Bovine Colostrum Supplements Are Everywhere—But Are the Health Benefits Legit?

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Scroll through social media, and it won’t be long before you stumble on bovine colostrum supplements—the latest nutrition trend that’s making big claims and leaving us with even bigger questions.

Made from the milk-like substance secreted in late pregnancy and the first few days of breastfeeding, the liquid—normally reserved for infants and other baby mammals like calves—is now being touted as almost a magic bullet for adults. Companies claim a wide range of health benefits, from improving your skin to regulating digestion, and some even say it boosts your immunity and speeds up post-workout recovery. Sounds great, sure, but does the research follow in line? We asked nutrition and lactation experts to break it down.

What exactly is bovine colostrum, and why are people so into it now?

If you’re stuck on the fact that colostrum is a precursor to breast milk, let’s clear something up: The stuff you see at the store comes from cows, not humans. Mammals of all kinds produce colostrum to meet the nutrient and developmental demands of their offspring, Jennifer T. Smilowitz, PhD, lactation education counselor and assistant professor in the department of nutrition at University California, Davis, tells SELF. In most cases, it’s sold dried and in capsule form rather than as a liquid.

Colostrum is thicker and more concentrated than the milk that comes later. It’s especially rich in nutrients that reduce infection risks and gut inflammation in newborns, like prebiotics, as well as enzymes and proteins with antibacterial and antiviral properties, like lysozyme and lactoferrin, says Dr. Smilowitz. This is important, because at birth, an infant’s gut (both human and bovine) is slightly permeable, which can increase their risk of infection and inflammation. “So colostrum fed in the first few days of life helps fortify the gut,” she says.

More specifically, bovine colostrum also contains the same helpful nutrients in cows milk and more, says Harbstreet. That includes fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E, plus important minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Some, like IGF-1, which helps bones and tissue develop normally, exist in higher concentrations in the colostrum.

The fact that it’s great for gut health (albeit for infants) is a large part of the reason why it’s become such a wellness darling, Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, of Street Smart Nutrition, tells SELF. Scroll through social or stroll through a pharmacy aisle, and you can see that the focus on better digestion and regularity has never been stronger. Couple that with other claims like improving your workouts and your immune system—two other big ticket topics on a lot of folks’ minds right now—and it’s not hard to see why interest in the supplement is spiking.

Which brings us to: Do bovine colostrum supplements actually deliver?

There are actually two important questions here: One, do the bovine colostrum supplements on the market have all the beneficial factors as actual bovine colostrum? And two, do the benefits of colostrum extend past its intended audience (i.e, literal infants)?

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