Colostrum (also known colloquially as beestings, bisnings or first milk) is a form of milk produced by the mammary glands of mammals (including humans) in late pregnancy. Most species will generate colostrum just prior to giving birth. Colostrum contains antibodies to protect the newborn against disease; it is lower in fat and higher in protein than ordinary milk.
Newborns have very immature digestive systems, and colostrum delivers its nutrients in a very concentrated low-volume form. It has a mild laxative effect, encouraging the passing of the baby's first stool, which is called meconium. This clears excess bilirubin, a waste-product of dead red blood cells, which is produced in large quantities at birth due to blood volume reduction, from the infant's body and helps prevent jaundice. Colostrum is known to contain immune cells (as lymphocytes) and many antibodies such as IgA, IgG, and IgM. These are the major components of the adaptive immune system. Inter alia IgA is absorbed through the intestinal epithelium, travels through the blood, and is secreted onto other Type 1 mucosal surfaces. Other immune components of colostrum include the major components of the innate immune system, such as lactoferrin, lysozyme, lactoperoxidase, complement, and proline-rich polypeptides (PRP). A number of cytokines (small messenger peptides that control the functioning of the immune system) are found in colostrum as well, including interleukins, tumor necrosis factor, chemokines, and others. Colostrum also contains a number of growth factors, such as insulin-like growth factors I (IGF-1), and II, transforming growth factors alpha, beta 1 and beta 2, fibroblast growth factors, epidermal growth factor, granulocyte-macrophage-stimulating growth factor, platelet-derived growth factor, vascular endothelial growth factor, and colony-stimulating factor-1.
Colostrum is very rich in proteins, vitamin A, and sodium chloride, but contains lower amounts of carbohydrates, lipids, and potassium than mature milk. The most pertinent bioactive components in colostrum are growth factors and antimicrobial factors. The antibodies in colostrum provide passive immunity, while growth factors stimulate the development of the gut. They are passed to the neonate and provide the first protection against pathogens.
In animal husbandry
Colostrum is crucial for newborn farm animals. They receive no passive transfer of immunity via the placenta before birth, so any antibodies that they need have to be ingested. This oral transfer of immunity can occur because the newborn's stomach is porous. This means that large proteins (such as antibodies) can pass through the stomach wall. The newborn animal must receive colostrum within 6 hours of being born for maximal transfer of antibodies to occur. Recent studies indicate that colostrum should be fed to bovines within the first thirty minutes to maximize IgG absorption rates. The stomach wall remains somewhat open up to 24 hours of age, but transfer is more limited.
Colostrum varies in quality and quantity. In the dairy industry, the quality of colostrum is measured as the amount of IgG (Immunoglobulin G) per liter. It is recommended that newborn calves receive at least 4 quarts (liters) of colostrum with each containing at least 50 IgG/liter. Testing of colostral quality can be done by multitude of devices including colostrometer, optical refractometer or digital refractometer.
Livestock breeders commonly bank colostrum from their animals. Colostrum can be stored frozen but it does lose some of its inherent quality. Colostrum produced on a breeder's own premises is considered to be superior to colostrum from other sources, because it is produced by animals already exposed to (and, thus, making antibodies to) pathogens occurring on the premises. A German study reported that multiparous mares produced on average a liter (quart) of colostrum containing 70 grams of IgG.
In most dairy cow herds, the calves are removed from their mothers soon after birth and fed colostrum from a bottle.
Human consumption of bovine colostrum
Assertions that colostrum consumption is of adult human benefit are questionable because most components undergo digestion in the mature stomach, including antibodies and all other proteins. Bovine colostrum and its components are as harmful for human consumption as other bovine lactic secretions, especially in the context of intolerance or allergy to lactose or other components. Despite evidence that most components are not absorbed intact, proponents claim colostrum is useful in the treatment or prevention of a variety of illnesses.
Bovine colostrum from pasture-fed cows contains immunoglobulins specific to many human pathogens, including Escherichia coli, Cryptosporidium parvum, Shigella flexneri, Salmonella, Staphylococcus,  and rotavirus (which causes diarrhea in infants). Before the development of antibiotics, colostrum was the main source of immunoglobulins used to fight infections. In fact, when Albert Sabin made his first oral vaccine against polio, the immunoglobulin he used came from bovine colostrum. When antibiotics began to appear, interest in colostrum waned, but, now that antibiotic-resistant strains of pathogens have developed, interest is once again returning to natural alternatives to antibiotics, namely, colostrum.
