Got (first) milk? Bovine colostrum firm targets food & beverage as immunity trend gathers pace

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture credit: Gettyimages/Stef-Bennett
Picture credit: Gettyimages/Stef-Bennett

Related tags: colostrum, Immune health, Digestive health, leaky gut

Immunity claims on new product launches have surged during the pandemic as companies sprinkle in everything from vitamin C and D to zinc, probiotics, postbiotics, elderberry and Cordyceps to their wares to tap into the trend. But what else is in the immune health toolkit, and could bovine colostrum (aka ‘first milk’) move beyond the supplements market and gain traction in food and beverage?

The stuff lactating mammals produce just after giving birth, colostrum is packed with immunoglobulins and other nutrients that help support a newborn’s immune system and seed a healthy gut microbiome in the first few days of life.

While ‘bovine colostrum’ might not sound like a food marketer’s dream, you could probably say the same about collagen (sourced from animal skin and connective tissue), which is one of the most successful functional food and supplement ingredients of recent years. Plus, consumers already consume dairy milk, so colostrum is not actually a big stretch, Stacy Dill, global marketing director at leading colostrum supplier PanTheryx​, told FoodNavigator-USA.

“I’d say​ awareness of colostrum specifically is relatively low​ [in the US], although consumers instinctively know that breastfeeding is good for you, so when we tell the story about bovine colostrum, consumers are quick to understand there could be benefits, especially when they understand that there's over 90 replicated functionalities between human colostrum and bovine colostrum.

“So when they see that it has much of that same functionality, they have a quick reason to believe. With the additional marketing we're putting behind bovine colostrum, we’re expecting a great increase in awareness.”

‘There are over 250 functional components in colostrum’ 

But if bovine colostrum is designed for newborn cows, how do we know that it confers any benefit to, say, adult humans?

According to PanTheryx - which sources its colostrum from 1,000 dairy farms in the US and says it ensures calves first get their fair share* of this 'liquid gold' – there is a growing body of human clinical data showing benefits to digestive and immune health, two of the hottest areas in functional food and beverage right now, at dosages of 400mg to 3g

There are over 250 functional components in colostrum​," said Mike Weiser, Ph.D, director of innovation. "But it’s very rich in immunoglobulins, which are basically antibodies that will bind to things like pathogens, a whole host of different types of bacteria like E Coli, strep and staph, and even viruses like influenza and rhinovirus​,” said Weiser.

It also contains proteins such as lactoferrin that work on directly on pathogens, and oligosaccharides that are closer to human milk oligosaccharides that help promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestine and may therefore act as a prebiotic.”

Immune health

Structure/function claims backed by human clinical trials include everything from ‘supporting the gut’s natural repair process, restoring normal function,’ to ‘helps relieve occasional digestive upsets,’ to ‘helps your child’s digestive system function better,’ to ‘supports the immune system,’ ‘supports respiratory health,’ to sports-related claims such as ‘helps improve recovery from exercise,' said Weiser.

On immune health, he said, “There have been quite a few studies done in younger populations, looking at the benefits for upper respiratory tract infections. So there was an eight-week double-blind, placebo controlled, randomized trial ​[Uchida, K., et al. (2010). J. Jpn. Soc. Clin. Nutr, 31, 122-127] with 500mg a day  of bovine colostrum in 195 three to nine year old healthy children and they saw a reduction in upper respiratory tract infections.   

“There’s another trial ​[Cesarone, M. R., et al. (2007). Clinical and Applied Thrombosis/Hemostasis, 13(2), 130-136] with 144 healthy adults where they had 400mg of bovine colostrum for two months, and they looked at, do they get a flu episode during a two-month time period during flu season? And colostrum was three times more effective than the flu vaccine in reducing the number of episodes.”

Digestive health

When it comes to the effects of colostrum on the gut microbiota, he said, there’s some in vitro and preclinical data suggesting prebiotic effects, but the strongest data to date has been around gut permeability.

There are a number of studies looking at the effect of colostrum on the permeability of the gut or ‘leaky gut.’ One double-blind, placebo controlled, randomized study ​[Halasa et al (2017). Nutrients, 9(4):370] looked at 1g of colostrum per day for 20 days in healthy adult men and found it was able to decrease the permeability of the gut intestinal layer ​[which you can measure by giving people something to ingest that shouldn't make it through the gut barrier, to see if it shows up in blood samples].”

