Colostrum for children’s health: Natural immune support, from birth through adolescence

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Studies show the benefits of supplemental colostrum for children’s health as they grow.

Many couples are introduced to colostrum when they bring their first baby into the world. As doctors, midwives, and lactation consultants share information about the health benefits and the importance of breastfeeding, they discuss the immune health benefits of mother’s first milk, called colostrum. The discussion of colostrum typically ends after this moment, shining a spotlight on one of the top misconceptions about colostrum—that it’s only for early life nutrition.

In fact, colostrum from cows can be used to support immune and digestive health in children as young as 1 year of age, extending into their adulthood and covering all stages of life. It can be formulated in several different dietary supplements as well. It also has many functional food and beverage applications.

Health Benefits of Bovine Colostrum Components

Mothers try to give every precious drop of their colostrum, often referred to as “liquid gold,” to their infant—and rightfully so, because human colostrum contains immunoglobulins, oligosaccharides, beta-palmitate, polar lipids, growth factors, lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, lysozyme, osteopontin, and lactalbumin. These components are the building blocks of children’s immune and digestive systems that will set the stage for ongoing health as they age.

While human and animal colostrum can vary in levels of these compounds, over 90 functional compounds found in human colostrum are also found in colostrum from cows. Bovine colostrum can be shared with children as they grow older, continuing to support the ongoing health of the child’s immune system.

When looking at finished products that contain bovine colostrum for children’s health— specifically products meant for children 1 year of age and older—it is important to focus on the following three compounds because they provide comprehensive support.

  • Immunoglobulins, to support a healthy immune system
  • Oligosaccharides, to support a healthy microbiome
  • Growth factors, to maintain a healthy gut lining

These compounds have been researched in children ages 1–10 years for their beneficial role in upper respiratory tract infections, acute diarrhea, as well as growth and development.

The Clinical Evidence

There are several published studies on how bovine colostrum can support children’s health.

Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI)

One of the most common reasons parents bring their child to see a pediatrician, besides for well-visits, is for upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs). Though these illnesses are seen year-round, many offices get much busier from October through March, which is considered cold and flu season. Children under age 6 years have an average of six to eight of these infections per year, with a typical symptom duration of up to 14 days. Children often suffer complications such as ear infections, sinus infections, asthma exacerbations, and pneumonia. They don’t eat and drink as well when sick, so their nutritional status may suffer. Plus, they miss school, and their parents miss work.

In a study1 published in Medicine, children ages 1 to 6 who experienced recurrent URTIs and/or diarrhea received 3 or 6 grams, depending on their age, of bovine colostrum per day for six months. After two months of consuming the bovine colostrum supplement, they had fewer total infections, fewer URTI episodes, fewer diarrhea episodes, and fewer hospitalizations. After six months of receiving bovine colostrum, all of the measurers were significantly lower.

In a different study2 published in the Indian Journal of Pediatrics, children ages 1-8 years received 3 grams of bovine colostrum per day for 12 weeks and also showed a significant decrease in URTI episodes—reduced by 92% at week 12. They also saw a reduction in the number of diarrhea episodes (down 87% by week 12), and hospitalizations were reduced by 92% by week 12.

These findings are game changers, not only for the child experiencing these symptoms but also their parents who are looking for a natural way to help provide relief to their children.

Diarrhea

Besides the upper respiratory tract infections that keep doctors busy, diarrheal disease is quite common in children, caused by a variety of different viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections. The complications from these infections include dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, weight loss, and malnutrition.

A meta-analysis3 published in 2019 in the Scientific Reports journal by Nature Research looked at the protective effects of bovine colostrum against childhood infectious diarrhea. The researchers concluded that bovine colostrum consumption correlated with a significant reduction in stool frequency of infectious diarrhea, reducing the occurrence of diarrhea by 71%.

Developmental Growth

Once a mother delivers her new baby, parents and doctors alike begin to track the growth and development of the infant. As the child grows and is eating solid foods, many parents begin asking more nutrition-related questions, such as, “How can I support the development of my child as they become more of a picky eater?”

A study4 published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition looked at children ages 1 to 10 years who had mild or moderate unexplained failure to thrive (FTT). The children who received 40 milligrams of bovine colostrum per kg of body weight daily for three months experienced faster growth rates after three months of consuming cow colostrum supplements.

Dietary Supplements for Kids

Bovine colostrum provides a unique opportunity for dietary supplement manufacturers to create age-specific products that address some of parents’ top health concerns for their children, including developmental growth, diarrhea, and upper respiratory tract infections.

While cow colostrum is not recommended for children who are allergic to dairy, colostrum is otherwise accepted as safe for children. The safety of cow colostrum has been clinically demonstrated in children as young as 1 year of age.

Bovine colostrum can be formulated in several applications, including drink powders and capsules for children ages 1 and up and flavored chewable tables for children ages 3 and up. Other innovative delivery formats, such as soft chews, are also possible nowadays.

Colostrum is not just for early life nutrition; it can be successfully added to dietary supplements, functional foods, and beverages for children to support digestive and immune health throughout all stages of life.

Lauren Crosby, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician and scientific advisor for PanTheryx. Pam Cebulski is senior vice president/general manager of marketing and corporate strategy at PanTheryx, a nutrition and biotechnology company committed to the commercialization of bovine colostrum-based solutions for human and animal health. Unlike one-dimensional supplements, PanTheryx’s ColostrumOne contains protective proteins, prebiotics, and immune and growth factors, making it a comprehensive health solution.

References

  1. Saad K et al. “Effects of bovine colostrum on recurrent respiratory tract infections and diarrhea in children.” Medicine. Published online September 16, 2016.
  2. Patel K et al. “Pedimune in recurrent respiratory infection and diarrhoea—The Indian experience—The PRIDE study.” The Indian Journal of Pediatrics, vol. 73, no. 7 (July 2006): 585-591
  3. Li J et al. “Bovine colostrum and product intervention associated with relief of childhood infectious diarrhea.” Scientific Reports. Published online February 28, 2019.
  4. Panahi Y et al. “Bovine colostrum in the management of nonorganic failure to thrive: A randomized clinical trial.” Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, vol. 50, no. 5 (May 2010): 551-554