Medically reviewed by, Russell Braun RPH
Many people do not realize that most chronic disease found in today’s society are tied to the gut. When we eat the body is inundated with foreign substances and potential toxins. These are things that if shown to our immune system cause a reaction. Luckily for us we have an army of bacteria and fungus in our intestines that fight many of these battles for us. When that process breaks down we are left with a condition known as leaky gut. Many people hear things about colostrum and wonder if it is a good option for leaky gut?
1. What Is Leaky Gut?
Leaky gut syndrome is a relatively new term referring to symptoms that include:
- Stomach pain
Although this is not technically a medical diagnosis more and more research is going into this group of symptoms. It really relates to something called intestinal permeability.
As protective bacteria and fungi get removed, the layer of the intestines that provides the wall between intestines and our bloodstream is exposed. Keep in mind this layer is only one cell thick. These cells are called epithelial cells and they are bound together by very tight junctions. Normally these tight junctions prevent offending agents from being absorbed.
Flood Gates Open
When damage is done to our gut, intestinal permeability increases. That simply means that it is easier for substances to pass through the intestinal wall and get absorbed into your bloodstream.
This can include a whole host of things that normally would have been passed in your stool now wind up in a battle with your immune system. Keep in mind it is estimated that 70% of your immune system is located in the gut to deal with these toxins. Some problematic things that get absorbed with leaky gut include:
- Undigested food
- Bad bacteria
- Toxic chemicals
2. Have An Autoimmune Disease?
When these harmful substances are allowed to enter into the bloodstream routinely, it causes havoc on the immune system. In fact, leaky gut is thought to be a primary factor that can lead to autoimmune diseases. Over time the tight junctions between cells that line your digestive tract open up and more inflammation occurs. This makes the gut even more leaky, just like when you cut your arm and the area around the cut swells up with fluid.
The process does not cause autoimmune disease immediately. It is repeated injuries to the gut and microbiome that lead to autoimmunity. This is typically a three step process which includes:
1. Intestines allow substances to pass through tight junctions from damage to the microbiome, epithelial cells and mucous that line the gut.
2. An overgrowth of bacteria and yeast that becomes out of balance and takes over in place of healthy microbes. They secrete endotoxins, which leads to more damage and leakage.
3. The immune cells in the gut begin to overreact to what is viewed as ongoing foreign insults. More inflammation leads to more of #1 and the process continues on in a vicious cycle.
As time goes on the immune system will begin attacking healthy cells. Initally they are just collateral damage. However, as time goes on it will start to attack healthy cells themselves. This is where true autoimmunity becomes evident.
3. What Damages Your Gut?
You may not realize the things that can do damage to the trillions of microbes that line the gut. Many things people do everyday can have an impact. The good news is a few small changes can have a big positive impact.
Some of the most common things that damage microbes and the epithelial cells in the gut are prescription medications. That is right every medication has risks and benefits. One of the often overlooked risks is damage to your gut.
- Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
- Birth control
- Pain medication
Antibiotics are the biggest offender and their overuse in humans is widespread. Another source is in the meat that was grown using antibiotics, which ends up in our system as well. If you have a dangerous infection then antibiotics can be life saving. However they are used far too often for minor cold symptoms and the effect on the gut can be long lasting.
NSAIDs are the most commonly used medication for pain. Chronic use is the primary concern for GI damage for NSAIDs, birth control and pain medication.
- Glyphosate (Round Up) sprayed on the plants and vegetables you eat.
- Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) these are created to help plants resist insects and drought
- Lack of sleep
- Chronic stress
- Toxic chemicals in the environment
4. What Can You Do To Prevent Leaky Gut?
The good news is there are things you can do to protect your gut! Eliminating these drugs, toxic chemicals and lifestyle practices is a big first step. However, what if you already have symtpoms of leaky gut?
That is where colostrum comes in. The really good news is that it works on all three phases of the leaky gut process.
5. What is Colostrum?
Colostrum is a substance that all mammals produce prior to the breast milk. It is actually the first milk that is produced by the mother. Colostrum has higher concentration of various growth factors, proteins and nutrients. This helps kickstart the offspring’s GI tract. This is nature’s way of ensuring the baby starts off life with healthy microbes and a strong gut.
Colosturm contains the following key components that lead to a healthy GI tract.
- Epithelial growth factor (EGF) – Helps maintain tight junctions between GI cells
- Growth hormone – Promotes the mucosa that lines the GI tract to be secreted
- Insulin-like growth factors (IGF) – Stimulates epithelial cells to grow
- Immunoglobulins – Supports immune system
Bovine (from cows) mammals also produce colostrum for their offspring. Ironically, researchers have discovered that it is made up of the same components as human colostrum. It also provides the same benefits as human colostrum. This is significant because we are able to collect colostrum from cows to make supplements for people suffering from leaky gut. The good news is there is still enough for the baby calves too.