There are also studies showing colostrum can help with diarrhea, especially in kids, he said. “So we look at how quickly you an acute case can wrap up and basically reducing its occurrence.”

Food applications

So what’s the potential of colostrum – which is perhaps best-known as a solution for pediatric diarrhea – in the functional food and beverage market?

It’s new territory for the US, said Dill, who was speaking to us after announcing three new product formulations for PanTheryx’s ColostrumOne bovine colostrum: soft-chews, extruded or cold pressed bars, and baked nutrition bars.

“Right now, functional foods that include colostrum are predominantly located in the Asian market, but we’re seeing consumers in many markets look beyond pills and even gummies, to powders, bars, shot drinks and other formats that are gaining traction. Right now it’s in drink powders for kids and adults, and then there are products in sports nutrition, but chews and bars are the new frontier."

PanTheryx has secured self-determined GRAS status for its bovine colostrum, and plans to submit this determination to the FDA, added Dill.

Marketing colostrum

With interest in immune health at an all-time high thanks to COVID-19, she said, “Brands right now have an opportunity. When you look at the United States, general health is #1, but digestive health and immune health are right behind.”

And while some consumers seek out specific ingredients, others tend to research and then shop around health benefits, she claimed.

The way they are shopping today is not ingredient based; consumers are looking for functionality, so we are giving companies and brands, the opportunity to expand and strengthen their digestive and immune health claims with a new ingredient.

"I think consumers are intrigued by new ingredients in these spaces, and bovine colostrum will help companies, differentiate their products from what's out there in the marketplace.”

Formulating with bovine colostrum

Asked what bovine colostrum is like to work with in food applications, and whether heat and harsh processing techniques degrade its benefits, Weiser explained:

“We were pleasantly surprised that the immunoglobulins survived the baking process with the bars, and why that is, is most likely because the baking process is really short of a short, fast hot type of baking process for bars,” ​said Weiser, who said ColostrumOne’s Immunoglobulins (IgGs) remained stable throughout the manufacturing process for all three new food applications (soft-chews, extruded or cold pressed bars, and baked nutrition bars).

“It all depends on the matrix and the processing, obviously, the higher the heat and longer, is probably not great. We’re looking into other food categories like yogurts, next.”

*According to PanTheryx: "Mature dairy cows can produce 38-48 quarts of colostrum per day and calves usually consume 25-33% of that amount.

"Each cow differs in the amount of colostrum it produces. Following the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) Standards for Production of Dairy Cows, calves must consume two to four quarts of colostrum in the first six hours of life, six quarts in the first 12 hours of life, and at least six additional quarts in the next 24 hours of life.

"PanTheryx collects the excess colostrum after the calf has consumed its 12-16 quarts within the first 24 hrs. If a cow produces more colostrum in the coming days, the excess of colostrum is likely lower in nutritional properties than the first milking and is not collected for PanTheryx products."

Dairy producers supplying PanTheryx collect colostrum within 24 hours of cows giving birth, and immediately freeze it before shipping it to PanTheryx, which tests it to ensure it retains its bioactivity, said director of innovation Dr. Mike Weiser.

What’s important is if you don't collect it on the first day, the bioactives slowly start to decline in potency. When we get into our plant, we test it for the bioactive to ensure the levels. And then we heat it to a level that kills harmful microorganisms but not for long enough that it degrades the bioactive components; then we spray dry it and standardize it to a specific level of immunoglobulins and proteins. So, that way, our customers are able to depend on that solid quality and the solid consistency of product.”

PanTheryx’s ColostrumOne is tested at the 500 mg level (20% IgG/Immunoglobulin) for inclusion in soft-textured chews and 1 gram (20% IgG) for baked or soft press nutrition bar applications. 

We’ve experienced a surge in customer interest worldwide for innovations in ingredient applications for consumer immunity and gut health products. Our cow colostrum is now tested and used successfully in proof-of-concept products, including functional nutrition bars and soft-chew supplements – making ColostrumOne the first cow colostrum to be delivered in these formats in the US.

"We will continue investing in immune and digestive health innovations to give manufacturers a way to differentiate their products in the market.”

Wes Parris, president and CEO, PanTheryx

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