Colostrum is a thick yellow fluid, rich in protein, growth factors, and immune factors. It is secreted by the mammary glands of all female mammals during the first few days of lactation. It also contains essential nutrients and protease inhibitors that keep it from being destroyed by the processes of digestion. Humans produce relatively small amounts of colostrum in the first two days after giving birth, but cows produce about 9 gallons (36 L) of colostrum. Bovine colostrum can be transferred to all other mammals, and is four times richer in immune factors than human colostrum.
Although colostrum has received widespread attention as a dietary supplement only since the late 1990s, it has a lengthy history of medicinal use. Ayurvedic physicians in India have used colostrum as a treatment for thousands of years. In the United States, mainstream medical practitioners recommended colostrum as a natural antibiotic before the discovery of penicillin and sulfa drugs. In the 1950s, colostrum was used to treat rheumatoid arthritis(RA). Dr. Albert Sabin, the researcher who developed the first oral vaccine for poliomyelitis, found that colostrum contains antibodies against polio. He recommended colostrum as a dietary supplement for children who were vulnerable to polio.
The major components of colostrum include the following substances:
Immunoglobulins. Immunoglobulins are globulin proteins that function as antibodies. They are the most plentiful immune factors found in colostrum. Immunoglobulin G (IgG) counteracts bacteria and toxins in the blood and lymphatic system; immunoglobulin M (IgM) seeks out and attaches itself to viruses in the circulatory system; immunoglobulins D and E (IgD and IdE) remove foreign substances from the bloodstream and activate allergic reactions. High-quality colostrum is certified to contain a minmum of 16% immunoglobulins.
Lactoferrin. Lactoferrin is a protein that transports iron to red blood cells and helps to deprive viruses and harmful bacteria of iron.
Proline-rich polypeptide (PRP). PRP is a hormone that regulates the thymus gland, helping to calm a hyperactive immune system or stimulate an underactive immune system.
Growth factors. The growth factors in bovine colostrum include insulin-like growth factors (IgF-1 and IgF-2), an epithelial growth factor (EgF), transforming growth factors (TgF-A and TgF-B), and a platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF). Growth factors stimulate normal growth as well as the healing and repair of aged or injured skin, muscle, and other tissues. In addition, growth factors help the body to burn fat instead of muscle for fuel when a person is dieting or fasting.
Growth hormone. Growth hormone slows some of the signs of aging.
Leukocytes. Leukocytes are white cells that stimulate production of interferon, a protein that inhibits viruses from reproducing.
Enzymes. Colostrum contains three enzymes that oxidize bacteria.
Cytokines and lymphokines. These are substances that regulate the body's immune response, stimulate the production of immunoglobulins, and affect cell growth and repair.
Vitamins. Colostrum contains small amounts of vitamins A, B12, and E.
Glycoproteins. Glycoproteins, or protease inhibitors, are complex proteins that protect immune factors and growth factors from being broken down by the acids in the digestive tract.
Sulfur. Sulfur is a mineral that is an important building block of proteins.
Colostrum is presently used to treat a variety of diseases and disorders. Applications that have been investigated in clinical trials include the following:
Bacterial and viral infections
A number of recent clinical studies have shown that colostrum is effective in reversing the inflammation of the digestive tract in HIV/AIDS patients caused by opportunistic infections. The antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties of colostrum enable it to kill such pathogens as E. coli, Candida albicans, rotaviruses, and Cryptosporidium.
In 1980, a British researcher showed that a large proportion of the antibodies and immunoglobulins in colostrum are not absorbed by the body but remain in the digestive tract. There they attack food- and water-borne organisms that cause disease. More recent clinical studies have demonstrated that colostrum is effective in preventing intestinal infections by first keeping the bacteria from attaching themselves to the intestinal wall, and secondly by killing the bacteria themselves. Colostrum has proved to be capable of killing Campylobacter, Helicobacter pylori, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigellosis, and five types of streptococci.
Allergies and autoimmune diseases
The PRP in colostrum has been demonstrated to reduce or eliminate the pain, swelling, and inflammation associated with allergies and autoimmune diseases (multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, myasthenia gravis). Many autistic individuals test positive for autoimmune disorders and colostrum can help to regulate this dysfunction. These effects are related to PRP's ability to inhibit the overproduction of lymphocytes (white blood cells) and T-cells.
Formulation and dosage
Colostrum is presently available in a variety of forms, including tablets, liquids, powders, and encapsulated powders. In general, the powdered forms are recommended as preferable to liquids or tablets, on the grounds that liquid colostrum has a short shelf life and the processing necessary to produce tablets destroys much of colostrum's biological activity.
The recommended dose for adults with disease symptoms is 1,000-2,000 mg of powdered colostrum in capsules, taken twice daily with 8-12 oz of water. Preventive doses are left to the patient's choice. Children can be given colostrum but require less than adults.
In the United States, colostrum is taken from dairy cows within 24 hours after the birth of a calf. Only dairy cows that meet USDA health standards and have been raised on a feed supplemented with nutrients are used to supply colostrum. The calf needs four gallons of the nine that the cow produces. The remaining five gallons are collected by a USDA-certified dairy. The colostrum is frozen and kept at a temperature of 17°F (-8.3°C). After the frozen colostrum is taken to a processing plant, it is carefully thawed and evaluated for quality and immunoglobulin content. About 30% is rejected at this stage. The fat is then removed from the remaining colostrum, after which the colostrum is spray-dried at low heat. The colostrum is repeatedly tested during processing for freedom from bacterial contamination.
Persons who are using colostrum as a dietary supplement in the United States should obtain it from a source licensed by the USDA.
With the exception of allergic reactions in persons who are known to be allergic to cow's milk, colostrum does not produce any major side effects at any level of consumption. Mild flu-like symptoms that disappear with continued use of colostrum have been reported in children.
No significant drug interactions between colostrum and standard pharmaceuticals have been reported.
Author/s: Rebecca Frey
Colostrum is available at Health Food Stores and is relatively inexpensive
Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D.
Center for the Study of Autism, Salem, Oregon