Influencers Are Peddling Bovine Colostrum for Health. Does It Work?

Photo Collage by Bon Appetit

In the never-ending merry-go-round of trending dietary supplements (Buy charcoal to detox your body! Buy greens powder to regulate your gut! Buy magnesium for better sleep!), a new bombshell enters the villa: bovine colostrum. On TikTok, tubs of the powdery white supplement are inescapable. It makes its presence known in loud talking head endorsements, or more covertly: a sneaky 0.2-second product shot in a fitness influencer’s “get ready with me” video.

Proponents of the supplement have a laundry list of claims. They say that drinking bovine colostrum blitzed into a smoothie, stirred into your morning coffee, or dissolved into a glass of water can, to name a few alleged benefits: improve gut health, boost immunity, reduce bloating, “re-seal” the lining of your stomach, improve sleep quality, expedite muscle recovery, and support healthier nails and hair.

Unsurprisingly, as with many supplements, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. The science behind colostrum is dubious, at best. But the grip bovine colostrum has on lifestyle content creators is pervasive, spotlighting the power of algorithmic advertising.

What is bovine colostrum?

Colostrum is the first nourishment expressed from the mammary glands of a mammal, immediately and up to a few days after giving birth. It’s dubbed “liquid gold” and, for a newborn infant, it provides crucial antibodies and sustenance when the lining of their stomach and intestines are most permeable. There’s a sharp cutoff for the window of benefits here: Many mammals stop producing colostrum two to five days after giving birth, which is about when an infant’s stomach is ready to digest milk.

Bovine colostrum is the colostrum produced by dairy cows—and humans have been consuming it for a while. It’s sometimes used as a supplement for newborns when a birthing parent is having difficulty breastfeeding. During the advent of industrial-scale dairy production in England in the 18th century, you could happen upon surplus “beestings” if you knew a dairy farmer. And in South Asia, kharvas is a thick pudding-like confection made from cheekh—cow or buffalo colostrum. But because it’s difficult to come by, many copycat recipes attempt to recreate its richness with cream or condensed milk.

New-gen bovine colostrum supplements—from brands such as Miracle Moo, Armra, Heart & Soil, Elm & Rye among others—sell colostrum in powdered or pill form, usually processed by pasteurizing and freeze-drying. Though, without FDA regulations or standards for dietary supplements, its processing can vary widely from company to company.

What are the benefits of colostrum?

This is where it gets sticky. While researchers have done considerable work on bovine colostrum, many study the effects in calves or in preterm infants. Armra links to cell culture research on its site, “which 100% should not be used to make claims,” says Desiree Nielsen, a registered dietitian who specializes in digestive health. “Time and time again, what happens in cell or animal studies does not translate to human trials.”

For much of the research that does look at the impact of colostrum on adult humans, it may be tough to draw a straight line to real results. A 2020 review looked at studies on the effects of whey protein and colostrum on people 35 and older: The majority of them were funded by the industry itself, and were deemed of poor quality and “high risk of bias” by the reviewers. One bovine colostrum study in the review was done at a dosage of 60 grams of colostrum per day and found little evidence that it’s much better for you than regular whey protein. And that’s far more colostrum than you’d probably consume anyway. For context, the Armra tub is 120 grams—retailing at $110—and is advertised as 120 single-gram servings.

For all of those claims of bolstering your immune system (the Miracle Moo website lists “boost immunity” and “supercharges immunity” as two different benefits), there’s not much evidence to support. Another 2020 review of 10 studies on athletes and physically active people found low or no impact on immune markers known as immunoglobulins, such as IgG—you could be better off buying a “high on IgG” T-shirt for $46 from the Armra shop.

So what can bovine colostrum do for your health? A review of seven studies show that it may have some benefits for upper respiratory tract infections, though there isn’t a thorough understanding on the exact pathology.

