Bovine Colostrum as a Natural Treatment for Diarrhea and other Gastrointestinal Ailments

By Andrew Keech, PhD

Diarrhea kills.  It also debilitates.  It can take the fight out of an army.  According to the World Health Organization, death due to diarrheal disease ranked seventh worldwide in 2002[i].  Diarrhea is especially lethal to infants.  In fact, it is the second leading cause of death in infants worldwide.  It is also a major problem for travelers to foreign lands, including tourists, soldiers, businessmen and refugees who may be encountering local pathogens for the first time.

What can we do about it when it hits us?  There are no vaccines for the viruses, like rotavirus, that cause diarrhea.  You can’t take antibiotics for E. coli or other bacterial causes of diarrhea before they hit you.  Many medications and over-the-counter remedies treat only the symptoms, not the cause.  But there is a natural alternative that addresses both the symptoms and the cause, and does so with no side effects or negative drug interactions.  That alternative is colostrum.

When a newborn mammal enters the world, it does so with little or no defense against the many dangers that await it, especially the dangers of infectious disease presented by the many pathogens in its new environment.  Fortunately nature has provided the newborn with a remedy for this problem called colostrum, the first milk produced by the mother following birth.  It is jam-packed with immunoglobulins, growth hormones, and a multitude of other specialized substances all designed to provide the newborn with an immunological defense of its own and to complete the development of the vulnerable gastrointestinal tract.

Humans, as mammals, are also provided this protection from their mother’s milk.  While human babies are not completely unprotected – the human placenta allows the passage of maternal immunity to the fetus – they still need help adapting to this new environment and completing the development of their digestive tracts.  It turns out, however, that infants are not the only humans who can benefit from this age-old remedy.  In fact, humans of all ages and all stages of development can benefit from the healthy effects of colostrum.

Bovine colostrum, that is, the first milk produced by cows, is produced in abundant amounts by postpartum cows, leaving an ample supply for humans to use once the needs of the calf have been seen to.  The components of bovine colostrum are very similar to that of human colostrum, and virtually all of the components are bioactive in both species (as well as many others).  The placenta of a cow differs from the human placenta in that the cow placenta allows no passage of immunoglobulins between mother and fetus.  Therefore the calf is born with virtually no immune defense against pathogens.  Thus bovine colostrum is very rich in Immunoglobulin G (IgG), whereas human colostrum is very rich in Immunoglobulin A (IgA).  IgG imparts systemic immunity, while IgA imparts more localized immunity, systemic immunity being protection throughout the whole body, while local immunity means just in the immediate area, such as in the intestines.  IgG is more important to humans above the age of infancy than IgA as it stimulates systemic immunity to a variety of pathogens[ii].  The end result is that bovine colostrum is much more useful for humans above the age of infancy than human colostrum.

Colostrum is designed to condition and complete the development of the gut in newborn mammals.  In a study done on New Zealand piglets fed a liquid supplement with colostrum powder, there was a marked increase in the surface area of the intestinal lining, indicating an enhanced ability to absorb nutrients, as well as an increased number of immune cells in the lining, an indication of greater immune competency[iii].  Other studies show the same effects in newborn calves[iv],[v].  This demonstrates the basic function of colostrum in newborn mammals.

Every year thousands of infants, older children and adults die from dysentery and severe diarrhea caused by a host of pathogens, including rotavirus and cryptosporidium.  The latter is particularly dangerous to AIDS sufferers as their bodies cannot fight off the bacteria on their own, and there are no effective antibiotics against it.  Colostrum, however, has proven effective against both rotavirus[vi],[vii],[viii],[ix] and cryptosporidium[x],[xi] as well as other pathogens which cause diarrhea and dysentery, such as shigellosis[xii],[xiii], enterotoxigenic E. coli[xiv],[xv],[xvi], and Clostridium dificile[xvii].  Colostrum supplementation has the potential to save thousands of infants’ lives yearly in areas of the world where diarrhea and dysentery rage unabated.

Diarrhea is a particularly severe and often lethal problem for AIDS patients and others with compromised immune systems.  Colostrum and colostrum preparations have proven effective in treating this condition in these patients[xviii].  While earlier studies used hyperimmune colostrum in which the cows had been immunized with the pathogen prior to the collection of the colostrum, later studies have shown that non-hyperimmune colostrum is as effective in preventing diarrhea[xix],[xx].

Colostrum has been shown to be effective against a broad spectrum of pathogens which can cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal illnesses[xxi], including bacteria[xxii], viruses[xxiii] and protozoan parasites[xxiv].  Colostrum can provide protection even in cases of infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as particularly virulent strains of E. coli (diarrheagenic E. coli, shiga toxin-producing E. coli, enterohemorrhagic E. coli) for which there are no specific treatment.  When children with such infections were given  pooled colostrum in a placebo-controlled, double-blind study, the results showed a significant decrease in stool frequency compared to placebo with no side effects[xxv].  Both human and bovine colostrum and milk contain sialyllactose, an enzyme that inhibits cholera toxin[xxvi].  Another study showed that non-hyperimmune colostrum was as effective as hyperimmune colostrum in preventing the binding of enteropathogenic E. coli to cells in an experimental system in which the immunoglobulins had been removed from the colostrum, demonstrating that other components of colostrum also have potent antimicrobial effects[xxvii].  Non-hyperimmunized bovine colostrum show very high titers of specific antibodies against shiga-like toxins and hemolysin produced by E. coli O157[xxviii].

