Study: Bovine colostrum reduces risk of respiratory infections in higher-risk young adults

By Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages - Bovine Colostrum / Tatiana Sidorova
GettyImages - Bovine Colostrum / Tatiana Sidorova

Related tags colostrum bovine colostrum Immune health immune support Upper respiratory tract infection Upper respiratory tract Immune system

A new trial concludes that bovine colostrum (COL) can reduce risk of upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) in non-athletic adults at heightened risk of infection, adding to a body of research previously concentrating on athletes.

The new double-blind clinical trial by authors from Pomeranian Medical University, Poland, have found that the protective properties extend ‘significantly’, from athletes, to other young adults who are at increased risk of developing URTIs due to stress levels and exposure to infections.

The authors state: “Our trial is the first ever attempt to test the relationship between colostrum supplementation and URTI occurrence in the relatively uniform adult population of a non-athletic background.” 

The trial was conducted on a homogenous population of medical students (MED), categorised as a ‘high-risk’ group due to their heavy workload and increased contact with infectious agents, and their health science peers (HSci), categorised as a ‘low risk’ group.

Over 107 days, the subjects were supplemented with a low dose of COL or placebo (PBO) and were monitored through daily online questionnaires about URTI symptoms, well-being, and potential gastrointestinal side effects. 

Results showed that colostrum supplementation significantly reduced the frequency and severity of URTI symptoms in the high-risk MED group, and improved the subjects' overall well-being perception. 

The authors conclude: “Our trial brings new insight to the issue of colostrum effectiveness by providing evidence that, in contrast to the general healthy population of young adults, the subpopulation of those exposed to certain challenges which increase the risk of developing URTIs, can significantly benefit from using colostrum supplementation.” 

URTIs and COL

URTIs ​are a common medical condition that affects people of all ages and can cause various types of inflammation, including rhinitis, sinusitis, pharyngitis, tonsillitis, and laryngitis.

URTI is understood as​ a streak of consecutive days with upper respiratory tract symptoms, which can be defined as an infectious episode. 

Despite their common occurrence, URTIs can cause serious disruptions to the lives of affected individuals and present a challenge for healthcare systems.

The issue of preventing them has become a popular area of study​, as treatment of already developed infections, particularly of viral origin, remains relatively challenging, with maintaining good upper respiratory tract mucous membrane health ​being key for good URT health

Previous studies​ have shown that various traditional dietary supplements containing vitamins, microelements, plant products, and lipids have been effective in reducing the risk of URTIs. 

Bovine colostrum has also been previously used to boost immune system function​, as it contains high levels of protein, fat, carbohydrates, magnesium, B vitamins, and vitamins A, C, and E. It also contains specific protein compounds such as lactoferrin, growth factors, and antibodies, which are believed to have health benefits such as boosting immunity, treating infections, and promoting growth.

Several previous studies​ have confirmed its effectiveness in preventing URTIs and gastrointestinal tract infections. 

However, the authors write that the character of previous studies makes it difficult to draw broad conclusions applicable to the general population, as most studies only included athletes​.

The authors note that standardised experiments are necessary to produce credible results.

Study

The authors included a total of 158 participants in the new study, diving them into two major groups– the MED group and the HSci group. 

The MED group had a higher workload due to attending practical classes in hospital units and outpatient clinics, creating a higher risk of contact with infectious factors. The majority of HSci students had classes held in lecture halls, classrooms, or online, with a lower risk of contact with infectious factors. 

The students were supplemented with a low dose (0.5–1.0 g/day) of COL or PBO for 107 days. For the first 15 days, participants took two sachets of the supplement with water per day; for the next 30 days, they took one sachet per day; after 45 days, the supplementation was suspended; and if participants observed symptoms of a URTI, they were instructed to take four consecutive doses of the supplement.

Subjects were monitored through online questionnaires, containing questions about the frequency and severity of URTIs symptoms, well-being, and potential gastrointestinal side effects. 

A significant level of protection from URTIs was observed as expressed by the dropping frequency of symptomatic days in the COL vs. PBO group among MED vs. HSci students. 

The authors conclude: "COL supplementation significantly decreased the number of days with symptoms of URTIs registered in a young healthy population at increased risk of developing URTIs (MED group) versus the population of their peers with no elevated risk of such infections (HSci group). 

“The reduction in the severity of URTIs symptoms was observed upon supplementation with colostrum in MED versus HSci group as well, and well-being was also significantly improved in the MED group supplemented with colostrum when compared with such supplemented HSci group.”

Limitations

The authors note some limitations in the trial, as they note that the trial was conducted between November 2021 and February 2022, when the epidemiological risks due to COVID-19 were still high.

This meant that all participants, but more specifically the health professionals in training, would have been partaking in protective behaviour including social distancing and face mask wearing.

The authors state: “This was a weak point of our trial, probably preventing us from reaching the statistical significance in some regards. To obtain the most convincing statistical results from epidemiological studies concerning such relatively infrequent events, much larger populations need to be included in the trial.”

Journal: Nutrients

https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/15/8/1925

“Moderate Dose Bovine Colostrum Supplementation in Prevention of Upper Respiratory Tract Infections in Medical University Students: A Randomized, Triple Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial.”

Authors: Magdalena Baśkiewicz-Hałasa, Ewa Stachowska, Elżbieta Grochans, Dominika Maciejewska-Markiewicz, Leonard Bühner, Karolina Skonieczna-Żydecka, and Maciej Hałasa.

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