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Are Trendy Colostrum Supplements Worth the Hype?

March 1, 2024

There seem to always be new supplements popping up on social media, each one touted as the antidote to any manner of health woes, from bloating to a weakened immune system. These days, it’s impossible to escape beaming influencers holding up jars of a surprising new supplement: colostrum. If you’ve heard about this supposedly life-changing powder and are curious about whether you should invest in a jar, we spoke to registered dieticians and dug into the science to find out what colostrum supplements are all about. 

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What is a colostrum supplement?

Colostrum is the first breast milk that mammals produce immediately after giving birth. It’s thicker and more nutrient-dense than the regular breast milk that follows. Colostrum is higher in certain antibodies that help build a baby’s immune system. It also has white blood cells and proteins that aid in cell development.

Though humans produce colostrum, the kind that’s been turned into powder for supplementation comes largely from cows. Much like the human version, bovine colostrum “has more essential nutrients than milk, such as protein, fats, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, and vitamins A, C, and E,” says dietitian Eva De Angelis

Are there health benefits to colostrum supplements?

Producers of colostrum supplements tout benefits including a stronger immune system and healthier gut, a more active metabolism, better sleep and energy, and even glowing skin. They claim that the benefits come from certain antibodies, amino acids, minerals, antioxidants, and immunoglobulins in colostrum. 

So, is there evidence to support these claims? “When it comes to evidence-based health effects, things are a bit inconclusive,” De Angelis notes.

“A systematic review from 2020 of 15 studies on health benefits such as changes in body composition, bone mineral density, and biochemical markers, found that these were not objective health benefits of colostrum supplementation in adults,” she says.

A 2017 study looked at the effect of colostrum supplementation on 16 athletes with diarrhea caused by high intestinal permeability, a common complaint among endurance athletes. The study showed that colostrum improved intestinal health over 20 days in a statistically significant way. Of course, it’s important to note the small sample size in this study (only 8 participants took colostrum, the others took a placebo), and the fact that the subjects were all athletes. 

Other studies on small, largely homogenous samples suggest that colostrum “may be beneficial for men who are at risk for upper respiratory illnesses and older adults in exercise recovery and immune systems,” says dietitian Jonathan Valdez. For now, though, most RDs and scientists who study colostrum agree that the data is too limited to make concrete claims about the benefits of supplementation, especially given the high cost of supplements currently on the market. 

Are there other ways to experience the benefits of colostrum?

Colostrum supplements can be expensive, but the good news is that adding a new powder to your daily routine isn’t the only way to reap the desired benefits. De Angelis recommends eating more nutrient-rich foods, “which are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.” She points to fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains as well as fermented foods.

How to choose a colostrum supplement

If you want to try colostrum to see for yourself if you can reap the purported benefits, De Angelis has a few recommendations before you shop. First, she warns that “depending on the quality of the supplement and how the cows were raised, it may contain antibiotics, pesticides, or synthetic hormones.” It’s important to choose colostrum (or really any supplement) that’s been third-party tested. You’ll also want to rule out the presence of heavy metals and fillers that bulk up the product without contributing any health benefits. 

Who should not take colostrum?

If you have a dairy allergy, steer clear of colostrum. Also, if you’re allergic to soy, check the label, as it’s a common additive in colostrum supplements, De Angelis warns. She also notes that “there is no sufficient evidence of the safety of these supplements for pregnant or breastfeeding women.”

Read next: Creatine Is Trending: Here’s What You Need to Know

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