Can Adults Truly Benefit From Taking Colostrum?

Find out whether claims surrounding the supplement check out.

by Renee Cherry
colostrum benefits

As far as supplements go, colostrum can seem like an odd choice. While you may not think twice about taking, say, vitamin D or iron, consuming a substance associated with breast milk might be another story. Yep, you read that right. “Colostrum is a milky fluid released by mammals, such as humans and cows, who have recently given birth before breast milk is released,” explains dietitian and author Jessica Cording, creator of the Drama-Free Healthy Living podcast. (Most adult colostrum supplements contain bovine colostrum, which is sourced from cows.)

You may already be aware that consuming colostrum can establish a healthy gut in newborns, and babies who are breastfed can reap the benefits during the initial stage of breastfeeding. What’s more, the liquid also contains important nutrients, including antibodies (proteins that fight infections and bacteria), as well as vitamins D and E. “Colostrum contains myriad vitamins, minerals, proteins, anti-inflammatory cytokines, and molecules that aid healing,” says Dr. Henri Roca, primary care physician and functional medicine specialist at PALM Health.

With all these good-for-you elements, it’s no wonder adults are starting to get on board the colostrum train — or, rather, returning to it. In fact, the hashtag #colostrum has received more than 269.1 million views on TikTok, indicating a heavy interest in the topic. If you arrived here thanks to your own curiosity about the supplement’s purported gut and immune benefits, consider this your crash course.


Colostrum Benefits

The concept of taking colostrum later in life is a relatively recent development. “While it’s long been known that colostrum is very nourishing to newborn human babies and newborn mammals, it’s only more recently that it’s begun to gain popularity as a dietary supplement for adults,” Cording confirms. It is reported to boost the effectiveness of the immune system, especially in the gut, and it’s safe for most people to take, says Roca.

“For humans, immunity is almost always developed by exposure to a disease-causing agent like a bacteria or virus or a specific protein belonging to disease-causing agents like those delivered via vaccines,” he says. “Developing this immunity takes time. Colostrum contains antibodies and proteins called transfer factors that have already been developed by [the source] and can be ‘transferred’ to the recipient.”

To be clear, the makeup of human and bovine colostrum differ somewhat. For example, human colostrum is richer in the protein lactoferrin and the antibody IgA, but bovine colostrum is richer in the antibodies IgG and IgM, according to a 2020 article published in Frontiers in Pharmacology. (If you’re wondering, your body produces IgM right after you’re exposed to germs, and they are the first line of defense against infection. As for IgG antibodies, they are important for fighting repeated bacterial and viral infections as they help “remember” germs you’ve been exposed to before.)

With that in mind, taking bovine colostrum supplements might boost your body’s ability to fight off or tolerate organisms that would otherwise cause symptoms, says Roca. “Most usually the illnesses would be gut related — for example, antibiotic-related dysbiosis, bacterial overgrowth, or intestinal inflammation,” he says.

“Significant research” backs the potential benefits of colostrum, says Roca. A 2021 review published in the journal Nutrients highlighted animal and human studies supporting bovine colostrum benefits for gut health and immune function, concluding that colostrum has “relevance across all age groups.” For instance, it contains proteins that may function as prebiotics, feeding beneficial bacteria in the gut, and contains antibodies that can prevent pathogens from binding to cells and infecting the body, according to the authors.

While gut health and immune perks can be helpful to anyone, athletes in particular may benefit most from colostrum, since repeatedly putting yourself through physical stress can increase the permeability of your intestinal barrier, says functional medicine specialist Dr. Elliot Dinetz. When your gut is too permeable, inflammatory particles can enter your body’s circulation and overwhelm your immune system, says Dinetz.

Disadvantages Of Colostrum

Since colostrum supplements are typically sourced from cows, they’re best avoided if you have dairy allergies or are vegan. Some supplements also contain soy, another common allergen, notes Cording.

Price is another downside of colostrum supplements. “Colostrum tends to be expensive, and there are many other more cost-effective ways to support healthy immune system function and digestive health, such as eating a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables,” says Cording. Prioritizing restful sleep and managing stress are also helpful, she notes.

Additional disadvantages may come into play if you’re not choosing a high-quality supplement that contains a standardized, effective dosage, says Dinetz. While it’s still unclear what the ideal dosage is, most human trials have included people who took 10 to 20 grams of colostrum per day, according to a 2021 article in the journal Nutrients.


Choosing The Best Colostrum Supplement

If you want to try colostrum supplements, you can have your pick of capsules, soft chews, or powders that you can add to drinks, in flavored or unflavored varieties. Whichever format you decide to go with, it pays to do your research to make sure you’re shopping from a brand that emphasizes quality.

“When shopping for colostrum, one thing to consider is that depending on how the cows were raised, there is a possibility for exposure to antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones, and pesticides, so look for products from reputable brands that are third-party tested,” says Cording. Supplement brands sometimes share the lab results of their testing on their websites as proof that their products contain the labeled dosage and are uncontaminated.

“Products that have the Good Manufacturing Seal (GMP) approval from the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) are generally thought to be of high quality,” adds Roca. “Check to see if Consumer Labs has tested the product and found that it actually does contain what is listed on its label.”

Selecting and taking a colostrum supplement may be worthwhile, as gut and immune health are of universal importance. At the same time, it’s not a necessity. “Big picture,” says Cording, “what I would tell someone about colostrum as a supplement is that while some research in humans does suggest it may provide some health benefits, you certainly don’t need to take it to be healthy.”


Jessica Cording, dietitian, author, and creator of the Drama-Free Healthy Living podcast

Dr. Elliot Dinetz, functional medicine specialist

Dr. Henri Roca, primary care physician and functional medicine specialist at PALM Health

Studies referenced:

Bagwe Parab, Siddhi & Yadav, Pratik & Kaur, Ginpreet & Tuli, Hardeep Singh & Buttar, Harpal. (2020). Therapeutic Applications of Human and Bovine Colostrum in the Treatment of Gastrointestinal Diseases and Distinctive Cancer Types: The Current Evidence. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 11. 1-12. 10.3389/fphar.2020.01100.

Playford RJ, Weiser MJ. Bovine Colostrum: Its Constituents and Uses. Nutrients. 2021 Jan 18;13(1):265. doi: 10.3390/nu13010265. PMID: 33477653; PMCID: PMC7831509. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7831509/