A 2024 review found some mixed results in relief from diarrhea and abdominal pain. And a 2022 review found that it may have some effects on leaky gut syndrome in athletes, though the participants in the trial were given a dosage of up to 20 grams of colostrum a day—way more than the suggested 1.8-gram scoop of Miracle Moo.

When it comes to colostrum—and trendy dietary supplements across the board—Jamie Vespa, a registered dietitian and former food journalist, thinks that you’re better off spending your time, money, and resources elsewhere.

“They’re all about quick fixes—and a lot of these [supplements] come at a high price,” says Vespa. “You’re always better off focusing on the basics, and the low-hanging fruit: adequate sleep, stress management, and eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. That’s going to work wonders for you over any kind of greens powder or colostrum.”

Why is bovine colostrum always on my TikTok feed?

Miracle Moo proudly touts on its site and packaging that it’s “viral on TikTok,” and the “number one most recommended product on TikTok”—both metrics that are tricky if not impossible to define and track down.

It’s no secret that the algorithms on TikTok and Instagram are highly catered to your personal interests. For example, the more cooking content you engage with, the more cooking videos you’ll receive. In the case of bovine colostrum or other dietary supplements, you’re likely to come across the products in situations specific to your insecurities. If you’re skeptical of medical professionals, there are whole accounts devoted to AI-generated conspiracy videos that delve into a world of supposed nurses and doctors who were “fired” from their jobs for sharing the miracle of bovine colostrum with their patients. If you’re regularly engaging with weightlifting and fitness content, you may be served a video of how bovine colostrum helps with muscle recovery and regeneration. If you’re engaging with pregnancy content, a reel on how colostrum supplementation can turn your baby into “Einstein” (and also Iron Man?) may make its way to the top of your feed.

And if you’re worried about weight and engage with weight loss content, your feed might feature a profile that addresses such concerns. This Miracle-Moo-sponsored video, for example, promises that having a “little bit of floof” is in fact bloating, easily removed by three days of taking powdered colostrum supplements. (Conversation about bloating, especially for women, Nielsen notes, often drives into toxic diet culture that promotes thinness as an ideal. “It’s actually not normal for many women to have a flat stomach,” she says.)

There’s also the element that many influencers get products for free, or get paid by supplement companies. Though influencers are supposed to be publicly upfront about any money or free product they're getting from brands, they're often not. Tack on that lack of adherence to FTC disclosures and you’re in for a mess of insidious marketing and misinformation.

“The challenge we get into, particularly now that we’re so video-focused, is that we create a really strong attachment to people whose face we see every day,” says Nielsen. That parasocial relationship makes us especially primed to believe what we hear from influencers. “There’s an inherent level of trust. Anything that they tell us—particularly health information—can resonate with us on a really deep level.”

With bovine colostrum, as with many dietary supplements and products, “It’s aspirational supplementation,” says Nielsen. “It’s one more way of using our money to buy our way into a lifestyle or vision of who we are and what we think we need to be.”

What if I do want to try bovine colostrum?

Nielsen is understanding of why so many people are curious about these supplements. “We are at a time where so many of our health concerns are far more challenging not only to diagnose but to treat,” she says.

Irritable bowel syndrome and endometriosis, for example, are both associated with abdominal pain and discomfort, and are both notoriously difficult to diagnose. It can take four to eleven years to receive a diagnosis for the latter. Many of us feel the need to advocate for our own health, and may not receive the care we need and deserve. And it’s an entirely normal response to attempt to seek relief from outside the healthcare system, according to Nielsen.

If you feel compelled to try colostrum or any trendy dietary supplement that hasn’t been explicitly prescribed by your doctor, Nielsen suggests a rule of thumb: Try it for 12 weeks. If you feel considerably better, and the supplement fits your budget, then maybe the supplement is right for you. “But if not, stop giving them your money. Most of the time, the money you would spend on a supplement—particularly an expensive one like colostrum—is better spent on groceries.”

Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit

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