It was way back in 2009 that I first discovered goat's milk.
I had just finished interviewing Joe Stout – a food scientist at a small local goat farm called “Mt. Capra”. During our podcast (which you can listen to here), Joe filled me in on some very interesting properties of goat’s milk that makes it much, much different than cow’s milk, including…
…the difference in allergic reactions between goat’s milk and cow’s milk, and why the difference exists…
….what happens to cow’s milk during homogenization that makes it especially dangerous for athletes and people worried about cancer…
…why the body absorbs goat’s milk protein at a much, much faster rate than cow’s milk protein…
…how cow's milk can cause lactose intolerance, and why this rarely happens with goat’s milk…
…and why goat’s milk “matches up” to the human body better than cow’s milk.
Over at Mark's Daily Apple, this was confirmed in an article that says:
“Lots of people seem to fare better with goat milk than cow milk, and several studies support these anecdotes:
-Goat milk is both anti-allergenic and anti-inflammatory, regulating the intestinal immune response at the cellular level.
-Goat milk possesses immunomodulatory effects and even helps the body release nitric oxide, a vasodilator that improves vascular function.
-Goat milk glycans (carbohydrates that support the healthy gut bacteria and can help the immune system) are more similar to human milk glycans than cow milk glycans; goat milk also contains novel glycans with further health benefits.”
Anyway, after that original podcast with Joe, I asked him what to do if I wanted to get all the beneficial properties of goat's milk (and as I later discovered) much more, without actually drinking milk every day, because frankly, I'm just not a milk-guzzling kind of guy.
Joe's response changed my life, and you're about to discover why.
What Is Colostrum?
Joe told me, “Simple. Colostrum.”
At this point, colostrum was kind of woo-woo for me. My wife grew up on a sheep farm so I knew colostrum had something to do with sheep's milk, but wasn't really sure what it really, truly was.
Joe explained to me that colostrum is produced by not just goats and sheep, but by all mammals (including humans) in the first few days after giving birth. Also known as “first milk”, it is produced in the mammary glands of females just prior to giving birth and serves as a concentrated source of proteins, growth factors, and antibodies that are essential for early development of newborns.
Its properties have been revered for thousands of years across many cultures: in ancient Chinese medicine, it was regarded as a potent health tonic, and for the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania it has long been regarded as a crucial part of a warrior's diet. In Britain, dairy farmers refer to colostrum as beestings, and they used any surplus colostrum to make an extra-creamy, and very healthy, pudding.
So you can literally think of colostrum as a powerhouse of nutritional ammunition designed to get a newborn through the critical first few days of life.
Now let's move on to a slightly more scientific definition of colostrum for you nerds out there, straight from the underbellies of the Wiki definition of colostrum:
“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.”
Whew. I know that was a propellor-hat friendly mouthful, so here's a brief description of the important points:
- Cytokines: Part of your systemic immune system. These hormones keep communication between immune cells active (no communication means low immunity, frequent sickness, and susceptibility to illness!)
- Growth Factors: (IGF-I, IGF-II, EGF) As the name implies, growth factors assist with maintenance and growth of certain body tissues, including muscle and the gastrointestinal lining.
- Lactoferrin: Lactoferrin assists with iron absorption and is a crucial part of your immune defense system.
- Growth Hormone: Growth Hormone (GH) works individually as well as together with the other growth factors in colostrum to aid in growth and function of gastrointestinal tissues, muscle and more.
- Immunoglobulins: (IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG, IgM) Immunoglobulins are small proteins that are used by your immune system to seek out and destroy foreign antigens (invaders).
- Proline Rich Polypeptides: PRPs are important immune system regulators that encourage the growth of white blood cells and may restore the balance in cellular immune functions. PRPs may defend against oxidative stress and support brain health.
Now we can dig into the more practical aspects of how you can use colostrum if you happen to be one of my readers that is not a newborn or 2-day old mammal.
Colostrum As An Alternative To Antibiotics
The immunoglobulins in colostrum have specific immune system activity against many common human pathogens such as Escherichia coli, Cryptosporidium parvum, Shigella flexneri, Salmonella, Staphylococcus, and rotavirus (yes, that nasty diarrhea disease).
Interestingly, prior to the development of antibiotics, colostrum was the primary source of immunoglobulins used to fight infections. When Albert Sabin made his first oral vaccine against polio, the immunoglobulin he used actually came from 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 like colostrum.
