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Bovine colostrum is going viral for its benefits for digestion, skin and more. Does it work?

Bovine colostrum, the nutrient-rich milk produced by cows after giving birth, is the latest supplement trend. Experts discuss potential benefits and risks.
Holstein cow standing in the meadow with her twin newborn calves
Newborn calf nursing on bovine or cow colostrumDiane Kuhl / Getty Images stock
/ Source: TODAY

Bovine colostrum, the nutrient-rich milky fluid produced by cows after giving birth, is one of the latest wellness crazes to cause a buzz on social media.

Sometimes called "miracle milk," bovine colostrum's benefits are important for newborn calves. But recently, a number of adult humans are turning to bovine colostrum supplements in pill and powder form.

Proponents and manufacturers of bovine colostrum supplements claim it can enhance gut health, boost the immune system, prevent skin aging and improve exercise performance, among other things.

What is bovine colostrum, and does it have health benefits for humans? We spoke to experts about bovine colostrum nutrition, benefits and side effects.

What is bovine colostrum?

Colostrum is the milk produced by humans and other mammals in the first few days after giving birth, Dr. Nate Wood, an instructor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine and chef, tells When it's from a cow, it's called bovine colostrum.

The thick liquid is formed in the mammary glands during pregnancy and secreted from the breasts after delivery. However, colostrum is different from breastmilk. "Colostrum contains more antibodies, immune cells and growth factors," says Wood.

Antibodies and immune cells are produced by the immune system and help protect against infections, and growth factors are special hormones that stimulate growth, he explains.

The high concentrations of antibodies and immune cells in colostrum are important because newborns have an immature immune system that predisposes them to infections, Wood adds.

Bovine colostrum nutrition

Human colostrum contains important macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and antioxidants, which help nourish newborns in their first days, according to the Cleveland Clinic. These include vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc, and carotenoids.

The fluid's deep orange or golden color, along with its benefits for newborns, is why it's often dubbed "liquid gold". It also comes in limited supply — colostrum turns into breastmilk with within two to five days, per the Cleveland Clinic.

Bovine colostrum is similarly packed with nutrients, antibodies, antimicrobial proteins and growth factors, which support and protect newborn calves, Beth Czerwony, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic‘s Digestive Disease Institute, tells

Bovine colostrum for humans

Humans have been consuming and using bovine colostrum for a variety of purposes for centuries. Increasingly, it’s being sold over-the-counter as a dietary supplement.

"There's no way humans are able to produce enough colostrum to be able to use as a supplement, so (people) turn to cows because they're higher producers," says Czerwony.

After it's collected, bovine colostrum is pasteurized, processed, and packaged, says Czerwony. Consumers can find it sold in liquid, powder, pill and tablet form.

Hyperimmune bovine colostrum is a special type of colostrum from cows that have been vaccinated against certain diseases — it’s rich in antibodies that fight various viral and bacterial infections, per the National Institutes of Health.

Bovine colostrum benefits

"In newborns, (human) colostrum can help to prevent infections and to stimulate growth, but recently, more and more adult humans have started taking bovine colostrum supplements," says Wood.

The idea is that the bovine colostrum will have the same effects and help boost the immune system, build strength and support other bodily functions. What does the science say?

"As of now, the current research on bovine colostrum is just not good enough for us to draw any conclusions," says Wood.

The results of many studies on bovine colostrum in humans are mixed. "Some studies report benefits, and other studies report no benefits ... (but) most are very small and/or not very strong," says Wood, adding that it's an active area of research.

Here's what we know so far.

Bovine colostrum for gut health

One of the most popular uses of bovine colostrum is for digestion and gut health, says Czerwony. Many claim that the supplements can prevent diarrhea or help with gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and colitis.

There is some evidence from small human and animal studies to suggest that bovine colostrum supplements may enhance gut health by reducing inflammation and lowering gut permeability.

Several trials have shown that hyperimmune bovine colostrum may help prevent or shorten the duration of diarrhea in children and adults. Early research suggests that bovine colostrum may also reduce diarrhea associated with HIV/AIDS.

