Colostrum is the antibody-rich fluid produced from the mother during the first day or two after birth. However, most commercial colostrum preparations come from cows. Whether cow antibodies are good for humans or pets is unclear, although many holistic veterinarians report positive results with both colostrum and the more concentrated form called lactoferrin. Lactoferrin is a component of colostrum. By concentrating the intended nutrient (lactoferrin), instead of having a tiny amount of it as found in colostrum, the effect may be maximized in the body. Ideally, colostrum should come from a dairy that does not use hormones, pesticides, or medications in the cows, which could concentrate in the colostrum.
Purine and pyrimidine complexes are the active fractions found in colostrum, the first milk produced by mammals. Purine nucleotides are involved in virtually all cellular processes and play a major role in structural, metabolic, energetic and regulatory functions. Like arabinogalactans, they have been shown to stimulate the activity of natural killer white blood cells. Colostrum contains cytokines and other protein compounds that can act as biological response modifiers.
In pets, colostrum has been recommended and anecdotally found useful for the treatment of wounds (promotes healing of insect bites, abscesses, ruptured cysts, warts, and surgical incisions when applied topically to the wound). Colostrum is also used for gingivitis, as an aid to proper functioning and motility of the intestinal tract, diarrhea, colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, constipation, food allergies, and arthritis. Very often colostrum is used with other treatments; these other treatments might be reduced or eliminated after the pet has been taking colostrum.
Research supports its use in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis as well as other autoimmune conditions. Nucleotides also may play an important role in essential fatty acid metabolism, and may have a positive effect on the functions of the gastrointestinal tract and the liver. Colostrum is often sold as an "immune stimulant."
However, if it works, it would most likely function by directly fighting parasites, bacteria, and viruses. There is no particular reason to believe it does strengthen the immune system, although it has been purported to establish homeostasis in the thymus gland, which functions in regulating the immune system. More research is needed to determine whether colostrum works in this manner.
The usual recommended dosage of colostrum is 10 g daily in people; in pets, the recommendations is to feed it free-choice in powder form at least 30 minutes or longer before feeding, usually once daily in the morning. The recommended dosage for cats with gingivitis is 40 mg/kg applied topically to the gums.
There is some evidence that colostrum can help prevent certain infectious diseases, but other studies have found it ineffective.
A specialized form of colostrum was tested for its ability to prevent infection in people with the common parasite cryptosporidium. One group of healthy volunteers was given colostrum before receiving an infectious dose of cryptocebo. Those who took colostrum experienced less diarrhea and appeared to experience a lower-grade infection.
Several other studies indicate that colostrum may relieve diarrhea and other symptoms associated with cryptosporidium in people with AIDS. Another study suggests colostrum might prevent mild infections with the Shigella parasite from becoming severe. However, a different study looking at Bangladeshi children infected with Helicobacter pylori (the organism that causes digestive ulcers) found no benefits. Also, no benefit was seen in a study on rotavirus (another parasite that causes diarrhea in children).
There is evidence that lactoferrin works in cats with stomatitis secondary to FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) infection (the study showed no evidence for colostrum). It is theorized that lactoferrin may have two functions. Lactoferrin may bind iron that is essential for bacterial growth, and it may stimulate local (IgA) immunity at the level of the palatine tonsils.
Colostrum and lactoferrin do not seem to cause any significant side effects. However, comprehensive safety studies are being performed. Safety in young children or women who are pregnant or nursing has not been established. These guidelines should probably also be followed for pets.
Shawn Messonnier, DVM
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Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!
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