Colostrum Supplements Are All The Rage — But Read This Before Buying Them

Colostrum generally comes in capsules or in a powdered form that's mixed into your choice of beverage.

With promises to speed up your metabolism, improve your hair and aid your gut health, it’s easy to see why colostrum supplements are the latest wellness fad.

Colostrum is the early milk that mammals produce after having offspring, according to Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, the national medical director at One Medical. Colostrum is rich in antibodies, fats, proteins and nutrients, and it gives babies and calves passive immunity because they don’t yet have a developed immune system of their own, Bhuyan explained. Typically, birthing parents, whether they’re humans, cows or other mammals, naturally produce colostrum after giving birth. The internet’s current obsession is over bovine colostrum, which comes from cows.

Colostrum supplements also claim to do a lot for adults without newborns: In addition to promises around metabolism and gut health, they’re said to improve focus, immunity, skin, nails and energy levels. As a result, these supplements are gaining popularity from influencers and celebrities touting their purported benefits.

As with most wellness products, it’s hard to tell by simple social media ads what’s real versus what’s too good to be true. Below, experts share their thoughts on the big promises of bovine colostrum supplements.

Colostrum supplements have been shown to improve 1 aspect of gut health.

“I think the biggest benefits we see is, if someone has diarrhea and they take bovine colostrum, it can help shorten the duration of their diarrhea,” Bhuyan said.

When you have diarrhea, it’s likely that your gut microbiome is out of sorts, and taking bovine colostrum can help get the microbiome back in sync, Bhuyan said.

Amanda Beaver, a wellness dietitian at Houston Methodist Wellness Services, said that diarrheal benefits specifically have been seen in people with HIV and AIDS, in addition to kids and folks who have diarrhea from a foodborne illness.

But the gastrointestinal benefits beyond this are unknown. “We don’t really have a ton of evidence for that more general symptom, maybe that person in their 20s or 30s who experiences bloating or diarrhea or constipation,” Beaver said.

While there may be additional GI benefits, “more research is needed here to apply to the general population,” Joanna Gregg, an in-house registered dietitian at MyFitnessPal, told HuffPost via email.

Colostrum could boost immunity, but more research is needed.

There have been colostrum studies on athletes who do lots of intense training, and these show that it could be beneficial for immunity, Beaver noted. “Heavy training is associated with a little bit of immune system suppression, and so that’s why colostrum is believed to be helpful for athletes who are doing heavy training,” she said.

Some research has found that people who regularly consumed bovine colostrum had fewer respiratory infections than those who did not. However, there are big caveats with this, according to Bhuyan.

“It wasn’t reproducible in multiple studies,” Bhuyan explained. “In some studies they have less infections, and in other studies the infection rate was the same.” So, this evidence isn’t strong.

There’s no evidence that it speeds up metabolism, or helps with weight loss or endurance.

“Bovine colostrum is one of the latest fad supplements to go viral on social media for its supposed health benefits, namely boosting metabolism [and] ultimately contributing to weight loss,” Gregg said. “However, there is no scientific research to support this claim.”

“Metabolism is largely determined by a person’s genetics,” she said. In other words, it’s not something that can be changed with a colostrum supplement.

Additionally, while athletes on social media claim that bovine colostrum helps with their endurance, “the research shows that the average adult likely won’t notice a difference from working out after taking bovine colostrum,” Bhuyan said.

As for other health promises, there isn’t enough evidence to support them.

Though bovine colostrum supplements also promise things like better focus and energy levels, in addition to hair and skin benefits, more research would be needed for those to be proved.

“Right now, I think the issue is we just don’t have compelling research studies that are showing that they have a benefit,” Bhuyan said. “There might be a benefit; we just don’t have research studies that are proving that there is a benefit, especially in large-scale studies of humans.”

Anna Efetova via Getty Images

Colostrum generally comes in capsules or in a powdered form that’s mixed into your choice of beverage.

Further muddying the waters, there are dosage discrepancies.

According to Beaver, “across all the different studies that we see, there’s a lot of huge differences in the dose that’s taken, the duration that it’s taken for and then how frequently during the day it’s taken.”

This, she said, makes it hard to draw meaningful conclusions and give actual dosage recommendations.

“To give you a little bit of an example, many of the studies that have been done have been on pretty big doses, like 10 or 20 grams for adults, whereas a lot of the supplements are more around 2 grams, 1,000 milligrams or 1 gram,” Beaver said. There’s a huge difference between the amounts of colostrum taken by people in the studies and what folks get from colostrum supplements at home.

“There’s not enough evidence that these smaller doses lead to these same benefits that we see in some of the studies that have been done on athletes, for example,” Beaver said.

Additionally, Bhuyan said that there are two different types of colostrum: hyperimmune colostrum, which comes from cows that got various vaccines and developed lots of antibodies as a result, and regular colostrum, which comes from cows that just got standard vaccines.

“Both of those types of colostrum are different,” Bhuyan explained. “And so when people are actually buying colostrum supplements, the supplement industry is not regulated” — meaning it’s unknown if the colostrum is from regular or hyperimmune cows, she said. This is important because the research done on hyperimmune colostrum would not apply to regular colostrum.

“Keep in mind that there is very little regulation and monitoring of complementary and alternative supplement products,” Jamie Foley, a clinical dietitian with the Stanford Digestive Health Center, told HuffPost via email.

If you decide to try a colostrum supplement, or any new supplement, Foley suggested that you talk about it with your medical provider. “I would also encourage caution in the use of bovine colostrum for those with an allergy to cows milk,” Foley added.

To ensure that the product you’re taking is safe, it’s a good idea to shop for items that are third-party verified. Third-party verification groups “test for purity [and] for potency to basically say … is your label reflective of what’s actually in the supplement that you’re providing?” Dr. Jordan Hilgefort, a sports medicine and family medicine doctor at the University of Louisville Health in Kentucky, previously told HuffPost. You can find third-party verified products by searching the NSF’s database for certified dietary supplements.

Overall, experts say these supplements are a waste of money.

Like most other supplements, colostrum is not cheap ― and without benefits that are proven across the board, it likely isn’t worth your money.

“When we’ve done studies on bovine colostrum in humans, it’s shown that the benefits are likely being overhyped,” Bhuyan said.

Cows have antibodies for cow infections, not human infections. Those infections can be similar sometimes, but not too often, Bhuyan said. Additionally, the colostrum you’re taking is likely processed.

“People aren’t just getting pure colostrum from a cow. It’s often in pill form or powder form,” Bhuyan said. “And so in that processing sequence, it’s likely losing a lot of the nutritional and antibody benefits.”

Beaver said that although she’s excited about some of the gastrointestinal research that’s coming out of the field, it’s too soon to rely on companies’ colostrum supplements for your health needs.

“Ultimately, all these different supplements are out here to make a profit … so, it’s going to sound really good on their website,” Beaver said. “But they’re trying to play to our weaknesses and to our symptoms that we’re experiencing to try to get us to purchase their product.”

Bhuyan noted that there are other ways to boost your immunity and improve your athletic endurance, such as eating nutritious foods, exercising and following a healthy lifestyle. And talking with a gastroenterologist is the best way to receive gut health guidance, not looking to influencers on social media.

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