What to Know About Bovine Colostrum

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on May 12, 2023
3 min read

Mother cows produce bovine colostrum in the first few days following the birth of a calf. Just as we drink cow’s milk, we also use bovine colostrum in health supplements. How is bovine colostrum used, and is it healthy for you?

Similar to colostrum produced by humans, bovine colostrum contains special nutrients to help a newborn calf thrive:

  • Antibodies
  • Growth factors
  • Cytokines‌
  • Protein

Bovine colostrum protects a newborn calf from infections as it adjusts to life outside of the mother’s womb. In human uses, bovine colostrum is good for maintaining health and preventing disease.

Proteins and peptides. The protein content in bovine colostrum is 15%, much higher than the 3% found in mature cow’s milk. There are two types of protein found in bovine colostrum.

The first is casein, which makes up approximately 75% of the proteins found in dairy products. Casein contains peptides that help promote healthy digestion and plentiful pancreatic enzymes. These peptides have other beneficial properties that:

  • Help regulate your immune system
  • Have natural antibacterial properties‌
  • Have natural anti-inflammatory properties

The second type of protein is whey. The whey found in bovine colostrum is rich in amino acids. In addition to having antimicrobial properties, it also promotes healing. Lactoglobulin amino acids aren’t found in human milk.

Carbohydrates. The carbohydrates found in bovine colostrum include:

  • Lactose
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Glycolipids
  • Glycoproteins‌
  • Nucleotide sugars

The oligosaccharides act as a prebiotic in your digestive tract and have a positive effect on your gut microbiome for digestion. Your microbiome houses trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live symbiotically with you. Bovine colostrum protects this natural balance in your system.

Fats and lipids. The fats in bovine colostrum are primarily saturated fat. However, most of the fat is removed during processing for human consumption. Taking the fat out of the bovine colostrum so that it is more stable. The estimated 25% of good fat in bovine colostrum provides oleic acid, which is beneficial for cardiovascular health.

Vitamins and minerals. Vitamins A, B, D, and E are found in much higher concentrations in bovine colostrum than in mature cow’s milk. Minerals include:

  • Calcium
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese‌
  • Phosphorus

Uses of bovine colostrum in humans. Bovine colostrum has been used in antiviral medications. It s especially good for treating diarrhea caused by an infection. Bovine colostrum-derived antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 show great potential to serve as prophylactic agents. 

Potential cancer treatment. Scientists are studying bovine colostrum for its potential uses in treating cancer. While there are limitations, research is promising so far. Bovine colostrum has proved to have anti-cancer effects in some forms of cancer.

Improve gastrointestinal function. Since bovine colostrum is designed to provide protection for a newborn calf’s gut, it can do the same for human adults. If you suffer from autoimmune disorders that cause inflammation, bovine colostrum may ease your symptoms and allow your gut to heal.

Bovine colostrum has not been well studied and it is unclear if it has any associated benefits. Recognized cons include:

Can’t be used by vegans. If you follow a vegan diet, read labels carefully to see if bovine colostrum is an ingredient. Since it is the product of a cow, you may want to avoid it if you follow a strict vegan diet.

Dairy allergies. If you have an allergy to cow’s milk, bovine colostrum is no exception to that allergy. A dairy allergy means that you have sensitivity to the protein found in cow’s milk.

Lactose intolerance. Some people tolerate the proteins in cow’s milk but have a sensitivity to lactose found in the carbohydrate profile of bovine colostrum. Since the nutrients are at a much higher concentration in bovine colostrum, your reaction may be stronger than to cow’s milk.

Estrogen levels. Bovine colostrum contains estrogen, which is a hormone that may negatively impact the development of some cancers. If you are at risk for breast, ovarian, or prostate cancer, talk to your doctor before using a bovine supplement.