Colostrum Meets the Microbiome A Tried and True Remedy for Gut Health Takes Centre Stage

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The microbiome is one of the most exciting discoveries of 21st century biomedicine, and scientific heavyweights as prominent as Craig Ventner, whose company sequenced the human genome, are now sequencing the microbiome. The microbiome is the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space–the mass of trillions of microbes that live on and in your body. Most of them are in your large intestine, but they thrive in your mouth, on your skin, and even in your bloodstream. The human gut contains on average: 40,000 bacterial species, 9 million unique bacterial genes and 100 trillion microbial cells. These hundred trillion microbes render us a walking, breathing ecosystem–more microbe than man.

Research on ancient and modern microbiomes is uncovering new insights into the fluid and ever-changing composition of our resident bacteria. An intact “microbial tomb” was found on teeth from humans buried in Pompei over a thousand years ago. Fossilized fecal samples from medieval times are being analyzed, and scientists are even going to sequence the microbiomes of identical twin astronauts up in space, to see how low gravity and diet might affect it. The Human Food Project in Tanzania is sampling the gut microbiome of hundreds of Hadzabe hunter-gatherers, whose diet is so different than that of most individuals in developed nations.

Why such interest in the microbiome? Because the microbes we cohabit with, particularly those of the gut, help regulate human health and wellbeing, and even influence the brain, neurological function, and behavior. New research shows that beneficial bacteria in our microbiome may help us fight infection anywhere in the body. In fact, gut microbes help our bodies develop immune cells in the spleen and bone marrow.[1]

And that brings us to colostrum: Mother Nature’s first food for the developing microbiome in all mammals, our earliest and most potent influence on gut health and bacterial composition. Colostrum provides a cornucopia of nutrients, immunoglobulins, passive antibodies, and signaling peptides that Mother Nature has perfectly honed to protect the newborn infant from infection, and to help train and shape the emerging immune system so it can handle its environment. Ingesting colostrum establishes beneficial bacteria in the neonate’s digestive tract.[2]

“Research shows that colostrum can restore a leaky gut lining to normal permeability levels, and reduce movement of toxins and gut microbes into the bloodstream.”

Colostrum contains immunoglobulins such as IgG, IgA, IgM; the immune modulating molecule lactoferrin; fat-soluble vitamins including retinol, tocopherol, and beta-carotene; water soluble vitamins including niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B12, pyridoxal, pyridoxamine, and pyridoxine; and minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, zinc, iron, copper and manganese. It contains whey proteins, oligosaccharides, immunoglobulins, growth factors including IGF-1, IGF-2, TGFbeta and EGF, prolactin, and insulin. Fresh colostrum also contains both essential and non-essential amino acids, enzymes, and commensal bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium. Finally, colostrum contains a rich array of novel, potent signaling peptides called proline-rich peptides (PRPs).

Colostrum helps the newborn gut develop a healthy microbiota. When our gut ecology becomes imbalanced, we experience dysbiosis. Then the delicate gut lining and associated lymphoid tissue becomes inflamed, leading to altered levels of permeability. That increased permeability can then result in microbial translocation–or the movement of toxins and gut microbes through the normally tight epithelial barrier of the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream. Microbial translocation has been implicated in the pathogenesis of HIV, cirrhosis, atopic dermatitis and many other conditions.[3],[4],[5],[6]

Decreased permeability can lead to altered absorption of essential food components, a thickening of the lining, loss of the local villi and subsequent activation of the innate lymphoid cell, as bacteria have direct contact to the lining because of loss or decreased functionality of the mucus layer.[7]

Research shows that colostrum can restore a leaky gut lining to normal permeability levels.[8],[9] The immunoglobulins in colostrum are especially impressive at combatting gut pathogens, including H. pylori, E. coli and protozoan parasites and amoebas.[10],[11],[12] Antimicrobial effects are likely due to the presence of the antibody (immunoglobulin) complement system. In addition, research by David Tyrell, MD, in 1980, suggested that a high percentage of antibodies and immunoglobulins present in colostrum remain in the intestinal tract, where they attack pathogens.[13] A recent study on bovine colostrum suggested that it is a potential source of anti-infective glycans which might limit Campylobacter jejuni infection, the leading cause of acute bacterial infectious diarrhea in humans. Researchers found that bovine colostrum dramatically reduced the cellular invasion and translocation of C. jejuni, in a concentration dependent manner. Bovine colostrum also completely prevented C. jejuni binding to chicken intestinal mucin, in vitro.[14]

Bovine colostrum can restore the damage caused by anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to the gut lining. For instance, the anti-inflammatory NSAID indomethacin when used alone causes a three-fold increase in gut permeability. But when taken with colostrum by healthy volunteers, there is no increase in gut permeability. Researchers concluded that bovine colostrum may provide a novel approach to the prevention of NSAID induced gastrointestinal damage in humans.7

In another study, researchers determined that bovine colostrum is a rich source of tissue repair and growth factors, and limits gastrointestinal injury. Feeding with colostrum facilitated growth of the intestinal villi, assisting with the restoration of barriers that have become impermeable as well as too permeable. Only the colostrum casein fraction stimulated intestinal villus elongation, whereas the whey fraction and mature milk casein showed no such effect. Colostrum has therapeutic potential for intestinal inflammation.[15]

“New research shows that beneficial bacteria in our microbiome may help us fight infection anywhere in the body.”

