Some of you might be thinking, “Wait what!? The stuff produced in mother’s milk. That colostrum?”
So, to get everyone up to speed, and on the same page, here’s a quick rundown on what colostrum is so we’re all at the same starting off point.
What is colostrum?
Colostrum is the first form of milk produced by mammals, including humans, immediately after giving birth. It is rich in antibodies, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, providing essential nutrients and immune support to the newborn. Colostrum is often yellowish and thick compared to mature milk. It plays a crucial role in passing on the mother's immunity to the infant and promoting their overall health and development.
A mother typically produces colostrum just once, immediately after giving birth. It is a transitional stage of milk production that lasts for a few days (usually 2-5 days) before her milk transitions to mature milk production. After this initial production of colostrum, the mother's body starts producing larger quantities of mature milk to meet the nutritional and growth needs of the infant.
This means that the only time you would have had colostrum naturally was immediately after you were born, and that is if you were breastfed.
Keep that in mind as you read on about all the tremendous benefits.
An Entire Immune System in a Food
I often remark about how wildly intelligent the human body is by design, and the production of colostrum may be the most magical thing of all the magical things the human body does.
When a baby is born, it has no immune system of its own, as it’s just spent the last nine months relying on its mother’s immune system essentially.
Proper immune function and response is not autonomic like so many other things in the body are such as your heart beating, lungs circulating oxygen throughout the body, and brain functioning.
(A quick aside on antifragility)
The immune system is antifragile.
Meaning, when stressed, it strengthens.
This is an important concept to remember about the human body in general.
When something is fragile, it breaks when stressed.
Put some pressure on a twig by bending it, and it breaks.
Drop a glass, and that breaks.
Therefore, if something is antifragile, and thus, the opposite of fragile, it actually strengthens when stressed.
When we exercise (stress), after we recover fully from it, we are stronger, fitter, healthier.
A cold shower (stress) will engage your immune system in a healthy way, will stabilize blood sugar, and reduce systemic inflammation.
Same for sauna.
When you fast for an extended period of time (but not too long), loads of disease preventive and anti-aging mechanisms kick in.
So much about staying healthy, free of disease, and living optimally comes down to embracing this concept of antifragility with respect to the human body.
(Okay, back to the immune system)
If the immune system doesn’t just automatically work properly, and strengthens through stress (antifragile), that means to build a properly functioning immune system, it must be trained, and must be exposed to antigens and pathogens that can harm us, can make us sick.
Basically, the only way it knows what to attack, what’s a foreign invader, is through exposure.
Each and every time it’s engaged properly, and fights something off, it learns.
Again, the rub is, a newborn baby doesn’t have a properly functioning immune system.
This is where colostrum comes into the equation.
Colostrum is literally the foundation for an entire immune system in a food.
Back to the wildly intelligent human body, it knows this about the child, knows the child is without a properly functioning immune system, so through its very first feeding for the child, it literally gives the child everything it needs to build its initial foundation for an immune system.
Through this magical food, newborns are then equipped to start fighting pathogens and antigens on their own, and thus, building and strengthening their own immune system.
Pretty cool right?
Next, I’m going to break down the constituent parts of colostrum, which will really unlock how magical this food is, and help you understand better why supplementing with colostrum (since there is no way to get it naturally after your very first feeding in life) can benefit you in a multitude of ways.
Proline-Rich Peptides (PRPs)
Proline-rich peptides found naturally in colostrum, are a key component to building an immune system, and can also help rebuild and strengthen an existing immune system. They’ve been shown to provide the following benefits:
• Immune Support: Some proline-rich peptides in colostrum enhance the immune system by helping to regulate immune responses and supporting the body’s defense against infections. Furthermore, PRPs can help produce new immune system stem cells, which for newborns, are the very first foundational cells of its immune system, but for individuals as we age, can help rebuild an immune system that has weakened over time, and can for those dealing with autoimmunity, can help rebuild a properly functioning immune system.
• Antioxidant Activity: Certain proline-rich peptides have antioxidant properties, which means they can help neutralize harmful free radicals in the body, reducing oxidative stress.
• Gut Health: Proline-rich peptides may support gut health by promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and maintaining intestinal integrity, which can aid digestion and nutrient absorption. We know how integral a healthy gut microbiome is to better immunity, and if you’re dealing with gut issues, bloating, inflammation possibly from leaky gut, check out my PDF on “Gut Repair”, and read how colostrum plays an integral role in healing and repairing the gut.
CLICK HERE to check out the complete “Gut Repair Kit”.
Cytokines found in colostrum play a role in regulating the immune response and can contribute to reducing inflammation through several mechanisms:
• Anti-Inflammatory Signaling: Some cytokines in colostrum, such as interleukin-10 (IL-10) and transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β), have anti-inflammatory properties. They can signal immune cells to downregulate pro-inflammatory responses, thus dampening inflammation. This is also very important to those dealing with auto-immunity of any kind, as the down regulation of the pro-inflammatory response can help your immune system re-regulate and re-train itself over time, which is key to reversing autoimmunity.
• Immune Cell Modulation: Cytokines can influence the behavior of immune cells. Some cytokines found in colostrum can promote the activity of regulatory T cells (Tregs), which help control excessive inflammation and maintain immune balance. Also key to reversing autoimmunity. (Noticing a trend here?)
• Tissue Repair: Certain cytokines in colostrum, like epidermal growth factor (EGF), can support tissue repair and regeneration, which can be essential for healing after inflammation or injury. The body cannot heal in the presence of excessive inflammation, which is why gut and intestinal inflammation leads to the reduction of the integrity of the gut and intestinal lining, can cause permeations, and lead to leaky gut, which then has a host of issues that come with it.