The study “Antibacterial and Antiinflammatory Properties of Bovine Colostrum” demonstrated significant antimicrobial activity against Escherichia. coli, Staphylococcus. aureus, Proteus. vulgaris, Enterobacter. aerogenes and Salmonella. typhi and high antiinflammatory activity.
I personally don't take colostrum year-round (later in this article I'll tell you why I don't take colostrum all the time), but prior to travel or during cold and flu season I “load” with colostrum for several weeks.
Colostrum For Immunity
Perhaps you have heard of “Proline-Rich Polypeptides” or PRP. These things have been making the news all over scholarly medical research articles lately due to their huge potential for boosting the immune system. So in addition to the infection-fighting immunoglobulins you've already learned about, these PRP's offer a second level of protection.
PRP's are tiny immune signaling peptides that have been discovered in colostrum (and also in other sources, such as blood plasma). Also known as “Colostrinin”, “CLN”, and “transfer factor”, they function as signal transducing molecules that have the unique effect of making microadjustments to your immune system, turning your immunity up when the body comes under attack from pathogens or other disease agents, and damping your immune system down when the danger is eliminated or neutralized. This is called cell-mediated immunity and is basically a process of keeping your immune system finely tuned.
Colostrum For Enhancing The Effectiveness of Probiotics
Because colostrum helps to heal leaky gut and make the tight junctions in your gut less permeable to foreign invaders, without colostrum, probiotics will not be as effective long term because they will pass through your GI tract and not “stick around” in your gut the way they are supposed to. In this way, colostrum is like soil for the seeds of probiotics. It gives friendly bacteria a place to grow by keeping leaky junctions in your gut more “closed”. This has to do with a protein called Zonulin.
Essentially, colostrum inhibits zonulin proteins from binding to what are called zonulin receptors in your intestinal cells. When zonulin proteins bind to the receptors, your intestinal wall loosens and opens up, so by preventing that, colostrum helps to prevent leaky gut.
In his recent Digestion Session Summit, Sean Croxton interviewed Dr. Datis Kharrazian and in the transcript of the interview, Dr. Kharrazian explained it this way:
So basically, colostrum keeps zonulin protein from opening up your intestinal cells and keeps leaky gut from developing. Hence, your probiotics become more effective.
In addition, since colostrum also contains a large concentration of immune system factors like white blood cells (leukocytes) and antibodies, the combination of probiotics and colostrum together may boost your immune system tremendously.
In addition, if you are trying to re-colonize your GI tract (raise the levels of friendly bacteria in your gut) then you should also combine colostrum with probiotics. When you have a healthy population of friendly bacteria combined with colostrum for the probiotics to cultivate, a more hostile environment is created for harmful microorganisms and there is less space for digestion disruptors to proliferate. So colostrum combined with probiotics can be a very powerful one-two gut-healing combo for gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation.
Colostrum For Athletic Performance
For me, athletic performance enhancement and the prevention of gas, nausea, cramps or diarrhea during hard workouts and races was a big reason to begin using colostrum, and I particularly achieve this by “loading” with 8 colostrum capsules per day for 2 weeks before hard races – especially races in hot conditions, such as Ironman Hawaii.
A gastroenterologist professor named Raymond Playford, of Plymouth University, has done some very interesting research on the gut benefits of colostrum for athletes, and has published one study entitled: “The nutriceutical, bovine colostrum, truncates the increase in gut permeability caused by heavy exercise in athletes.”
When we are in intense periods of training, us athletes and exercise enthusiasts (you know who you are) often develop gut problems, also known as “runners' trots”. If you've ever had to pull over on the side of the road during a run with your head between your knees because of gastric distress, or you've ever had to interrupt a set in the weight room to quickly duck into the locker room, then you know what I mean.
In the video below, Dr. Playford explains how this is caused by a combination of stress and the simultaneous raising of your body's core temperature by about two degrees, which increases the permeability of your gut wall, allows toxins into the bloodstream that wouldn't normally be there, and is the primary reason you get gut distress during stressful exercise, especially stressful exercise in the heat. This is because heat raises the permeability of your gut wall even more.
In this video, Dr. Playfored also talks about his fascinating research on colostrum, its role in protecting this gut leakage that happens during strenuous exercise, and the fact that if you take colostrum for two weeks prior to exercise, the change in gut leakiness is almost completely prevented.