Some athletes have used colostrum in an attempt to improve their performance decrease recovery time, and prevent sickness during peak performance levels. Thus, supplementation with bovine colostrum, 20 grams per day (g/d), in combination with exercise training for 8 wk may increase bone-free lean body mass in active men and women.
Low IGF-1 levels may be associated with dementia in the very elderly, although causation has not been established. People with eating disorders also have low levels of IGF-1 due to malnutrition, as do obese individuals. Supplementation with colostrum, which is rich in IGF-1, can be a useful part of a weight reduction program. Although IGF-1 is not absorbed intact by the body, it does stimulate the production of IGF-1 when taken as a supplement.
Hyperimmune colostrum was an early attempt to boost the effectiveness of natural bovine colostrum by immunizing cows with a specific pathogen and then collecting the colostrum after the cow gave birth. This initially appeared very promising as antibodies did appear towards the specific pathogens or antigens that were used in the original challenge. However, upon closer examination and comparison, it was found that IgG levels in natural colostrum towards 19 specific human pathogens were just as high as in hyperimmune colostrum, and natural colostrum nearly always had higher antibody titers than did the hyperimmune version.
Proline-rich Polypeptides (PRP)
These small immune signaling peptides were independently discovered in colostrum and other sources, such as blood plasma, in the United States, and Poland. Hence they appear under various names in the literature, including Colostrinin, CLN, transfer factor and PRP. They function as signal transducing molecules that have the unique effect of modulating the immune system, turning it up when the body comes under attack from pathogens or other disease agents, and damping it when the danger is eliminated or neutralized. At first thought to actually transfer immunity from one immune system to another, it now appears that PRP simply stimulates cell-mediated immunity.
- Gottstein, Michael. Colostrum is vital ingredient to keep newborn lambs alive. Irish Independent. 3 March 2009.
- Peter Bird, Northamptonshire ACRE 'Village Voices' oral history recordings, Northamptonshire ACRE and Northamptonshire County Archives
- L. Saint, Margret Smith, P. E. Hartmann (1984). "The yield and nutrient content of colostrum and milk of women from giving birth to 1 month post-partum". British Journal of Nutrition 52: 91. doi:10.1079/bjn19840074.
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, ed. (1 November 1990). "Lymphocytes bearing the T cell receptor gamma delta in human breast milk". Retrieved 1 December 2012.
- Groves, ML (1960). "The isolation of a red protein from milk". Journal of the American Chemical Society 82 (13): 3345–3360. doi:10.1021/ja01498a029.
- Paulík S, Slanina L, Polácek M (January 1985). "[Lysozyme in the colostrum and blood of calves and dairy cows]". Vet Med (Praha) (in Slovak) 30 (1): 21–8. PMID 3918380.
- Reiter B (1978). "The lactoperoxidase-thiocyanate-hydrogen peroxide antibacterium system". Ciba Found. Symp. (65): 285–94. PMID 225143.
- Brock, JH et al. (1975). "Bactericidal and hemolytic activity of complement in bovine colostrum and serum: effect of proteolytic enzymes and ethylene glycol tetraacetic acid (EGTA)". Annales d'Immunologie 126C (4): 439–451.
- Zabłocka A, Janusz M, Rybka K, Wirkus-Romanowska I, Kupryszewski G, Lisowski J (2001). "Cytokine-inducing activity of a proline-rich polypeptide complex (PRP) from ovine colostrum and its active nonapeptide fragment analogs". Eur. Cytokine Netw. 12 (3): 462–7. PMID 11566627.
- Hagiwara K, Kataoka S, Yamanaka H, Kirisawa R, Iwai H (October 2000). "Detection of cytokines in bovine colostrum". Vet. Immunol. Immunopathol. 76 (3–4): 183–90. doi:10.1016/S0165-2427(00)00213-0. PMID 11044552.
- Rudloff HE, Schmalstieg FC, Mushtaha AA, Palkowetz KH, Liu SK, Goldman AS (January 1992). "Tumor necrosis factor-alpha in human milk". Pediatr. Res. 31 (1): 29–33. doi:10.1203/00006450-199201000-00005. PMID 1375729.
- Maheshwari A, Christensen RD, Calhoun DA (November 2003). "ELR+ CXC chemokines in human milk". Cytokine 24 (3): 91–102. doi:10.1016/j.cyto.2003.07.002. PMID 14581003.