Colostrum enemas were effective in the treatment of distal colitis during a randomized, double-blind study. Fourteen patients with a mean age of 45 and mild to moderately severe distal colitis, were given colostrum enema or placebo enema for 4 weeks. Both groups also received the drug mesalazine. The colostrum group showed a mean reduction in symptom score of 2.9, while the group only on medication showed an increase of 0.5. Symptoms improved in five of the eight patients in the colostrum group and in two of the six patients in the placebo group. The researchers concluded that bovine colostrum enemas may be a novel adjunctive therapy for left-sided colitis along with standard treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs such as mesalazine.[16]

Lactoferrin is one of the main proteins in colostrum. High quality supplemental colostrum has over 1%. Lactoferrin binds free iron, which many bacteria and fungi need to reproduce. Lactoferrin can penetrate the cell wall of bacteria, which allows an antimicrobial enzyme in gastric secretions calls lysozyme to then enter the cell and cause it to burst. Together, lactoferrin and lysozyme can destroy Candida albicans.[17]

We know that nutrients are absorbed along the length of the small intestine, which is lined with millions of microscopic, finger-like projections called villi. Each villus is connected to a mesh of capillaries so that nutrients can pass into the bloodstream. Colostrum extract that contains bioactive components such as insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), enhances intestinal villus size and can modulate neonatal gastrointestinal tract development and function. Villus circumference and height in the small intestine, as well as epithelial cell proliferation, are higher in calves fed colostrum extract than in controls.[18]

According to a review article in 2011 on colostrum, a commercial product which is made from large standardized pools of colostrum collected from over 100 cows has been used to treat a number of diseases, including diarrhea caused by diarrheagenic E. coli. Bovine colostrum contains significant antimicrobial properties as a result of natural exposure of the cows to antigens of pathogens that may afflict humans as well.[19]

All colostrum and milk will contain some secretory IgA. The presence of secretory IgA in the intestinal lumen is part of the protective function of the epithelial barrier in the intestine and also plays an important role in maintaining ecological tolerance with the commensal bacteria. Milk and colostrum secretory IgA in the intestine will bind bacteria, toxins and other macromolecules, limiting their ability to bind to intestinal cells and thereby be transported through the mucosa to cause a systemic immune response.17 The mature stomach lining of an adult is of course more effective in digesting proteins and peptides than that of a newborn infant.

Fresh bovine colostrum has a natural phospholipid coating that enhances its properties, but this is lost during the processing of colostrum into a powder form. New research by biochemist Michail Borissenko, BSc, MSc, chief scientist at the Institute of Colostrum Research in New Zealand, suggests that coating bovine colostrum with high quality phospholipids during processing helps to make it more soluble and preserve it until it reaches the large intestine. Although bovine colostrum is generally well tolerated, colostrum with the phospholipid coating restored may possibly increase tolerance and benefit for sensitive individuals. Colostrum and phospholipids together might provide an ideal and stable source of the ultimate “mother’s milk” for healing the gut and restoring a healthy microbiome.


[1] Arya Khosravi, Alberto Y·Òez, Jeremy G. Price, Andrew Chow, Miriam Merad, Helen S. Goodridge, Sarkis K. Mazmanian. Gut Microbiota Promote Hematopoiesis to Control Bacterial Infection. Cell Host & Microbe, March 2014 View Abstract

[2] Cilieborg MS, Boye M, Sangild PT. Bacterial colonization and gut development in preterm neonates Early Hum Dev. 2012 Mar;88 Suppl 1:S41-9 View Abstract

[3] Klatt NR, Funderburg NT, Brenchley JM. Microbial translocation, immune activation, and HIV disease. Trends Microbiol. 2013 Jan;21(1):6-13. View Abstract

[4] Tuomisto S, Pessi T, Collin P, Vuento R, Aittoniemi J, Karhunen PJ. Changes in gut bacterial populations and their translocation into liver and ascites in alcoholic liver cirrhotics. BMC Gastroenterol. 2014 Feb 24;14(1):40 View Abstract

[5] Dillon SM, Lee EJ, Kotter CV, Austin GL, Dong Z, Hecht DK, Gianella S, Siewe B, Smith DM, Landay AL, Robertson CE, Frank DN, Wilson CC. An altered intestinal mucosal microbiome in HIV-1 infection is associated with mucosal and systemic immune activation and endotoxemia. Mucosal Immunol. 2014 Jan 8.  View Abstract

[6] Raone B, Raboni R, Patrizi A. Probiotics reduce gut microbial translocation and improve adult atopic dermatitis. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2014 Jan;48(1):95-6. View Abstract

