Ask Dr. Andro: Are Colostrum and Milk Products in General Healthy Muscle Builders, a Waste of Money or Toxic Waste?

Image 1: Colostrum and other milk products
Milky muscle builders or murky allergens?
(image from SportRevue 6/2010)
Question from Peter Art (via Facebook): Do you still have a plan to release a write up about colostrum or it may be delayed? I am just asking.

Answer Dr. Andro: In fact it got delayed, the delay got delayed again and now there is so much delay that I felt like further delaying the write-up would border pathological procrastination... Instead of citing the three existing studies on colostrum, however, I decided to do a more comprehensive "Ask Dr. Andro" segment on the powers and perils of the milky mammalian life-elixir that has been used and later abused (I am referring to the modern way of food processing here) by generations of human beings and is still considered as an "evolutionary inappropriate" foodstuff by some.

"Muscle building magic happens, when you put the right stack together", says Carl Lenore in a spot for IronMagLabs prohormones - Well, guess what milk may be the original "stack"

Image 2: If you are interested in the way
the US government treats non-compliant
raw dairy producing listen to Carl Lenore's
rant against the "Rawsome Raid"
It is not by accident that milk (and colostrum) have always had the reputation of being powerful muscle and strength builders. Few modern bodybuilders would go without their whey protein and at least among the non-carbophobic body builders there are still a few who swear by the consumption of gallons of the "white gold" - at least in the off-season. In fact, nature invented the milky liquid not as "a", but as "the" source of essential amino acids and more. And, as we will see, part of this "more" is what either fascinates or scares people about milk.

Depending on which expert you are asking you will either be told about the life-threatening dangers or the almost magical benefits of the biologically active proteins, peptides, lipids and sugars in milk and related dairy products. In that, it stands out of question that these peptides display antimicrobial, opioid, mineral-binding , antihypertensive, antithrombotic, and immunomodulating properties. 
Physiological Effect / ClassificationCompound(s)
Opioid agonists (decrease gastric mobility, increase electrolyte and amino acid uptake) α- ,β-caseins, α-lactalbumin, β-lactoglobulin, serum albumin
ACE inhibitors (increase blood flow to intestinal epithelium)α- ,β-caseins
Mineral binding (increase absorption) α- ,β-caseins
Immunomodulators (increase immune response and phagocytic activity)α- ,β-caseins, gG, IgA, lactoferrin, glycolipids, oligosaccharides, prolactin, cytokines
Antimicrobial αs1 and s2-casein, lactoferrin, oligosaccharides, prolactin
Probiotic κ-casein, lactoferrin, oligosaccharides
Opioid antagonistκ-casein, lactoferrin
Organ development and function IGF-1, TGF-α, EGF, TGF-β
Increase calcium metabolism and uptakeParathromone - P
Table 1: Milk as a "functional food". Physiological effects and their respective triggers.
(adapted from Schanbacher. 1998; Meisel. 1998 and Clare. 2000)

The overview in Table 1 makes it quite clear, milk derived peptides are hardly inferior to pharmacological agents. Whey proteins and peptides derived from the enzymatic proteolysis of casein and whey, for example, modulate a variety of processes such as lymphocyte activation and proliferation, cytokine secretion, antibody production, phagocytic activity, and granulocyte and natural killer (NK) cell activity (Gauthier. 2006).
Illustration 1: Bioactive components in milk and their respective beneficial effects on health markers.
(adapted from Corhonen. 2009; in Park, ed. 2009, ISBN 978-0-8138-1982-2)
Whether we want to exploit or rather avoid these effects (cf. illustration 1) is yet still a matter of constant debate and the increasing financial interests of the "functional food" industry is beginning to compromise the objectivity, or, to be fair, I should say the "balance" of scientific research.
Did you know that a 2007 forecast estimated the sales in functional foods for the US to 3,478 million US$? I suppose now you will begin to understand why companies are willing to spend millions of dollars into respective research and nobody really cares about potential negative side effects of what I would like to call "functional food gone disfunctional"... its a pity!

The Immunoglobulin / Allergy Side of the Coin

In view of the current scare of gluten-, soy and whatever anti-bodies to food your body is able to produce, it must be said that mammalian immunoglobolins (IGs) are essential to the humoral part of the immune defense of the neonate. Milk, and colostrum in particular, one could say, are specifically "designed" by nature to provide the newborn with antibodies until its own immune system learns to handle the constant assault on its own.
Figure 1: Bioactive substances in colostrum and milk - note the particular differences in immunoglobolin, lactoferrin, serumalbumin and growthfactors (data adapted from Corhonen. 2009; in Park, ed. 2009, ISBN 978-0-8138-1982-2)
From the perspective of the opponents of milk / colostrum consumption, a keyword in this context is "immune maturity". "Why?", they will be asking the proponents of milk consumtion (or even deliberate enrichment of dairy products with immunoglobulins), "Why would a grown up mammal want to consume foreign anti-bodies, if he/she is well able to produce all the necessary immunoglobulins on his/her own?"