• Reducing Oxidative Stress: Cytokines may help reduce oxidative stress, which is a contributor to inflammation. By promoting antioxidant defenses, some cytokines found in colostrum can indirectly lower inflammation.
All sounds great right? Keep reading, it gets even better.
The specific antibodies present in colostrum are shaped by the mother's immune history, and they provide passive immunity to the infant, offering protection against diseases to which the mother has been exposed. This early immune support is particularly important for newborns who have not yet developed their own immune responses. Colostrum contains key antibodies. We, as humans, produce antibodies in response to fighting off infection from viruses. If a newborn has never fought off a virus on its own, it has no naturally occurring antibodies with which to protect against infection from certain viruses.
Colostrum, being the magical superfood that it is, contains key antibodies that for newborns can provide the initial defense it needs to prevent infection, and begin its process of antifragility. For those of us that are not newborns (I’m going to guess everyone reading this) it can be a tremendous boost to our internal defenses against viral infection to naturally supplement with key antibodies.
The specific antibodies found in colostrum can vary depending on the mother's previous exposures to infections. Some of the common types of antibodies found in colostrum include:
1. Immunoglobulin A (IgA): IgA is the most prevalent antibody in colostrum and plays a crucial role in protecting the infant's mucosal surfaces, such as the digestive and respiratory tracts.
Funny story, I donated blood shortly after working out one day, and I typically add colostrum to my post workout shake, which I did this day. I got a notice that my blood came back with a number of false positives for viral infection, and it was a result of the presence of IgA in my blood. Meaning, the level of antibodies naturally occurring in colostrum are high enough that they can show up in a blood test, and make it look like you’re fighting off a viral infection. In short, even a single dose of colostrum provides a significant dose of antibodies.
2. Immunoglobulin G (IgG): While IgG is typically found in lower concentrations in colostrum than IgA, it provides systemic immune protection and can help the infant's immune system respond to various pathogens.
IgG is actually the antibody they test for to see if you’ve got longer term protection from COVID as a result of a previous COVID infection. If you’ve “got the antibodies”, meaning, a much higher natural defense, it’s IgG. So yes, you can literally supplement with this antibody. In fact, the colostrum I supplement with contains very high concentrations of IgG, a whopping 25% of the antibodies are IgG.
3. Immunoglobulin M (IgM): IgM antibodies in colostrum can offer early immune defense against pathogens.
It would make sense that a natural food supplement containing human antibodies would help prevent viral infection by increasing defenses, and lessen symptoms if infected, however, this is not just anecdotal, it has been researched and observed in a clinical setting and documented.
The authors of a paper titled, “Prevention of influenza episodes with colostrum compared with vaccination in healthy and high-risk cardiovascular subjects: the epidemiologic study in San Valentino” state:
“The efficacy of a 2-month treatment with oral colostrum in the prevention of flu episodes compared with antiinfluenza vaccination was evaluated…The colostrum group had 13 episodes versus 14 in the colostrum + vaccination group, 41 in the group without prophylaxis, and 57 in nontreated subjects."
Let’s take note of some things before we move on to more findings…
• The colostrum only group actually had a slightly lower rate of flu infection than the group taking colostrum and the flu vaccine. At minimum, it shows that colostrum supplementation is more effective than vaccination alone, as the group who consumed colostrum and took the flu vaccine had no impact, and actually had one more case of influenza.
• When comparing the number of flu episodes to those taking colostrum (13), to those taking nothing (41), and then (67) in no treated subjects, it definitely shows a positive correlation between supplementing with colostrum and dramatically reducing risk of infection from the influenza virus.
There was another part to the study, and on the second part, the authors state:
“Part 2 of the study had a similar protocol with 65 very high-risk cardiovascular subjects, all of whom had prophylaxis (either vaccination or colostrum supplementation). The incidence of complications and hospital admission was higher in the group that received only a vaccination compared with the colostrum groups. 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.”
Let me repeat this verbatim from the paper again, cause this is BIG.
“Colostrum…is at least 3 times more effective than vaccination to prevent flu..”
This paper only studied the relationship of colostrum or vaccination to the flu virus, however, I think some reasonable assumptions can be made about colostrum after reading these findings and understanding why colostrum works.
It’s reasonable to conclude that as a result of the already present antibodies naturally occurring in colostrum, that they provide an effective initial defense against infection when exposed to the flu virus.
Which probably means most viruses in general, or at least most notably, the other airborne viruses we come into contact with this time of year at high rates: the cold and COVID.
If you think about how a true vaccine like a flu vaccine is designed to work, it’s through exposure to the virus, and the expected result is that the body produces antibodies in response that make you more defensible against the flu virus for the rest of the flu season.
If the goal of say the flu vaccine is to create and increase the number of antibodies against the flu to better defend against infection in the future, but colostrum already has those antibodies naturally present, why not just supplement with those antibodies from a natural food source?
This study shows that that approach is not only effective in general, but the most effective strategy.
Therefore, it’s probably reasonable to assume that the same, or at least similar, would be true of colostrum’s ability to protect against most other airborne viral infections.
Stay tuned next week, as I’ve got a Colostrum Cream Pumpkin Cake recipe that is honestly, the most delicious cake I’ve ever had, is gluten-free, and has an entire serving of colostrum in each piece, making it a great addition this holiday season when getting together with family, and thus, also an increased risk and potential exposure to viruses.