What is colostrum?
Colostrum, also known as first milk, is a special form of breast milk that mammals produce only during the first few days of breastfeeding. This first milk differs from ordinary breast milk by the highly concentrated ingredients it contains. In fact, in addition to the usual nutrients, colostrum contains a number of bioactive substances such as antibodies, growth factors and enzymes (Menchetti et al. 2016).
Immunoglobulins (better known as antibodies) can recognize and bind to foreign bodies such as bacteria or viruses. Therefore, they are an important part of the immune system. Maternal immunoglobulins protect the newborn from pathogens in the first days of life until the child can produce its own antibodies. The specificity of maternal antibodies depends on how many pathogens the mother has previously come in contact with. Colostrum of bovine origin (so-called “bovine colostrum”) is similar to human colostrum (Menchetti et al. 2011), but differs in antibody composition (Stelvagen et al. 2009).
Colostrum as an “immune booster”?
Beef colostrum supplements are advertised as “natural boosters of the immune system.” Since colostrum is the first food of every newborn, many advocates refer to the “elemental force of nature” and see colostrum as a cocktail of immune cells that promote health.
Colostrum acts as an antibiotic against flu and gastrointestinal infections and slows the progression of diabetes, cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. The body would absorb bioactive substances and could fight the infection better.
Colostrum against gastrointestinal infections
As for the gastrointestinal tract, older studies have shown that colostrum taken orally can be effective in prevention (Huppertz et al. 1999, Kaducu 2011). This may be explained by the fact that antibodies to colostrum bind pathogens in the digestive tract and prevent them from entering intestinal cells. In addition, antibodies from bovine colostrum are sometimes specific for typical gastrointestinal pathogens (e.g., E. coli, salmonella, or rotaviruses) because cows come in contact with them as humans.
Most data on the prevention of gastrointestinal infections exist for newborns. This is probably because their digestive system is not yet fully developed. In this way, antibodies to colostrum remain undigested and intact (Ng et al. 2010). In addition, the intestinal wall of adults (but not infants) is impermeable to antibodies. Therefore, in adults, they cannot enter the bloodstream or other organs at all. To prevent stomach acid from breaking down antibodies to colostrum, colostrum capsules are occasionally coated with an enteric coating. This reduces the breakdown of antibodies in the stomach, but at the same time reduces their concentration in the intestines (Tacket et al. 1999, Varni et al. 1999).
Does colostrum work against the flu and corona viruses?
Colostrum is often portrayed in marketing as a “vaccine for life.” It is sometimes even suggested that colostrum can protect against all types of viruses (including corona viruses) and will therefore replace influenza vaccination. From the examination of mice, there are indications of positive effects of colostrum components on influenza infections (Ksu et al. 2013). But that has not been confirmed in any human study so far. And there aren’t even published studies in mice on the effect of colostrum on coronary viruses.
Colostrum against respiratory infections
As older studies show, oral intake of colostrum can reduce the incidence of colds and respiratory infections (Patiroglu et al. 2011; Cesarone et al. 2007; Brinkworth and Buckley 2003). On the other hand, the duration and severity of the infection are also affected.