Image 3: It is a reasonable, yet not
scientifically studied question, if
milk per se, or rather the industrialized
variety you buy at the grocery store
is the cause of all sorts of autoimmune
reactions (image from CCRecycling)
If you just have a look at the sheer amount of studies PubMed returns for the keywords "milk AND immunoglobulins AND allergy" (1639 hits!) the answer appears to be a clear "No reasonable mammal would want that!" (This does yet raise the question if humans can be regarded as "reasonable mammals"... well, you decide ;-) Already at the ninth position, right after a comprehensive review on the "Epidemiology of food allergies" there is a study reporting beneficial effects of fermented milk products grass allergies (Wassenberg. 2011) and a random klick on review #5, "Food allergy therapy: is cure within reach?" by Nowak-Wegrzyn and Muraro (2011) is surprisingly not about curing milk allergies, but about curing allergies with milk products.

These random examples are not meant to negate the well-established prevalence of autoimmune reactions (often in its immediate form, which most of us associate with the term "allergy) to milk products. According to Cattan et al. (2011) 2%-3% of young children display are affected by cow's milk allergy. I do yet wand to submit that even this unfortunate statistic does not answer the question whether it is the "living nutrient" milk or rather its dead, highly contaminated industrial incarnation that affects the children.
Figure 2: Concentration of immunoglobulins in bovine and human milk and colostrum; mind the logarithmic scale!
(data adapted from Stelwagen. 2009 according to Butler. 1973)
Although the immonoglobulin-composition of bovine milk is obviously different from the one of human milk (cf. data in figure 2), the increasing number of studies which show beneficial immunological effects related to the consumption of colostrum or respective concentrates, as well as epidemiological and controlled studies on the consumption of "real", i.e. raw milk from pastured cows, seem to suggest that individual genetic factors aside, the "contamination" of commercial milk products could well be one of the underlying factors of its allergy-triggering effects in certain populations. After all, milk is meant to nourish an infant, so that it becomes a carbon-copy of its parent, which, as it survived evolutionary selection pressure and successfully reproduced, should be healthy and not unviable and drugged to the eyeballs as the average dairy cow, today.

Is there any "Raw Truth" to the Stories About Unpasteurized Milk?

The remarks on the industrialized dairy production at the end of the previous paragraph bring up the question whether milk from the opposite site of the spectrum, i.e. raw milk from happy pasteur-fed cows, would really be a better or even generally healthy alternative to the white potage in your fridge. A first clue that this may in fact be the case can be found in a 2006 paper (with no declared conflict of interests) by the British scientists Michael R. Perkin and David P. Strachnan on the inverse association between farming lifestyle and childhood allergy (Perkin. 2006), in which they state that
current unpasteurized milk consumption was associated with significantly less current eczema symptoms (adjusted OR, 0.59; 95% CI, 0.40-0.87; P 5 .008) and a greater reduction in atopy (adjusted OR, 0.24; 95% CI, 0.10-0.53; P 5 .001) [... and] was associated with a 59% reduction in total IgE levels and higher production of whole blood stimulated IFN-g (P = .02)
The most interesting finding, however, was that "the effect was seen in all children, independent of farming status".
Figure 3: Percentage of pathogen infected samples of different foodstuffs; missing bars indicate no sample available
(data adapted from a presentation by Baars. 2010)
Now, you may say that all this sounds fine, but everyone knows that raw milk contains pathogens that are a potential thread to your life... well, the actual data on the issue of microbial risks and foodborne illnesses by pathogens like campylobacter, salmonella, staph. aureus, EHEC, etc. in raw milk, presented by Prof. Dr. Ton Baars from Department of Biodynamic Agriculture at the University of Kassel (Germany) at the 2nd Annual International Raw Milk Symposium in Madison (WI) on April 2010 speaks a very different language. Obviously, people who are afraid of raw milk would never even remotely consider eating raw chicken (the worst offender on the list), but some of them may have been to one of the hip sushi restaurants, lately, and would thus have had a 7.4x higher chance of infecting themselves with listeria, an infection of which 20 to 30 percent of the clinical infections result in death, than raw milk drinkers... But hey, I am losing track, here. The raw vs. pasteurized, conventional vs. grass-fed and medically treated vs. medication-free debate would be a topic for an individual installment of the "Ask Dr. Andro Series" and thus I will try to get back to the question at hand.

Colostrum, Milk and the Athlete

Image 4: Over years, milk has
been marketed by athletes in
Germany (image (c) CMA)
German soccer star Miroslav Klose (image 4) says "Milch ist meine Stärke!" (loosely translated "Milk is the reason for my success!") in an advertisement of the German CMA which mentions the usual suspects, calcium, lactose and protein, as the cornerstones of what a world-class striker needs. And in fact, an "expert" discussion on the benefits of whey vs. casein as part of the ideal post-workout supplement in an old thread of the Mind and Muscle Forum yielded a result with a nutrient composition that looked surprisingly familiar: some fast digesting whey + some casein for a sustained protein supply, a few carbs, some minerals and vitamins = the ideal post-workout supplement, or put more simply, MILK! And in fact, science seems to confirm what the brainy trainees on a bulletin-board have thought out.