[7] Ivanov II, Honda K. Intestinal commensal microbes as immune modulators. Cell Host Microbe. 2012 Oct 18;12(4):496-508. View Full Paper

[8] Prosser C, Stelwagen K, Cummins R, Guerin P, Gill N. Milne C. Reduction in heat induced gastrointestinal hyperpermeability in rats by bovine colostrum and goat milk powders. Journal of Applied Physiology 96:650-654 (2004). View Abstract

[9] Playford RJ, Floyd DN, Macdonald CE, et al. Bovine colostrum is a health food supplement which prevents NSAID induced gut damage. Gut 44:653-658 (1999) View Full Paper

[10] Korhonen H, Syvaoja EL, Ahola-Lutilla H, Silvela S, Kopola S, Hutsu J, Kosunen TU. Bactericidal effect of bovine normal and immune serum, colostrum and milk against Helicobacter pylori. Journal of Applied Bacgteriology 78(6):655-662 (1995) View Abstract

[11] Funatogawa K, Ide T, Kirikae F, Saruta K, Nakano M, Kirikae T. Use of immunoglobulin enriched bovine colostrum against oral challenge with enterohemorrhagic Eschericia coli O157:H7 in mice. Microbiology and Immunology 46(11):761-766 (2002) View Abstract

[12] Acosta-Altamirano G, Rocha-Ramirez LM, Reyes-Montes R, Cogte V. Santos Jl. Anti-amoebic properties of human colostrum. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 216B:1347-1352 (1987) View Abstract

[13] Tyrell, D. Breastfeeding and virus infection: the immunity of infant feeding. New York. P{lenum Press. 1980, pp. 55-61

[14] Lane JA, MariÒo K, Naughton J, Kavanaugh D, Clyne M, Carrington SD, Hickey RM. Anti-infective bovine colostrum oligosaccharides: Campylobacter jejuni as a case study. Int J Food Microbiol. 2012 Jul 2;157(2):182-8. View Abstract

[15] Cairangzhuoma, Yamamoto M, Muranishi H, Inagaki M, Uchida K, Yamashita K, Saito S, Yabe T, Kanamaru Y. Skimmed, sterilized, and concentrated bovine late colostrum promotes both prevention and recovery from intestinal tissue damage in mice. J Dairy Sci. 2013 Mar;96(3):1347-55 View Abstract

[16] Khan A, Macdonald C, Wicks AC, Holt MP, Floyd D, Ghosh S, Wright NA, Playford RJ. Use of the ‘nutriceutical’, bovine colostrum, for the treatment of distal colitis: results from an initial study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2002 Nov;16(11):1917-22.  View Abstract

[17] Samaranayake YH, Samranayke LP, Pow EH, Beena VT, Yeung KW. Antifungal effects of lysosozyme and lactoferrin against genetically similar, sewquential Candida albicans isolates from a human immunodeficiency virus-infected Southern Chinese cohort. Journal of Clinical Microbiology 39(9):3296-3302 (2001). View Full Paper

[18] Roffler B, F‰h A, Sauter SN, Hammon HM, Gallmann P, Brem G, Blum JW. Intestinal morphology, epithelial cell proliferation, and absorptive capacity in neonatal calves fed milk-born insulin-like growth factor-I or a colostrum extract. J Dairy Sci. 2003 May;86(5):1797-806. View Abstract

[19] Hurley WL, Theil PK. Perspectives on immunoglobulins in colostrum and milk. Nutrients. 2011 Apr;3(4):442-74  View Abstract

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10 Comments. Leave new

  • Thank you for this very interesting article. I just wanted to ask if you have found this product to be tolerated easier by people who are generally dairy intolerant? Or would you still caution against use?

    Many thanks.

    • Hello Anne

      This has proved to be well tolerated by individuals avoiding milk products, arguably one would always approach with a graded dose in people known to react to milk proteins. However, the amount of antigenic material in this product is almost unmeasurable and the phospholipids aid cross barrier migration with less immune activation.

  • I’m taking bovine colostrum powder now. Do you suggest a better brand? One with Phospholipids.
    Thank you.

  • Hi Thank you for such a great article. I attended some of your lectures and they are superb. Somehow i do have a large population of patients in whom I need to repair dysbiosis and improve the micobiome / leaky gut situation. Could you please send me an e-mail ( [email protected] ) :: I need to know how to buy colostrum x my patients. Which labs ? Capsules OK ? Which companies can I buy colostrum from ? Please. THANKS HAPPY 2016 !!

  • Olivia Marandici
    April 3, 2019 9:43 pm

    How much fresh bovine colostrum a 4 years old should be taking , leaky gut treatment?
    Thsnk you

  • Hi. Thank you for the information. I am very keen to get the best form of colostrum. Please can someone direct me.
    Thank you

  • Very efficiently written information. It will be beneficial to anybody who utilizes it, including me. Keep up the good work. For sure i will check out more posts. This site seems to get a good amount of visitors.

  • Thank you for helping people get the information they need. Great stuff as usual. Keep up the great work!!!

  • What brand of colostrum would you recommend? Thankyou


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