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Colostrum Benefits: The Gut-Healing, Immune-Boosting Properties You've Never Heard About

Natalia Hailes
March 21, 2018
Natalia Hailes
Certified Birth Doula
By Natalia Hailes
Certified Birth Doula
Natalia Hailes is a DONA International certified birth doula and lactation specialist. She’s the co-founder of allbodies, a digital platform for modern health education, and the co-author of Why Did No One Tell Me This?
Photo by MaaHoo Studio
March 21, 2018

Colostrum, the first milk that our bodies produce during pregnancy and immediately after giving birth, is often called Liquid Gold. It’s a perfect compound that helps babies survive and thrive during their first days of life. It’s produced by all mammals and needed for animals to develop a healthy gut and strong immune system. But what exactly is this precious milk that saves babies lives, and why is it such a big deal? Why are some people taking bovine colostrum supplements, and is it true that it can enhance an athlete’s performance and even cure a leaky gut?

What are the benefits of colostrum?

Colostrum, which is a thick, creamy and yellowish liquid, is naturally produced (hormonally driven) by most pregnant people starting in mid-pregnancy (12-18 weeks) and then continually produced for the first few days (0-5) after the baby is born.

Eventually, about 30 to 40 hrs after childbirth, the progesterone levels drop and the levels of prolactin go up, which in turn makes our body change the colostrum into breastmilk - a more thin and watery liquid. Around day 3-5 most people start feeling the milk come in (transitioning fully from colostrum to mature milk), and eventually milk production becomes a matter of supply and demand, the more you breastfeed the more milk you’ll produce.

Colostrum is a complex compound mainly made of protein, sugar, fats, and immune factors. It is packed full of goodies such as antibodies, leukocytes (protective white cells), vitamins A and K, proteins (three times more than breast milk!) and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. It is also rich in minerals and low in carbohydrates. It plays a huge role in the baby’s gastrointestinal tract1, essentially coating it to prevent foreign substances from penetrating.

Some of the other benefits include antibodies that protect the baby’s mucus membranes (which are more likely to be under attack), white blood cells that destroy disease and bacteria, vitamin K that protects against bleeding, vitamin A that helps vision, and proteins that help maintain good blood sugar levels.

Since colostrum is so rich in benefits, our bodies don’t actually need to produce much. Plus, a newborn’s stomach is about the size of a marble, so they need to eat only about a teaspoon of colostrum during each feed (5 to 7 mL). Though they need to eat very often—every two to three hours or sometimes even more frequently (hello, sleep-deprived new parents; we see you!)

Newborn babies naturally lose weight after childbirth (about 5 to 7 percent of their birth weight in the first few days), which is why many people believe that it is important to supplement feedings while the mature milk comes in. And while there are certainly instances when supplementation is needed, in most cases, as long as the baby is feeding often and not at risk (low birth weight, premature birth, jaundice, etc.), the colostrum should be more than enough nourishment for the baby to thrive and adjust. In fact, colostrum is particularly important for preterm babies, who have been shown to2 have significantly better health outcomes when they receive their parent’s colostrum.

Given all these benefits, it is not surprising that we’ve been experimenting with using bovine colostrum (colostrum from cows) to heal different gut-related issues in adults. Research has shown particularly positive benefits as it relates to restoring a leaky gut lining3, preventing diarrhea, and combating gut pathogens like E. coli4. Bovine colostrum can also help restore the damage caused by anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs5 and even facilitate growth of intestinal villi, which can enable the restoration of the intestinal wall6 by repairing barriers that are either permeable or impermeable (thus not allowing proper intestinal function). It basically can help repair the damage caused by food allergies and indigestion and reset your digestive system, thereby boosting your immune system.

Some people claim bovine colostrum can also help enhance athletic performance7. The science around this is still inconclusive; some small studies see improved performance after colostrum supplementation (mainly due to increased gut stability) while others don’t see a significant difference. Despite this, it is being used increasingly by athletes around the world with lots of anecdotal positive feedback. If you’re thinking about using bovine colostrum supplementation, it’s always good to check in with your doctor to find out if it’s the right option for you.

All in all, it’s pretty mind-blowing to know our bodies can produce such magic, to nurture our babies and set them up with a happy gut and a healthy future.

Here are the pros and cons of using colostrum powder as an adult, and a 101 guide to bovine colostrum.