Analysis done by the New Zealand Department of Agriculture found antibodies against the following pathogenic bacteria in colostrum:

  • Eschericia coli – causes intestinal disorders, traveler’s diarrhea
  • E. coli 0157:H7 – a strain of E. coli that causes colon necrosis, ischemia, colitis, hemolytic uremic syndrome, microangiopathic hemolytic anemia and renal failure
  • Candida albicans – a fungus that causes cutaneous and mucocutaneous infections, thrush, endocarditis, septicemia, meningitis
  • Haemonophilus influenzae – acute respiratory infection, pneumonia, conjunctivitis, bronchial meningitis, purulent meningitis
  • Streptococcus pyogenes – pus formation, fatal septicemia
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae – lobar pneumonia, meningitis, sinusitis
  • Streptococcus mutans – dental caries, subacute endocarditis
  • Streptococcus agalactia – urogenital tract infections
  • Salmonella enteritidis – food poisoning, septicemia
  • Salmonella typhimurium – food poisoning
  • Staphylococcus aureus – furunculosis, cellulitis, pyemia, pneumonia, osteomyelitis, endocarditis, food poisoning, pus formation, infection in burn patients
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis – wound and skin infections
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae – pneumonia, urinary tract infections
  • Helicobacter pylori – ulcers, gastritis
  • Listeria monocytogenes – meningitis, encephalitis, endocarditis, abortion, abscesses, purulent lesions, neonatal sepsis
  • Yersinia enterocolitica – diarrhea, arthritis, enteritis, pseudoappendicitis, ileitis, erythema nodosum
  • Campylobacter jejun – gastroenteritis, abdominal pain
  • Bacillus cereus – food poisoning
  • Propontibacterium acnes - acne

Milk and colostrum also contain a specific glycolipid, globotriaosylceramide, that specifically binds to shiga toxin and shiga-like toxins, neutralizing them[xxix].  Lactoferrin disrupts the type III secretory system utilized by enteropathogenic E. coli to infect cells by mediating the degradation of secreted proteins necessary for bacterial contact and pore formation[xxx].

Colostrum provides broad spectrum defense against pathogens by employing a wide range of defensive strategies.  It has non-specific antiviral and antimicrobial capability in the form of lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase and other components of the body’s innate immunological system which bind to pathogens, destroy their cell walls or membranes, or compete for binding sites on the intestinal wall[xxxi],[xxxii],[xxxiii],[xxxiv].

Campylobacter jejuni is the most common cause of bacterial diarrhea.  Both colostrum and milk contain fucosyloligosaccharides and specific fucosyl alpha1,2-linked molecules which block the binding of C. jejuni to intestinal H-2 antigen[xxxv], an essential step in infection, thus providing protection against this dangerous pathogen.  This is a hitherto unknown mechanism and may represent a novel class of antimicrobial agents.  A different fucosyloligosaccharide has been shown to inhibit the diarrheagenic effect of stable toxin of E. coli[xxxvi].  Lactoferrin also prevents diarrhea by modulating the cyclooxygenase pathway (nitric oxide and prostaglandin E2) in the gastrointestinal tract[xxxvii].

One problem with many colostrum products is that much of the colostrum is digested when it is taken in capsule or powder form.  Therefore it is important that colostrum be protected by an enteric coating to protect it from digestive enzymes until it can get to the intestine where it does the most good.  The best enteric coating available is one derived from the phospholipid membrane of the milk globules in while colostrum[xxxviii].  This Lipid Delivery System (LDS) protects the delicate PRP and other components of colostrum from the harsh environment of the stomach by forming liposomes around them and delivers them to the lower intestinal tract intact for maximum effect.  As the liposomes are composed from the same phospholipids that form the membranes of the cells lining the gut, they are able to fuse with the cell membranes, allowing greater absorption of the contents.  Phospholipids have been used as a delivery system for years in the cosmetics industry as they allow the cosmetic to penetrate the skin rather than just coat it[xxxix].  The LDS provides many benefits, including:

  • Controlled delivery system
  • Biodegradable, nontoxic
  • Can carry both water and oil soluble contents
  • Prevention of oxidation during storage
  • Stabilization of proteins
  • Control of hydration
  • Protection of contents from stomach acids and enzymes
  • Rapid dispersion in GI tract
  • Delivery of products to target cells

The dramatic results reviewed here underscore the power of colostrum and its components in preventing diarrhea and other acute gastrointestinal disorders.  Clinical and experimental experience has shown that preparations containing colostrum or its components can be of great benefit in combating a major killer of both infants and adults.  Compared to the other alternatives out there, colostrum is the only one that combines the ability to combat the causes of diarrhea, relief of symptoms, rapid action, proven safety and relatively low cost.  In short, colostrum is the only viable alternative that provides the most bang for the buck.

Disclaimer: The information presented herein is intended to provide education about topics of general interest in the nutritional and nutraceutical areas. It is not intended as medical advice. Sovereign Laboratories encourages all readers to discuss questions about information contained in this article with their health care practitioners.

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