Research Roundup 10 - colostrum

Nancy Scanlan, DVM, CVA

We know that colostrum is necessary to protect infants while their own immune systems are developing. The best colostrum for a species is the colostrum from their own mother. But what about using colostrum for cows, and why not use it for adult animals?

The argument against its use is based on the fact that an infant’s intestinal barrier is not fully developed at birth and allows the absorption of large molecules such as antibodies into the bloodstream. But this gateway shuts down within a few days. However, we all know colostrum is still useful at that time for intestinal disease, and colostrum from cows has general factors to boost immune effect, as well as antibodies specific for bacteria that many mammals share, such as E. coli and rotavirus. In addition, colostrum easily kills Helicobacter – perhaps this is why milk has long been recommended for people with ulcers (though Helicobacter was not recognized as the cause until relatively recently).

One of the benefits of using colostrum instead of antibiotics for intestinal infection is that beneficial bacteria are not harmed or reduced in number, and it does not damage the liver and kidney like some antibiotics do. It also decreases the chance that the infection will come back again. Depending on the specific problem, it can be helpful in preventing specific intestinal infections, and can be used instead of low-level antibiotics (which are being phased out) in animals raised for meat. This benefit has been seen in humans and in other animals in addition to cattle.

Studies have shown its effects in helping prevent and/or treat other types of bacterial and viral infections also. Humans undergoing the stress of exercise training tend to have a high incidence of upper respiratory disease, which spreads quickly through any group training together. Colostrum from cows helped prevent upper respiratory diseases and decreased their length and severity of symptoms.

There have also been tests where dairy cattle have been immunized with specific disease bacteria that are especially problematic. Colostrum from those cows have been useful in preventing and treating other animals and people with those diseases.

In humans who were at risk of shock from toxins created by disease-causing bacteria in the intestines, colostrum was successful in preventing toxic shock. It acted by stopping the absorption of toxins, and by decreasing compounds that are associated with inflammation, such as IL-6 and CRP. Colostrum has also been tested as an antiseptic. Colostrum can kill HIV when applied directly on surfaces in the environment.
The benefits are striking enough that companies are looking at using colostrum as a functional food, to help maintain health.

(To see the references, and an article about Honey Guides see our HOPE newsletter.)