Abstract and key points
- Colostrum preparations are dietary products, mostly from bovine sources, of the milk secreted within the first days after giving birth.
- Colostrum is taken as powder or capsules, rarely as fresh colostrum milk.
- There is no evidence that colostrum alleviates symptoms in cancer patients or acts against cancer.
- Colostrum seems to be generally safe in people without allergies to dairy products.
Colostrum is the milk secreted by mammals within the first few days after giving birth.
Colostrum preparations used in CAM most often stem from cows and are marketed as powder or capsules for oral intake as dietary products.
Colostrum contains high concentrations of immunoglobulins, cytokines, growth factors, lactoferrin and other proteins, which play an important role for passive immunity of the offspring and act as immunomodulators.
Intake of colostrum, especially bovine colostrum products, are claimed to modulate the human immune system, alleviate inflammatory diseases and their symptoms and act against cancer cells in humans.
There is no clinical evidence that supports the claim of beneficial effects in cancer patients.
No controlled clinical trials are available and results from three case series showed either no or questionable benefit.
No adverse effects have been reported in cancer patients. People who are allergic to dairy products should not take colostrum preparations.
Colostrum seems to be generally safe but inefficacious in cancer patients.
What is it?
Colostrum is the milk secreted by mammals within the first few days after giving birth. Most often, colostrum in CAM stems from cows, but also colostrum from other sources including human colostrum has been used.
Colostrum contains high concentrations of immunoglobulins (IgG, IgM, IgA), cytokines (interleukin 1beta, interleukin-6, tumour necrosis factor alpha, interferon gamma), growth factors (insuline-like growth factors I and II, transforming growth factor-beta, epidermal growth factor), lactoperoxidase, and lactoferrin.
Application and dosage
Preparations of colostrum, predominantly from bovine sources, are marketed as powder or capsules as dietary products for oral intake. The average recommended daily dosage is 1 to 2 g per day, but recommendations up to 20 to 60 g per day can be found.
Some local providers also offer fresh colostrum from cows or goats.
The use of colostrum as part of nutrition and for health promotion has a long tradition in diverse cultures, including Western scientific medicine. Colostrum dietary products are marketed by several companies.
Claims of efficacy
The different constituents of colostrum have been ascribed antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and hypertension controlling effects in humans through an active and passive immune response. Regarding cancer, colostrum has been claimed to act against cancer cells and alleviate gastrointestinal symptoms.
Colostrum is marketed for a wide range of indications, especially colitis, diarrhoea and other gastrointestinal disorders, infections, recovery after surgery, prevention of gastrointestinal side effects of drugs and treatment of different rheumatic pain syndromes. Cancer patients use it to prevent therapy-associated adverse effects (especially those associated with an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract), to alleviate diarrhoea, “boost” their immune system or to achieve an anti-proliferative effect.
Mechanism(s) of action
Oral intake of colostrum has been reported to modulate the human immune system in healthy athletes and lead to higher concentrations of cytotoxic/suppressor T cells and IgG after intensive training periods. In vitro studies suggest bovine colostrum may exhibit anti-inflammatory properties by inhibiting the NFkappaB activation and cyclooxygenase-2 expression. An anti-proliferative effect of oral bovine lactoferrin has been found in an animal study in rats and in in-vitro studies in human cancer cells.
Prevalence of use
No data could be identified how many cancer patients use colostrum.
Bovine and goat colostrum are available as dietary supplements. In the US, hyperimmune bovine colostrum has received orphan status for the treatment of AIDS-related diarrhoea.
For fresh colostrum, regulations differ between European countries. Some countries prohibit trading of colostrum for human nutrition, while it is allowed in other countries if special hygiene regulations are followed.
Cost(s) and expenditures
Prices range between 0.10 Euros (powder) and 0.60 to 0.90 Euros (capsules) per gram bovine colostrum. Monthly expenses sum up to 3 to 50 Euros for 1-2 grams per day.
Does it work?
No controlled clinical studies have investigated the effects of colostrum use in cancer patients and three case series are available.
The earliest identifiable study, a case series, was conducted by Lewison and colleagues (1960). Seventeen women with advanced breast cancer received 1.1 litre of bovine colostrum per day for periods between 5 and 595 days. All patients were in a palliative or preterminal treatment situation without further options of conventional cancer therapy. Eleven of them received colostrum from cows that were injected with a homogenate of human breast cancer tissue in the udder. At the end of the observation period, two patients were alive and 15 had died. In no patient a remission of the cancer disease was seen. Ten patients reported periods of subjective improvement. Study authors evaluated their attempt of “passive immunization therapy” with bovine colostrum as “unsuccessful”.
Inoue and colleagues (1998) reported on a case series with 9 patients suffering from severe graft-versus-host-disease (GvHD) after bone marrow transplantation. Patients received 20 ml of human colostrum for 5 consecutive days. Clinical stage of GvHD improved in 6 patients.
Another case series investigated the use of a bovine immunoglobulin product (IgG) that was concentrated from the colostrum of cows immunized with killed Candida albicans germs. Out of 59 bone marrow transplant recipients, 19 received orally 10 g of the colostrum concentrate as dissolved powder containing 4.2 g of IgG. The product was given from day 4 before bone marrow transplantation to day 28 after transplantation. Ten of the IgG-treated patients showed a high level of Candida colonization as evaluated in mouth wash prior to colostrum administration. In 7 of these 10 patients, a reduction in colonization burden was seen during colostrum treatment.
The results of all three case series cannot be generalised to other patients or settings and it remains open whether the observed improvements in subjective and clinical status or the reduction of Candida colonization can be attributed to the colostrum intake. Furthermore, the latter study did not evaluate the intended clinical effect of this putative prophylactic measure against invasive candida infections, i.e. the reduction of these infections. According to current guidelines for the treatment of bone marrow transplant patients, antimycotic prophylaxis does not lead to a reduction of mortality in transplant recipients. Therefore the clinical relevance of the findings of the Candida study seems at present questionable.
Is it safe?
No adverse effects were reported in the above mentioned case series.
The use of colostrum also seemed safe in studies with healthy volunteers or athletes.
In a study with Alzheimer patients, in 30% of the 33 participants neuropsychological effects (anxiety, speech flow disturbances or insomnia) were observed during the first 3 to 4 days after commencement of colostrum intake.
Patients with allergies to dairy products should not use colostrum.
No interactions with drugs have been reported.
Non-pasteurized animal colostrum as milk product may contain infectious germs and their trading and manufacturing is regulated by hygiene standards. Human colostrum may transmit HIV and cytomegalovirus.
Other problems or complications
No data are available for the use of colostrum in pregnant or lactating women.
CitationGabriele Dennert, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Colostrum [online document]. http://www.cam-cancer.org/CAM-Summaries/Dietary-approaches/Colostrum. September 11, 2013.
Summary assessed as up to date in September 2013 by Barbara Wider.
Summary first published in September 2012, authored by Gabriele Dennert.
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