One study found that bovine colostrum enemas, which are inserted into the rectum, may have beneficial effects for people with mild to moderate distal colitis, but more research is needed.

However, many of the studies investigating the benefits of bovine colostrum have been conducted in rats or in-vitro (in a test tube), as opposed to humans.

Bovine colostrum for immune function

Another common use of bovine colostrum is for immune function, the experts note. There is strong evidence that bovine colostrum helps build and support the immune systems of newborn calves, but can the antibody-rich liquid do the same for adult humans?

“It does seem possible — at least in theory — that taking bovine colostrum supplements could help prevent people from getting sick as often,” says Wood. Unfortunately, the research to date is not strong enough to back this claim up, he adds.

A 2022 systemic review that analyzed data from 445 participants across 7 trials found that bovine colostrum supplementation may reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections, but more extensive research is needed.

Another review published in 2021 found that while the beneficial immune effects of bovine colostrum have been demonstrated in animals, the evidence that it can enhance the immune system to defend against infections in humans is lacking.

Bovine colostrum for exercise

Bovine colostrum is popular among athletes who claim it can help improve performance, build strength and speed up recovery, says Czerwony.

Despite these anecdotal reports, the studies that have investigated bovine colostrum's effects on exercise in humans have been inconclusive so far.

A narrative review published in the journal Nutrients in 2021, which analyzes previous research on bovine colostrum and exercise, found that there was some positive evidence of the beneficial effects of bovine colostrum on physical performance and recovery, but the evidence remains minimal at present.

“The average adult who takes a bovine colostrum supplement will not notice any difference in how they feel or function,” says Wood.

Bovine colostrum for skin

Proponents on social media tout bovine colostrum as a skin health supplement. Many claim the nutrients and growth factors in bovine colostrum can improve skin elasticity, reverse signs of aging, and support skin regeneration and wound healing.

Unfortunately, there's not enough rigorous scientific evidence that ingesting bovine colostrum or applying it topically can do any of these things, the experts note.

“We really can’t say for sure whether or not bovine colostrum has any meaningful benefits,” says Wood.

Bovine colostrum side effects

Overall there is a lack of data on the potential side effects of bovine colostrum, the experts say. notes that bovine colostrum can lead to mild gastrointestinal discomfort, such as nausea and gas.

There can also be more severe side effects if bovine colostrum is taken by a person with a cow's milk allergy, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Is it safe to take bovine colostrum?

Bovine colostrum generally appears to be safe for most people, says Czerwony — except for those with allergies or sensitivities to cow's milk, who should steer clear. Always talk to your doctor before starting a new supplement, she adds.

Overall, there is a lack of rigorous research and published data on the safety and risks of bovine colostrum supplements.

"We’re not sure (about) potential safety concerns. For instance, bovine colostrum contains a specific growth factor called IGF-1. Previous research has demonstrated that IGF-1 can stimulate the growth of specific types of cancer, like prostate and breast cancer," says Wood.

What's more, the studies to date on bovine colostrum have not determined which dose is best and for whom, the experts warn. There is no recommended daily intake and no official dosage guidelines, says Czerwony.

Dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the nutrition labels are not approved before the products go to market. Bovine colostrum supplements may vary greatly depending on how they are sourced and processed.

“Because of these potential risks and no clear evidence of any benefit, I do not recommend bovine colostrum supplements to any of my patients,” says Wood.

Even if it doesn't harm you, bovine colostrum will likely hurt your wallet. A few months' supply of the supplements can cost you anywhere from $30 to over $120. “Buyer beware,” Czerwony adds.

Bovine colostrum alternatives

If you're looking to support your immune system, gain strength, or find a "vegan colostrum" alternative, the experts suggest trying evidence-based lifestyle interventions.

"I would recommend consuming a plant-forward diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, and for strength, eating enough protein and resistance training at least twice per week," says Wood.

Proteins like lentils, beans, salmon and nuts can help build muscle while still being heart-healthy, he adds. Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and staying up to date with vaccinations can also help to boost the immune system.