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The short version

Colostrum is the very first milk the mammalian mother gives to her newborn, and it is evolved to give the newborn the best possible start of life. It contains numerous bioactive factors that promote growth, development and maturation of both the immune system and the digestion system. These effects can be used on human patients suffering from diseases and disorders related to the immune or digestion system.

The very first nutrition for mammalian newborns

The mammalian newborn is highly sensitive after birth, as the environments suddenly changes from the protected sterile area in the womb with continuous feeding through the bird cord to the foreign microbe-rich environment outside with occasionally feeding through the mouth (Sangild et al., 2013). This puts high demands on the newborn’s immune system and digestion system (Newburg & Walker, 2007).

Colostrum provide the bioactive factors and nutrients necessary for the growth, development and maturation of both the immune system and the digestion system in the newborn. These high levels of bioactive compounds are the single most important feature about colostrum (Rathe et al., 2014).

The mother produce colostrum during the pregnancy, but stops immediately after birth, so the newborn only gets colostrum during the first 24-48 hours of life (Stelwagen et al., 2009). This short time of delivery makes the provision of colostrum to the newborn so much more important to secure in order to give the newborn the best possible start of life (Kehoe et al., 2007). After the first few days the amounts of bioactive compounds drops and the colostrum becomes common mature milk (Foley & Otterby, 1978).

Milk matrix and contents in colostrum

Some of the most important of the bioactive factors are immunoglobulins, growth factors, antimicrobial factors, anti-inflammatory factors, and bioactive oligosaccharides. These factors help growth and maturation of the immune system and the digestion system in order to protect the newborn against infections and other diseases. In addition, colostrum contains high levels of many different vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, lipids and proteins (Kelly et al., 2003). Many of the bioactive factors in colostrum enhance each other’s effects, their molecules are linked together or they depend on each other’s presence in order to function properly. Whole colostrum with an intact so-called milk matrix is thus the most bioactive version of colostrum (Chatterton et al., 2013).

Even though the specific composition of colostrum varies between species, many compounds are similar among species. This means that colostrum from one species can be digested by another species and the beneficial effects can be transferred. Thus, humans can intake bovine colostrum and benefit from its high contents of bioactive compounds (Jensen et al., 2013).

Bovine colostrum as therapy for human diseases and disorders

As colostrum is evolved to protect the newborn by promoting growth and development of the immune system and gastrointestinal system, it is virtually a natural immune booster. Extensive research has documented that patients suffering from different diseases and disorders related to the immune system or the gut benefit from intake of bovine colostrum as dietary supplement (Pereira, 2014). This includes immune related responses, infections, tissue damage, pathogen invasions, adverse effects from chemotherapy, diarrhea, gut problems, respiratory tract infections, preterm birth and more. Bovine colostrum can be used as an orally ingested diet supplement provided against a specific disease, as a generally immunological protection or as a treatment for adverse side effects. No adverse effects have been found so far (Struff & Sprotte, 2008).
Many studies have proven beneficial effects from intake of bovine colostrum, but more studies are still needed to establish the full potential of bovine colostrum as therapy (Rathe et al., 2014).


Chatterton, D. E., Nguyen, D. N., Bering, S. B. & Sangild, P. T. (2013) Anti-inflammatory mechanisms of bioactive milk proteins in the intestine of newborns. The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology, 45(8), 1730-1747.

Foley, J. A. & Otterby, D. E. (1978) Availability, Storage, Treatment, Composition, and Feeding Value of Surplus Colostrum: A Review. Journal of Diary Science, 61(8), 1033-1060.

Jensen, M. L., Sangild, P. T., Lykke, M., Schmidt, M., Boye, M., Jensen, B. B. & Thymann, T. (2013) Similar efficacy of human banked milk and bovine colostrum to decrease incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm piglets. The American Journal of Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 305, R4-R12.

Kehoe, S. I., Jayarao, B. M. & Heinrichs, A. J. (2007) A survey of bovine colostrum composition and colostrum management practices on Pennsylvania dairy farms. Journal of Diary Science, 90, 4108-4116.

Kelly, G. S. (2003) Bovine colostrums: a review of clinical uses. Alternative Medicine Review, 8(4), 378-394.

Newburg, D. S. & Walker, W. A. (2007) Protection of the neonate by the innate immune system of developing gut and of human milk. Pediatric Research, 61(1), 2-8.

Pereira, P. C. (2014) Milk nutritional composition and its role in human health. Nutrition, 30, 619-627.

Rathe, M., Müller, K., Sangild, P. T. & Husby, S. (2014) Clinical applications of bovine colostrum therapy: a systematic review. Nutrition Reviews, 72(4), 237-254.

Sangild, P. T., Thymann, T., Schmidt, M., Stoll, B., Burrin, D. G. & Buddington, R. K. (2013) Invited review: The preterm pig as a model in pediatric gastroenterology. Journal of Animal Science, 91(10), 4713-4729.

Stelwagen, K., Carpenter, E., Haigh, B., Hodgkinson, A. & Wheeler, T. T. (2009) Immune components of bovine colostrum and milk. Journal of Animal Science, 87 (Suppl. 1), 3-9.

Struff, W. G. & Sprotte, G. (2008) Bovine colostrum as a biologic in clinical medicine: A review – Part II. International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 46(5), 211-225.
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