- Xu RJ (1996). "Development of the newborn GI tract and its relation to colostrum/milk intake: a review". Reprod. Fertil. Dev. 8 (1): 35–48. doi:10.1071/RD9960035. PMID 8713721.
- O'Dell SD, Day IN (July 1998). "Insulin-like growth factor II (IGF-II)". Int. J. Biochem. Cell Biol. 30 (7): 767–71. doi:10.1016/S1357-2725(98)00048-X. PMID 9722981.
- Okada M, Ohmura E, Kamiya Y et al. (1991). "Transforming growth factor (TGF)-alpha in human milk". Life Sci. 48 (12): 1151–6. doi:10.1016/0024-3205(91)90452-H. PMID 2002746.
- Saito S, Yoshida M, Ichijo M, Ishizaka S, Tsujii T (October 1993). "Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) in human milk". Clin. Exp. Immunol. 94 (1): 220–4. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2249.1993.tb06004.x. PMC 1534356. PMID 8403511.
- Tokuyama Y, Tokuyama H (February 1993). "Purification and identification of TGF-beta 2-related growth factor from bovine colostrum". J. Dairy Res. 60 (1): 99–109. doi:10.1017/S0022029900027382. PMID 8436667.
- Hironaka, T, et al. Identification and partial purification of a basic fibroblast growth factor-like growth factor derived from bovine colostrum. Journal of Dairy Science 80(3):488-495 (1997)
- Xiao X, Xiong A, Chen X, Mao X, Zhou X (March 2002). "Epidermal growth factor concentrations in human milk, cow's milk and cow's milk-based infant formulas". Chin. Med. J. 115 (3): 451–4. PMID 11940387.
- Playford RJ, Macdonald CE, Johnson WS (July 2000). "Colostrum and milk-derived peptide growth factors for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders". Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 72 (1): 5–14. PMID 10871554.
- Vuorela P, Andersson S, Carpén O, Ylikorkala O, Halmesmäki E (November 2000). "Unbound vascular endothelial growth factor and its receptors in breast, human milk, and newborn intestine". Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 72 (5): 1196–201. PMID 11063449.
- Flidel-Rimon O, Roth P (November 1997). "Effects of milk-borne colony stimulating factor-1 on circulating growth factor levels in the newborn infant". J. Pediatr. 131 (5): 748–50. doi:10.1016/S0022-3476(97)70105-7. PMID 9403658.
- Pakkanen R, Aalto J. (1997). "Growth Factors and Antimicrobial Factors of Bovine Colostrum". International Dairy Journal 7 (5): 285–297. doi:10.1016/S0958-6946(97)00022-8.
- Venner M, Markus RG, Strutzberg-Minder K, Nogai K, Beyerbach M, Klug E (2008). "[Evaluation of immunoglobulin G concentration in colostrum of mares by ELISA, refractometry and colostrometry]". Berliner Und Münchener Tierärztliche Wochenschrift (in Germanfbf) 121 (1–2): 66–72. PMID 18277781.
- Uruakpa, F; Ismond, M.A.H; Akobundu, E.N.T (2002). "Colostrum and its benefits: a review". Nutrition Research 22 (6): 755. doi:10.1016/S0271-5317(02)00373-1.
- Playford, RJ.; Floyd, DN.; Macdonald, CE.; Calnan, DP.; Adenekan, RO.; Johnson, W.; Goodlad, RA.; Marchbank, T. (May 1999). "Bovine colostrum is a health food supplement which prevents NSAID induced gut damage". Gut 44 (5): 653–8. doi:10.1136/gut.44.5.653. PMC 1727496. PMID 10205201.
- Carver, JD.; Barness, LA. (Jun 1996). "Trophic factors for the gastrointestinal tract". Clin Perinatol 23 (2): 265–85. PMID 8780905.
- McConnell, M. A.; Buchan, G.; Borissenko, M. V.; Brooks, H. J. L. (2001). "A comparison of IgG and IgG1 activity in an early milk concentrate from non-immunised cows and a milk from hyperimmunised animals". Food Research International 34 (2–3): 255–261. doi:10.1016/S0963-9969(00)00163-0.
- SABIN, AB. (Nov 1950). "Antipoliomyelitic substance in milk of human beings and certain cows". AMA Am J Dis Child 80 (5): 866–7. PMID 14777169.
- Pallasch, TJ. (Oct 2003). "Antibiotic prophylaxis: problems in paradise". Dent Clin North Am 47 (4): 665–79. doi:10.1016/S0011-8532(03)00037-5. PMID 14664458.
