Sporting benefits of mothers milk
The Times, September 12, 2003. By Peta Bee
A constituent of mother's milk boosts the immune system and keeps you fit
MOTHER’S MILK has long been regarded as the most complete food for newborns, but the nutrients in it are attracting attention for a different reason. Sports scientists have discovered that supplements of colostrum, the thin, yellowish, milky fluid produced during the first few days after birth, can have a powerful effect on fitness levels. What’s more, colostrum can boost the immune system, warding off colds and flu, and may even protect against stomach problems.
Studies at the University of South Australia’s Centre for Research in Education and Sports have shown that a daily supplement of colostrum can increase strength and stamina by up to 20 per cent.
“It improves endurance, exercise performance and increases lean body mass,” says Dr Jon Buckley, the physiologist who led the research (published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport).
“We have shown that it also leads to faster recovery rates after exercise and improves muscular power.”
The athletes who took part in Dr Buckley’s study took 60g of colostrum a day for eight weeks while following a treadmill running programme. “Those on colostrum recovered much more quickly than those taking a placebo and were therefore able to train harder and longer,” he says. “There was also a strong trend for reductions in body fat and increases in muscle growth for those on the supplement.”
The supplement is produced from colostrum collected from pasture-fed New Zealand cows.
In both cows and people, colostrum is produced by the mammary glands during the 72 hours after birth and is rich in the antibodies and growth factors that help to prevent stomach infections in newborns.
Among the potent compounds it contains is a substance called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which, combined with regular exercise, is believed to help to stimulate muscle growth.
Dr Louise Burke, the head of nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, describes colostrum as “a hot supplement in the athletics world at the moment”.
Indeed, members of the British rowing, modern pentathlon and athletics teams are known to take it regularly.
Dr Burke explains that while IGF-1 is banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) when taken intentionally in synthetic form, the natural dietary version is not a proscribed substance.
Other studies have shown that colostrum can boost the immune system.
Buckley says: “Athletes and people who do a lot of endurance activity tend to be more susceptible to infections of the upper respiratory tract because they have lower levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA) in their saliva. Taking colostrum increases the levels of these antibodies, which are suppressed by exercise, in the mouth and throat — and that seems to protect against illness.”
Sport aside, colostrum can also protect against gut problems, including stomach ulcers, that are sometimes caused by long-term use of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs often prescribed for arthritis. It is thought to work by enhancing pathogen removal and intestinal healing.
Professor Roy Playford, of the department of gastroenterology at Hammersmith Hospital, has used colostrum extensively with his patients, and it is also prescribed for gastrointestinal complaints at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth.
Buckley believes that it may eventually have wider applications in medicine than it does in the world of sport. “It is not a miracle cure,” he says, “But if it relieves symptoms it will give people a better quality of life.”