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By Denise Elliot

Colostrum is the very first milk produced by all mammals. Bovine (cow) colostrum is collected within the first few hours after birth. Herds used for colostrum are under strict conditions to keep them at a high level of health, in a good state of hygiene and without any exposure to pesticides.

Ayurvedic (traditional Indian medicine) physicians have used bovine colostrum for thousands of years, particularly for gastrointestinal conditions. By the late 18th century western medicine started investigating the use of colostrum and since then it has been prescribed for many immune conditions. In the 20th century it was used for bacterial infections prior to the discovery of penicillin and other synthesized antibiotics. It was during this time that it was noted that antibody levels were much higher in the first milk than 72 hours later.

Early colostrum, produced immediately after birth, will provide a higher immunoglobulin (Ig) level. Immunoglobulins are a family of closely related proteins capable of acting as antibodies. IgG is the principal immunoglobulin in human serum. Human colostrum has been shown to be particularly high in immunoglobulins and bovine colostrum also has a similar profile, which is why bovine colostrum is sold commercially. The nutrient profile of colostrum contains more proteins than older milk, and is extremely rich in antibodies that offer passive immunity, it crosses the placental barrier which is important in producing immunity in the infant. It is the major antibody for viruses and bacteria, and may also activate the immune stimulating group of proteins called complement.

There is more than one clinical trial on the beneficial effects of colostrum on body composition and performance. It is commonly used by athletes to increase strength, lengthen endurance and shorten recovery time. Colostrum may help, as part of an exercise program to build lean muscle mass and burn body fat. It also may boost immunity which is definitely advantageous as after strenuous exercise it is common for your immunity to drop.

As a food supplement, anecdotal evidence has shown support for the respiratory system with allergies and hayfever improving. Many pharmacy hayfever sprays can have a rebound affect i.e. if you overuse it, it starts causing the same problems that you were originally trying to treat. By helping the immune system nutritionally it may help our body to repair itself.

In August 2013 the Department of Food and Nutrition, Mumbai, India presented an article - 'Colostrum - its composition and benefits as a nutraceutical'. They reported on strong support for the immune system and that Colostrum’s many growth factors offer a broad spectrum boost to the body to encourage positive health and healing by providing vital nutrients for tissue development.

Another study in 2002 in the Medical Science Sports Exercise Journal reported colostrum doses for two groups, at 20 grams and 60 grams daily. The colostrum provided a small but significant improvement in the cyclists’ performance.

Health benefits may be gained by both healthy individuals and those experiencing poor health by consuming colostrum as a food supplement.