The Weekly Doubt | Issue 8

The Weekly Doubt | Issue 8

Bovine colostrum

Colostrum is a fluid that female mammals produce from their mammary glands after they give birth. It isn’t milk – it’s a clear, yellowish substance that will be the newborn baby’s first meal. As well as nutrients for the baby, colostrum contains antibodies produced by the mother animal that she will pass on to her baby. 

Antibodies are cells made by the immune system that recognise certain alien cells, such as bacterium, and attach themselves to them. Once attached, the antibody makes it impossible for the foreign pathogen to enter the cells of its host, and so prevent infection. Each different pathogen requires a unique antibody to attach to it, so the prototype or pattern antibody cell is stored in the lymph node where it can duplicate itself and send out an army of defensive antibodies to fight the invasion. By passing antibodies on to her baby via her colostrum, the mother mammal is giving her baby’s immune system the information it needs to help fight bacteria and viruses her baby may be exposed to. 

Colostrum is a wonderful thing and one of the reasons why new mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their babies if they can. It seems like it would make sense for us to collect the colostrum from other animals and eat it in order to gain their antibodies and strengthen our immune system (as long as you don’t think of the baby animals missing out). Colostrum pills cost around a dollar each. They are touted as beneficial to the human immune system.

Dr Jo Kirman told me why eating colostrum pills may not be a good idea. Antibodies are labial, which means they have a delicate, frill-like structure that is easily damaged. Though they can survive going through a baby’s digestive system and into the blood, they can’t survive being extracted, dried, and put into a pill. Doctors sometimes prescribe colostrum or antibodies, but it is administered intravenously, not in pill form. 

Secondly, even if the antibodies did live on inside the pills, it is unlikely that the antibodies the animal has made will be useful for fighting pathogens humans are exposed to. Animals catch different diseases to us. Save your money and leave the colostrum for newborn babies. 

This article first appeared in Issue 8, 2016.
Posted 12:21pm Sunday 24th April 2016 by Wee Doubt.