6. Is Colostrum Good For Leaky Gut?
As you may imagine, having this many gut strengthening growth factors in one product can be beneficial. Ultimately, colostrum is said to increase the surface area of the gut lining. This helps close off the holes in the “leaky gut”.
Several factors come into play for colostrums benefits, such as:
- Increased intestinal mucosa or the fluid that covers epithelial cells.
- More epithelial cells grow.
- Help maintain tight junctions between epithelial cells
- Promotes more bacteria growth in the GI tract.
These effects have been shown to occur in adults like it does infants. Therefore, colostrum can also have positive effects for people who suffer from leaky gut. In fact, research has shown this to be true that colostrum can repair damaged GI tracts.
Colostrum Supports Microbes
In addition to strengthening epithelial cells colostrum helps make the microbes in your gut grow. It contains a form of starch that you can’t absorb called oligosaccharides. These starches are exactly the kind of meal gut microbes are looking for.
When these beneficial microbes multiply and grow strong they help protect you from leaky gut.
Colostrum Clinical Trials
There have been double-blind, placebo-controlled studies to see if colostrum helps with leaky gut. These are the type of studies that western medicine uses to show if something has a proven a cause and effect.
One study looked at people who took 500mg of colostrum bovine or placebo (sugar pill) for 20 days. They compared the permeability (leakiness) of their guts at the beginning and the end of the study. They found that overwhelmingly the leakiness was reduced from baseline. The study author concluded that colostrum was safe an effective.
7. Does Colostrum Help With Inflammation?
Colostrum has several anti-inflammatory properties. Such as:
- Proline-rich peptides (PRPs)
Antibodies help guide the immune system to find the bad microbes in the gut that can overgrow and cause problems. These antibodies lead to the immune system killing off the bad microbes.
Lactoferrin controls the immune response. Endotoxins that come from bacteria and undigested food cause inflammation. Lactoferrin binds to these toxins and gets them eliminated in the stool. Therefore inflammation is reduced.
PRPs help the immune system respond to bad bacteria and prevent it from attacking your own cells.
All of these effects lead to less inflammation overall and can prevent it from spilling over to other parts of the body. Therefore, by keeping the gut healthy overall inflammation is reduced.
8. What Is The Fastest Way To Heal Leaky Gut?
If you are thinking about taking colostrum for leaky gut, there are some steps you should take before you purchase any supplement.
- Talk to your doctor, make sure they think you could have leaky gut as well vs another problem….
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night…
- Reduce stress levels…
- Avoid eating toxic foods…
- Exercise more if you are sedentary..
After you have tried the changes listed and had a conversation with your doctor, a supplement might be the logical next step. Keep in mind if you skip these steps even taking colostrum may not solve your problem long term.
9. How Long Does Colostrum Take To Work?
Most people want to take a pill and have their troubles go away right now. That is not how it works when it comes to healing a leaky gut. It can take years for toxins and unhealthy foods to cause leaky gut and autoimmunity. Therefore, when trying to reverse inflammation and damage to your gut microbiome it will take some time.
Expect to see positive effects on your symptoms take effect gradually over time. Remember these growth factors and support for new bacterial growth will take days to weeks to occur. As they do you will notice certain symptoms start to resolve.
Have a plan in place to track this with your doctor. It is not likely that you would need to take colostrum on an ongoing basis once your gut is healed. Keep in mind this can vary person to person depending on other diseases you may have.
What Colostrum Supplement Should You Buy?
There are a few key things to look for in these supplements, such as:
Colostrum from cows is very similar to the colostrum that humans produce. Look for the word bovine.
- Don’t buy tablets
The delicate proteins in colostrum will be damaged by the processes used to make a tablet. That means look for capsule forms.
- Avoid transitional milk
The early colostrum that a cow produces has the most beneficial nutrients. Transitiional milk will not contain as many growth factors and food for good bacteria. Try to find a product that has colostrum from the first few hours after birth.
- Look for good manufacturing practices
Dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the way prescription and over the counter drugs are. They do not have to prove safety and efficacy or follow FDA manufacturing practices. Make sure to look for products from a reputable manufacturer that is reviewed by an independent agency for quality.
Click here to get Dr. Jason Reed’s exclusive list of medication questions you MUST ask your doctor, for FREE!
Share your story
Have you tried colostrum? Also, please share how it worked for you. Chime in below with your comments and thoughts.
Halasa, Maceij et al. Oral supplementation with bovine colostrum decreases intestinal permeability and stool concentrations of zonulin in athletes. Nutrients. 2017: 370-372.
Ulfman, Laurien et al. Effects of bovine immunoglobulins on immune function, allergy, and infection. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2018;5:52.