This all makes sense, since colostrum contains growth factors designed to strengthen the gut lining, which is crucial for a newborn mammal, who has a very permeable gut that needs to toughen up fast (and this is why babies or children raised on soy milk – or anyone who has ever been on a bout of gut disrupting antibiotics – should undoubtedly be considering colostrum).
This study also confirms that colostrum may significantly decrease gut permeability in athletes during heavy periods of training and lowers stool concentrations of zonulin.
Of course, it's not just gut problems that colostrum helps to address in athletes. Other studies show that athletes who take it are as much as 20% less likely to get infections of the upper respiratory tract, for reasons you've already learned.
In this article from the Guardian, Playford expounds on the other benefits that active people can derive from colostrum, “It could be really useful to people who have to do physical exercise in hot conditions, such as soldiers in Afghanistan,” he says. “They are susceptible to heatstroke because of all the gear they have to wear and carry, and taking colostrum could reduce that very serious risk. Another group who could benefit are older people with arthritis who develop serious gut problems because of the strong painkillers they use, and those with ulcerative colitis. These patients are at risk of damage to their gut lining and the colostrum helps it to heal and reduces its permeability.” He offers proof of this in his study entitled “Bovine colostrum is a health food supplement which prevents NSAID induced gut damage.”
Colostrum has even been shown to improve athletic performance by reducing gut permeability caused by heavy exercise, improving measures of performance, and supporting lean mass maintenance.
As a final boost for athletes, colostrum also has antioxidant components, such as lactoferrin, which assists with iron absorption, bone density and has been shown to have anti-microbial characteristics and hemopexin, which scavenges the heme released or lost by the turnover of heme proteins such as hemoglobin and thus protects the body from the oxidative damage that free heme can cause. This is especially important for endurance athletes, who have high hemoglobin use and red blood cell turnover.
Colostrum For Growth Hormone (And A Strict Warning!)
Finally, colostrum also contains Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1). Low IGF-1 levels are not only associated with dementia in the elderly, but people with eating disorders also have low levels of IGF-1 due to malnutrition, as do obese individuals.
The growth-promoting effects most people associate with growth hormone are actually caused by IGF-1, which has characteristics of both growth hormone and growth factor since it stimulates the growth, proliferation, and survival of cells such as gut tissue cells and muscle tissue cells. This is why both IGF-1 and growth hormone are often promoted for muscle building, anabolism, recovery and anti-aging.
IGF-1 also acts as a neurotrophic factor in the brain, which means that it contributes to neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) and survival of existing neurons (known as a neuroprotective effect).
Now here's the important part: overexpression of growth hormone by 100 to 1,000-fold in mice causes a 50% shorter lifespan, mainly due to kidney and liver dysfunction. In addition, since IGF-1 and growth hormone are “pro-growth”, excessive long-term use could eventually cause some pretty rapid cell division – which is also known as…cancer.
Author Tim Ferriss calls this a trade-off or a “faustian bargain” between longevity and performance, and you can learn more about it in this excellent WellnessFX article by Dr. Rhonda Patrick entitled “The IGF-1 Trade-Off: Performance vs. Longevity”.
So for the same reason I don't guzzle a gallon milk a day, eat grass-fed steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or take massive doses of whey protein after a workout, I don't “overuse” colostrum. I simply load with colostrum for 2 weeks prior to big workouts and races, take it when I know I've been exposed to the cold or flu, and then also take it (as 4 capsules in the morning and 4 capsules in the evening) during most of the winter (about November through February) when I know my immune system is more likely to become compromised.
Of course, as I alluded to at the beginning of this post, if you're going to use colostrum as an alternative to antibiotics, as a boost for your immune system, as a way to make your gut feel bulletproof during exercise, to enhance the effectiveness of probiotics, or as a method for increasing growth hormone and iron absorption, then I highly recommend that you use the most biocompatible form of colostrum you can get.
You guessed it: you should get your colostrum from goats.
Because of this, I've just put the finishing touches on designing Kion Colostrum, which is human gut-friendly goat's colostrum harvested from organic, pastured goats straight from Joe's farm, just a few hours from my house.
These grass-fed, free-range goats graze on pesticide-free and chemical-free pasture 365 days a year. No pesticides, no antibiotics, and no hormones are used. Ever.
Kion Colostrum is also chock full of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and amino acids, all of which play a crucial role in total body wellness.
Enjoy your discovery of this little-known compound, and leave your questions, comments or feedback below!