- Hofman, Z.; Smeets, R.; Verlaan, G.; Lugt, R.; Verstappen, PA. (Dec 2002). "The effect of bovine colostrum supplementation on exercise performance in elite field hockey players". Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 12 (4): 461–9. PMID 12500989.
- Buckley, JD.; Abbott, MJ.; Brinkworth, GD.; Whyte, PB. (Jun 2002). "Bovine colostrum supplementation during endurance running training improves recovery, but not performance". J Sci Med Sport 5 (2): 65–79. doi:10.1016/S1440-2440(02)80028-7. PMID 12188088.
- Ray Playford et al. (2011). The nutriceutical, bovine colostrum, truncates the increase in gut permeability caused by heavy exercise in athletes. American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, (March 2011).
- Berk, LS.; Nieman, DC.; Youngberg, WS.; Arabatzis, K.; Simpson-Westerberg, M.; Lee, JW.; Tan, SA.; Eby, WC. (Apr 1990). "The effect of long endurance running on natural killer cells in marathoners". Med Sci Sports Exerc 22 (2): 207–12. PMID 2355818.
- Antonio, J.; Sanders, MS.; Van Gammeren, D. (Mar 2001). "The effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in active men and women". Nutrition 17 (3): 243–7. doi:10.1016/S0899-9007(00)00552-9. PMID 11312068.
- Arai, Y.; Hirose, N.; Yamamura, K.; Shimizu, K.; Takayama, M.; Ebihara, Y.; Osono, Y. (Feb 2001). "Serum insulin-like growth factor-1 in centenarians: implications of IGF-1 as a rapid turnover protein". J Gerontol a Biol Sci Med Sci 56 (2): M79–82. doi:10.1093/gerona/56.2.M79. PMID 11213280.
- Caregaro, L.; Favaro, A.; Santonastaso, P.; Alberino, F.; Di Pascoli, L.; Nardi, M.; Favaro, S.; Gatta, A. (Jun 2001). "Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a nutritional marker in patients with eating disorders". Clin Nutr 20 (3): 251–7. doi:10.1054/clnu.2001.0397. PMID 11407872.
- Rasmussen, MH.; Frystyk, J.; Andersen, T.; Breum, L.; Christiansen, JS.; Hilsted, J. (Mar 1994). "The impact of obesity, fat distribution, and energy restriction on insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), IGF-binding protein-3, insulin, and growth hormone". Metabolism 43 (3): 315–9. doi:10.1016/0026-0495(94)90099-X. PMID 7511202.
- Mero, A.; Kähkönen, J.; Nykänen, T. et al. (Aug 2002). "IGF-I, IgA, and IgG responses to bovine colostrum supplementation during training". J Appl Physiol 93 (2): 732–9. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00002.2002 (inactive 2009-11-22). PMID 12133885.
- Wakabayashi, H.; Matsumoto, H.; Hashimoto, K.; Teraguchi, S.; Takase, M.; Hayasawa, H. (May 1999). "Inhibition of iron/ascorbate-induced lipid peroxidation by an N-terminal peptide of bovine lactoferrin and its acylated derivatives" (PDF). Biosci Biotechnol Biochem 63 (5): 955–7. doi:10.1271/bbb.63.955. PMID 10380640.
- Gutteridge, JM.; Smith, A. (Dec 1988). "Antioxidant protection by haemopexin of haem-stimulated lipid peroxidation". Biochem J 256 (3): 861–5. PMC 1135495. PMID 3223958.
- Lawrence HS (August 1949). "The cellular transfer of cutaneous hypersensitivity to tuberculin in man". Proc. Soc. Exp. Biol. Med. 71 (4): 516–22. PMID 18139800.
- Janusz M, Lisowski J, Franĕk F (December 1974). "Isolation and characterization of a proline-rich polypeptide from ovine colostrum". FEBS Lett. 49 (2): 276–9. doi:10.1016/0014-5793(74)80529-6. PMID 4442608.
- Zimecki M (2008). "A proline-rich polypeptide from ovine colostrum: colostrinin with immunomodulatory activity". Adv. Exp. Med. Biol. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 606: 241–50. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-74087-4_9. ISBN 978-0-387-74086-7. PMID 18183932.
- Levin AS, Spitler LE, Fudenberg HH (1975). "Transfer factor I: methods of therapy". Birth Defects Orig. Artic. Ser. 11 (1): 445–8. PMID 1080060.