What No One is Telling You About Bovine Colostrum

bioQuad human baby and cow calf nursing

What is Colostrum?

Colostrum (also known as “first milk”) is a special type of milk mother mammals produce for their newborn just before giving birth. Mothers feed this milk to the newborn immediately following birth, and it is only available for a limited amount of time (typically around 3-4 days). Colostrum is densely packed with nutrients that protect and nourish the baby for the first few days of life.

Since most species of mammals develop at different rates and have different nutritional requirements, the colostrum of each species has a different composition. In this blog, we explain how human colostrum differs from cow (bovine) colostrum, and what you need to know about bovine colostrum supplements.

Primary Function of Human Colostrum

A hallmark feature of humans is the distinctly large brain. In fact, compared to any other species humans have the largest brain, based on the brain to body mass ratio. Consequently, when a human baby is born, most of its metabolic energy is focused on brain development. The main fuel for the brain are carbohydrates. That is why human colostrum and milk has the highest concentration of ‘lactose’ - a type of carbohydrate or sugar [1]. The high lactose content in human colostrum serves two important functions:  

bioQuad human baby with background of brain neurons
  • Brain development: the infant brain requires a lot of glucose as a source of metabolic energy for its rapid growth. Lactose is readily broken down into glucose and galactose during the digestive process and absorbed in the intestines.

  • Fluid regulation: lactose being a sugar naturally attracts water (known as the osmotic effect). When human mothers start lactation, the high lactose concentration draws water into the mammary gland of the breasts. The extra fluid helps with colostrum and milk production. Additionally, it fulfills the fluid demands of an infant and compensates for the fluid loss during sweating and urination.

Primary Function of Bovine Colostrum

When most mammals are born they must quickly develop and be able move for survival. Cows are no exception – within minutes, the calf must be able to stand and walk. In contrast, human babies remain helpless and completely dependent on mother for mobility the first months of their life. Accordingly, the main function of bovine colostrum is to support muscle development. The basic building block of muscle tissue are proteins. That is why bovine colostrum and milk contain substantially higher concentration of ‘casein’ – a type of protein [2]. The extra casein is essential for the calf’s growth as follows:

  • Muscle development: casein is a complex protein that inter-relates with the fat and this combination is converted to curd by enzymes in the stomach. The breakdown products of casein (proteolytic digestion in the stomach) are also absorbed in the small intestine and serve as building blocks for new macro- molecules that build muscle. The extra casein in bovine colostrum and milk reflects the need for a ready source of more muscle-building capacity since the body mass of a calf develops much faster than that of a newborn human baby.
bioQuad cow calf with background of muscle tissues

More Differences between Human and Bovine Colostrum

Human and bovine colostrum don’t just vary in lactose and casein concentrations, they also contain different immune molecules and growth factors. For example, an important component of the immune system are immunoglobulins also known as antibodies. Immunoglobulins protect against bacterial and viral infections. There are many types of immunoglobulins such as IgG-class and IgA-class. A human baby and a cow calf receive these immunoglobulins from their mother differently.

bioQuad antibodies attaching to microbe surface


In humans, the IgG-class antibodies are transferred from the mother's bloodstream via the placenta to the fetus. Therefore, IgG-class antibodies are not found in human colostrum. This provides some degree of temporary passive immunity to the newborn against possible infectious agents after birth [3]. In contrast, the IgG-class antibodies are not transferred from the mother cow’s bloodstream across the placenta to the calf. Consequently, the calf is essentially defenseless when born unless it gets bovine colostrum.

The predominant immunoglobulin in human colostrum is IgA-class. The IgA-class in human colostrum and milk has lactoferrin attached. This is believed to provide host defense against specific human pathogens. Lactoferrin also protects IgA antibodies from the effects of stomach acid and digestive enzymes [4]. To learn more about Lactoferrin, please check out this blog on What is Lactoferrin?

Growth Factors

In humans, many of the essential growth factors are transferred across the placenta to the fetus. Therefore, human colostrum contains only trace amounts of these growth factors. In cows, growth factors are not transferred across the placenta. As a result, calves that do not receive enough colostrum suffer serious deficiencies in the development of their immune system and their body mass [5].

Bovine Colostrum Supplements: What You Need to Know

bioQuad lady comparing bovine colostrum supplements

Bovine colostrum supplements are often marketed to help treat many ailments and diseases. However, for bovine colostrum to be an effective active ingredient in a supplement for humans, a substantial amount of bovine immunoglobulins must be able to survive the human digestive tract/or be absorbed. Current research has failed to prove this important point [6].

Moreover the microbial infections of a cow are very different from the human infections; therefore the bovine antibodies have limited or no protective role against human pathogens. A study conducted by Berkeley Wellness, in collaboration with the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, found that it is too soon to believe that bovine colostrum benefits humans. While bovine colostrum is beneficial for newborn calves, it might not provide the same benefits for newborn humans, especially adults [7].

