All mammals nurse their young, feeding them milk produced in their mammary glands. Before the “true” milk itself is produced, however, another fluid called colostrum is provided. It is rich in nutrients as well as various growth factors; it is anti-bacterial and anti-viral, and is important to the development of the newborn’s immune system.
According to Dr. Lauren Bramley, colostrum is the world’s best superfood. Today, various kinds of powdered or prepared colostrum can be purchased on Amazon.com and elsewhere, and it has occasionally been the subject of research for medical uses. Even so, this was not always the case. The La Leche League was only founded in 1956 and most mothers even in the 1970s were still bottle-feeding.
You may find some of these studies on the benefit of human colostrum interesting:
- Shortridge 1970: This is a study on human colostrum, finding that just before birth the colostrum shows a dramatic increase in “non-specific inhibitor of influenza virus.”
- Shortridge 1976: There was a 4-to 32-fold increase in the influenza inhibitor in human colostrum just before birth – whether it was a natural or an induced birth.
- Shortridge 1977: Viral inhibitors in human colostrum include rubella, encephalitis, influenza, and dengue. The author says infant mortality rose in rural China when breastfeeding declined.
- Shortridge 1990: “The incidence of infectious disease is markedly reduced in breast-fed compared with formula-fed infants.”
Next, scientists began to study colostrum of cows and other mammals with the idea that it may be useful for human medical treatment:
- Biswas 2007: “BC (Bovine Colostrum) could also represent an inexpensive therapeutic tool in prevention and treatment of several human microbial infections, including influenza.”
- Cesarone 2007: “Colostrum,both in healthy subjects and high-risk cardiovascular patients, is at least 3 times more effective than vaccination to prevent flu and is very cost-effective.”
- Uchida 2012: They showed that drinking colostrum “activates not only systemic cellular immunity but also local cellular immunity, such as in the respiratory tract, and … is one of the mechanisms of amelioration of Flu infection.”
- Uruakpa 2002: In this review, the authors claim that not only can bovine (cow) colostrum improve immunity, but can treat or prevent infections of the gastrointestinal tract. Moreover, it is the only natural source of two major growth factors for muscle and cartilage repair, making it potentially useful for wound healing in trauma and surgical patients.
- Wong 2014: Colostrum increases natural killer (NK) cells. Mice were given colostrum before and after infection with influenza A virus (H1N1). Colostrum-supplemented mice were less sick than the others.
- Xu 2013: This was a study of the acidic protein fraction of bovine colostrum (AFC). One group of mice was given AFC for 14 days, and the other was given saline. Then both groups were infected with a heavy dose of the influenza A virus. 100% of the AFC mice survived, while only 33% of the ones getting saline survived .
Not willing to leave well enough alone, of course, attempts have been made to create a more potent or “hyperimmune” colostrum by first vaccinating the cows. Here are some studies related to this (ongoing) effort:
- Esfandiari 2018: They wanted to see if colostrum could be engineered as an antibody source because of a lack of vaccine production against the H5N1 bird flu in Indonesia. Intending the cows to be a “biological factory,” dry cows were repeatedly vaccinated against the H5N1, and then tested for the H5N1 antibody in their blood. Four out of seven cows succeeded, and were expected to transfer it later to their colostrum.
- Ng 2010: Specific antibody from hyperimmune (vaccinated) bovine colostrum could allow production of a substitute for antiviral drugs to control influenza withthe advantage of not requiring daily administration.
Lastly, this study should stand as a warning not to mess with Mother Nature:
- Kasonta 2014: In 2006, a new haemorrhagic syndrome called BNP affected newborn calves in southern Germany. The calves suffered severe bleeding, bone marrow destruction, and death. The syndrome is caused by colostrum from cows vaccinated with one particular vaccine against Bovine-Viral-Diarrhoea-Virus. This study shows that the antibodies do cross-react with human lymphocytes in vitro. Although it is not believed to cause severe symptoms in humans, “manufacturers of bovine colostrum for human consumption should consider using only colostrum from animals that have not been exposed to the vaccine associated with BNP.”
The last question to be considered might be: Is colostrum helpful in preventing or treating Covid-19?
We don’t know. I have not (yet) found any published papers considering it. I am, however, taking it myself. (At least, maybe I won’t get the flu.) Actually, I chose a goat milk colostrum that appears to be from a good source, but I am not selling it nor do I have any financial interest in any colostrum manufacturer. There are quite a few sources on Amazon, but make sure you read the reviews, at least, and feel free to comment below if you have any suggestions or good finds.
ADDED: October 28, 2022: There have been some efforts to give pregnant cows Covid, so that their colostrum will contain antibodies. That may be one direction, but in another one, it seems regular colostrum (the kind you can buy yourself without a prescription) can prevent and/or treat the dreaded cytokine storm. See Sly, Braun & Woodcock (2020): COVID-19: Cytokine storm modulation/blockade with oral polyvalent immunoglobulins (PVIG, KMP01D): A potential and safe therapeutic agent
Here is a list of studies related to the above discussion, with links to their full texts when available. Feel free to share this page and/or this list as you wish.