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Colostrum

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Updated June 27, 2013

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Bovine colostrum (often simply referred to as "colostrum") is a type of milk secreted by cows within the first few days of giving birth. Available as a dietary supplement, colostrum is rich in antibacterial compounds and proteins known to stimulate the immune system. Proponents claim that colostrum offers a number of health benefits, including treatment of colitis, diarrhea, and infections. Colostrum is also said to improve immunity, as well as enhance athletic performance.

Benefits of Colostrum

To date, few studies have tested colostrum's effects on human health. Here's a look at a few key findings from the available research:

1) Gastrointestinal Problems

Colostrum may help prevent gastrointestinal issues caused by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs, a class of medicines often used for pain relief). In a small study published in 2001, researchers found that colostrum helped protect against gastrointestinal damage induced by long-term use of indomethacin (an NSAID typically used to treat osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis).

2) Exercise Performance

Several studies suggest that colostrum supplements may improve exercise performance. For a study published in 2001, scientists assigned a group of active men and women to eight weeks of treatment with either colostrum or whey protein. During the treatment period, each subject participated in aerobic exercise and heavy-resistance training at least three times per week. Study results showed that members of the colostrum group had a significant increase in lean body mass, while members of the whey protein group had a significant increase in body weight.

In a 2009 review of research on colostrum and exercise performance, investigators determined that taking colostrum supplements is most effective during periods of high-intensity training and recovery from high-intensity training.

3) Flu

Colostrum may aid in flu prevention, according to a small study published in 2007. Among study participants who took colostrum supplements for two months, the number of days with flu was three times lower than it was among participants not given colostrum supplements.

Since research on colostrum's flu-fighting effects is very limited, it's crucial not to rely solely on colostrum in prevention of the flu. In order to reduce your flu risk, make sure to wash your hands frequently and boost your immune system by following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting sufficient sleep. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control Prevention states that everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccine each year.

Using Colostrum Supplements

Due to the lack of science behind colostrum supplements, this remedy cannot currently be recommended for treatment or prevention of any condition. Although colostrum is generally considered safe, little is known about the long-term effects of taking colostrum supplements. If you're considering the use of colostrum supplements for a specific health problem, make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen.

Sources:

Antonio J, Sanders MS, Van Gammeren D. "The effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in active men and women." Nutrition. 2001 Mar;17(3):243-7.

Cesarone MR, Belcaro G, Di Renzo A, Dugall M, Cacchio M, Ruffini I, Pellegrini L, Del Boccio G, Fano F, Ledda A, Bottari A, Ricci A, Stuard S, Vinciguerra G. "Prevention of influenza episodes with colostrum compared with vaccination in healthy and high-risk cardiovascular subjects: the epidemiologic study in San Valentino." Clin Appl Thromb Hemost. 2007 Apr;13(2):130-6.

Playford RJ, MacDonald CE, Calnan DP, Floyd DN, Podas T, Johnson W, Wicks AC, Bashir O, Marchbank T. "Co-administration of the health food supplement, bovine colostrum, reduces the acute non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug-induced increase in intestinal permeability." Clin Sci (Lond). 2001 Jun;100(6):627-33.

Shing CM, Hunter DC, Stevenson LM. "Bovine colostrum supplementation and exercise performance: potential mechanisms." Sports Med. 2009;39(12):1033-54. doi: 10.2165/11317860-000000000-00000.

Struff WG, Sprotte G. "Bovine colostrum as a biologic in clinical medicine: a review--Part II: clinical studies." Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2008 May;46(5):211-25.

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