In the past two years, health care practitioners have been hearing a great deal about bovine colostrum, a relatively new food supplement intended to optimize the immune systems of both healthy and chronically ill individuals. Much of the excitement about colostrum has been generated by testimonials, anecdotal reports as well as the marketing efforts of several new supplement manufacturers and distributors.
The past 20 years has also witnessed the publication of over 6000 research papers strongly supportive of both colostrum and its numerous components. The purpose of this paper is to provide a review of the scientific evidence for the clinical application of a promising immune system modulator.
In Colostrum, Life’s First Food (33), Dr. Daniel G. Clark’s basic message, as printed on the back cover of his book, is that “bovine colostrum rebuilds the immune system, destroys viruses, bacteria(17,18) and fungi, accelerates healing of all body tissue, helps lose weight, burn fat, increase bone and lean muscle mass and slows down and even reverses aging.” According to Clark and the well-known naturopathic physician, Dr. Bernard Jensen (34), colostrum has a therapeutic role to play in AIDS, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, allergies, herpes(38), bacterial(15), viral and parasitic(1) infections, gingivitis, colds, the flu and much more. Colostrum has antioxidant properties, is anti-inflammatory and is a source of many vitamins, minerals, enzymes and amino acids.
Historically, Ayurvedic physicians have used bovine colostrum therapeutically in India for thousands of years. In the US and throughout the world, conventional doctors used it for antibiotic purposes prior to the introduction of sulfa drugs and penicillin. In the early 1950′s, colostrum was prescribed extensively for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. In 1950, Dr. Albert Sabin (12,26), the polio vaccine developer, discovered that colostrum contained antibodies against polio and recommended it for children susceptible to catching polio.
What is Colostrum?
Colostrum is the first mammary secretion that a mammal provides for its newborn for the first 24-48 hours. It contains numerous immune system and growth factors as well as essential nutrients, trypsin and protease inhibitors that protect it from destruction in the GI tract. It is estimated that colostrum triggers at least fifty processes in the newborn. Bovine colostrum is biologically transferable to all mammals, including man and is much higher in immune factors than human mother’s colostrum. Laboratory analyses of immune and growth factors from bovine colostrum are identical to those found in human colostrum except for the fact that the levels of these factors are significantly higher in the bovine version. For example, human colostrum contains 2% of IgG while cow colostrum contains 86% of IgG, the most important of the immuno-globulins found in the body. Bovine colostrum contains a blocking hormone to prevent the calf from becoming sensitized to its own mother’s immune factors. Studies indicate that all species, including man, benefit from the immune boosting properties of bovine colostrum with no reports of allergic or anaphylactic reactions to date.
It is in a very limited supply because colostrum is only available for a day or two after calving. The needs of the newborn calf must be met first and only high quality colostrum is taken from cows that have been certified free of antibiotics, pesticides and synthetic hormones. Colostrum must be processed at low temperatures so that the immune and growth factors remain biologically viable.
Bovine Colostrum Emerges as Immunity Modulator
Major Colostrum Components
The most important components of colostrum can basically be broken down into two major categories: immune system factors and growth factors. Drug manufacturers have tried to copy (genetically engineer) and market several of the individual components of colostrum, most notably interferon, gamma globulin (7), growth hormone, IgF-1 and protease inhibitors. Biotechnology companies are currently selling IgF-1 for as much as $800 per 50 cc vial. Some of the following colostrum components may very well be next on the list of major breakthroughs by the pharmaceutical/nutraceutical industry:
Immunoglobulins (A, D, E, G and M) – the most abundant of the immune factors found in colostrum; IgG neutralizes toxins and microbes in the lymph and circulatory system; IgM destroys bacteria while IgE and IgD are highly antiviral (4,23,25).
Lactoferrin – an antiviral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, iron-binding protein with therapeutic effects in cancer, HIV, Cytomegalovirus, herpes (38), Chronic fatigue Syndrome, Candida albicans and other infections. Lactoferrin helps deprive bacteria of the iron they require to reproduce and releases iron into the red blood cells enhancing oxygenation of tissues. Lactoferrin modulates cytokine release and its receptors have been found on most immune cells including lymphocytes, monocytes, macrophages and platelets.
Proline-Rich Polypeptide (PRP) – a hormone that regulates the thymus gland, stimulating an under active immune system or down-regulating an overactive immune system as seen in autoimmune disease (MS, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, chronic fatigue syndrome, allergies, etc.).
- · Epithelial growth factor (EgF)
- · Insulin-like growth factor-I and II (IGF-1 and IGF-II)
- · Fibroblast growth factor (FgF)