunity in general. Hyperimmune bovine colostrum, taken from cows immunized against specific infections, is sometimes used to treat AIDS-associated diarrhea.
Dose: Bovine colostrum comes in pills, liquids and powders. Recommended doses vary widely.
Precautions: Bovine colostrum supplements can be high in fat and the milk sugar lactose, which is difficult for lactose-intolerant people to digest. Side effects are rare but include bloating, nausea and diarrhea. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid the supplements because little is known about how they affect young children.
Research: Very little research has examined the effects of bovine colostrum in humans. Some of the immune factors in cow colostrum can protect against digestive pathogens, including E. coli and rotavirus, a common cause of diarrhea in young children. There is some evidence that hyperimmune bovine colostrum can help treat certain types of diarrhea in AIDS patients. Studies examining the supplement's effects on athletic performance have produced mixed results. Large-scale, well-designed scientific trials are needed to confirm bovine colostrum's purported health benefits.
Dietary supplement makers are not required by the U.S. government to demonstrate that their products are safe or effective. Ask your healthcare provider for advice on selecting a brand.