Take away message? Bovine colostrum is not the same as human colostrum. Bovine colostrum's unique composition of lactose, casein, immune molecules and growth factors was designed by Mother Nature to support newborn calves, not adult humans. Furthermore, taking bovine colostrum supplements raises ethical issues - namely its consumption deprives the newborn calf of the essential nutrition it needs to grow properly. So consider other evidence-based nutritional products to support your health and wellness needs!

[1] Soliman Ghada Z A, “Comparison Of Chemical And Mineral Content Of Milk From Human, Cow, Buffalo, Camel And Goat In Egypt.” Egyptian Journal of Hospital Medicine (December 2005), I.S.S.N: 12084 2002–1687. Pages 116-130. http://egyptianjournal.xyz/21_10.pdf
[2] Fox Patrick F., McGrath Brian A., McSweeney Paul L. H, “Composition and Properties of Bovine Colostrum: A Review, Dairy Science & Technology.” (2016), Volume 96, Number 2, Page 133. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13594-015-0258-x
[3] Palmeira Patricia, Quinello Camila, Lúcia Silveira-Lessa Ana, Zago Cláudia Augusta, and Carneiro-Sampaio Magda, “IgG Placental Transfer in Healthy and Pathological Pregnancies.” Clinical and Developmental Immunology (2012), Vol. 2012, Article ID 985646, 13 pages. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/985646
[4] Hurley, Walter L., and Peter K. Theil, “Perspectives on Immunoglobulins in Colostrum and Milk.” Nutrients 3.4 (2011), 442–474. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257684/
[5] Lorenz, Ingrid et al, “Calf Health from Birth to Weaning. I. General Aspects of Disease Prevention.” Irish Veterinary Journal 64.1 (2011), 10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184620/
[6] Ulfman, Leusen, Savelkoul, Warner, Neerven, “Effects of Bovine Immunoglobulins on Immune Function, Allergy, and Infection.” Health Communication (June. 2018), Oxford PharmaGenesis, Oxford, 2. www.europepmc.org/articles/pmc6024018
[7] Berkeley Wellness, in collaboration with the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, “Can Colostrum Boost Immunity?” (2012). http://static.berkeleywellness.com/supplements/other-supplements/article/can-colostrum-boost-immunity


Dr. Tezus Naidu, PharmD, MPH, MBS (Drug Discovery) has industry expertise in biotechnology, public health, and pharmaceutical science. He has over fifteen years of experience in clinical research and has been a lead investigator for several IRB-approved clinical studies. Tezus has co-authored multiple research publications and is a co-inventor on several patents related to nutrition.


  • Dr. Naidu, thank you for an honest article. I was persuaded to buy colostrum. When I came to the passage which urged us to think about the cow I immediately decided not to buy it. We need more people like you.

    Oscar Joachim
  • Gratitude to you, Dr. Naidu, for taking the time to clearly and simply explain the differences between human and bovine colostrum. There appears to be a tremendous push by the wellness and vitamin industry for “nose to tail” consumption of bovine in the form of supplements and this includes colostrum as well as collagen and a myriad of tissue and organs. It’s disconcerting. What is especially interesting is that despite the size of our touted “very large brains in proportion to our body size” as well as our incredible “opposable thumbs”, we are also, without a doubt, the most disconnected to the natural lifecycle and the most selfish species on the planet. Indigenous people would often prescribe like to like in order to ward off certain illnesses, however, they weren’t stocking up on it at Costco, they were ceremoniously and with sincere grace, taking what they needed and honoring the animal and nature, giving thanks for the providence. I hope that you will continue to write to debunk more of the wellness myths that people are making some companies and people millions of dollars off of other’s ignorance and selfish pursuits. If they labeled their bottles with an image of a baby cow being ripped away from it’s mother’s utters forever in order to produce enough for the pills ~ and then mother cow being artificially inseminated by a human arm in order to impregnate to run through the cycle again (and again and again and again…), maybe then people would think twice about what they are buying and consuming. Or maybe not. Humans tend to be out of sight, out of mind, and not the most conscious consumers in general.

    Jennifer Rosenberg
  • Thank you for writing this. I am so disturbed by so called wellness influencers promoting colostrum supplements. Hope the truth gets around.

  • Dr. Naidu, I so appreciate the way you explained the difference between Human and Bovine Colostrum. The layman’s terms used were perfect to understand this and will be easily transferred when explaining to family. We have been approached several times about a new product that is promoting this bovine colostrum and it sounds wonderful until one takes the time to research the product and get to the “inner circle” of information.
    Your detailed description and easy explanation enables us to make a sound moral choice about the products and not worry about the repercussions that may follow. Thank you for taking the time to write this up and post it on the web for others to find. Blessings, Kat G

    Kathleen Guillot

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