As an avid reader of the science news on the SuppVersity you will probably be familiar with the fact that, time and again, plain chocolate milk, with its mixture of fast and slow digesting carbs and proteins, has either stuck with or even outperformed expensive post-workout formulas (cf. table 2)
Ferguson-Stegall. 2011b"CM [chocolate milk] postexercise improves aerobic power and body composition more effectively than CHO [carbohydrate] alone"
Ferguson-Stegall. 2011a"CM supplementation can improve subsequent exercise performance and provide a greater intracellular signaling stimulus for PRO synthesis compared to CHO and placebo"
Gilson. 2010 "CM provided similar muscle recovery responses to an isocaloric CHO beverage during four-days of ITD [increased training duration]. Future studies should investigate if the attenuated CK [creatine kinase = marker of muscle damage] levels observed with CM have functional significance during more demanding periods of training"
Pritchett. 2009"These findings indicate no difference between CHOC and this commercial beverage as potential recovery aids for cyclists between intense workouts."
Thomas. 2009"Participants cycled 51% and 43% longer after ingesting CM (32 +/- 11 min) than after ingesting [commercially available] CR [carbohydrate drink] (21 +/- 8 min) or FR [fluid replacement drink] (23 +/- 8 min)"
Carp. 2006 "[...] chocolate milk is an effective recovery aid between two exhausting exercise bouts"
Table 2: A selection of recent studies on the ergogenic effects of (chocolate-)milk

On the other hand, most of these beneficial effects on regeneration, protein synthesis etc. could be attributed to the nutrient content of (chocolate) milk alone. A question that would be of much greater interest to the majority of athletes and fitness enthusiasts would though be, whether or not they could benefit from the various growth factors scientists have found in milk and dairy products since the initial discovery of growth-promoting or -inhibitory peptides in colostrum in the 1980s.

Colostrum: A Miracelous, White "Growth Factors" Elexir!?

Now, as the data in figure 1 indicates, colostrum is by far the best source of these growth-regulators, as I would like to call them. BTC (beta cellulin), EGF (epidermal growth factor), FGF1 and FGF2 (fibroblast growth factor), IGF-I and IGF-II (insulin-like growth factor), TGF-β1 and TGF-β2 (trans- forming growth factor) and PDGF (platelet  - derived growth factor) - for all of them applies that their concentration, both in human, as well as in bovine colostrum is highest during the first hours after childbirth / calving (cf. figures 3 and 4).
Figure 4: Reduction in immunoglobulins in colostrum after two and three days relative to immunoglobulin content of colostrum on day one post-partum (data calculated based on Kelly. 2003)
The question we would have to answer to understand whether and to which extend athletes could benefit from the presence of this 53 to 425 amino residue polypeptides in colostrum (and in much lower concentrations in milk) is threefold:
  1. Which of these growth factors could improve athletic performance?
  2. Is the dose of the respective growth factors in milk / colostrum sufficient to illicit physiological effects? And most importantly...
  3. Can these oral growth factors nature intended as a supplement for the newborn calf do their magic in adult human beings, as well?
The latter question obviously implies that the large majority of athletes won't be able to obtain human colostrum and would thus have to rely on the bovine variety, which is readily available at local farms and, as a powdered supplement, at various bulk supplement vendors on the Internet.
Figure 4: Reduction in cytokines in colostrum after two and three days relative to cytokine content of colostrum on day one post-partum (data calculated based on Kelly. 2003)

With regard to the powdered supplements, but also in view of the potential benefits of "regular", i.e. pasteurized milk, it should be noted that the growth factors present in milk seem to withstand pasteurization and even ultrahigh temperature (UHT) heat treatment of milk relatively well (Gauthier. 2006). While EGF and BTC, as stimulators of epidermal, epithelial and embryonic cells, are relatively uninteresting for healthy athletes, their ability to promote wound healing and bone resorption could be particularly interesting for injured athletes. The same is true for the two forms of TGF-β, both of which stimulate the proliferation of connective tissue cells.

The two forms of IGF, on the other hand, stimulate the proliferation (cell growth) of various tissues, and regulate metabolic functions such as glucose uptake and the synthesis of glycogen. It stands to reason that their highly marketable presence in colostrum is the main reason for athletes and fitness enthusiasts to invest a non-negligible share of their hard-earned money into respective supplements. The question yet remains, are they wasting their money?

Will the Growth Factors Be Absorbed, At All?

It has been established by animal studies that EGF, TGF and also both IGF isoforms "provoke various local effects on the gastrointestinal tract and can be absorbed intact or partially from intestine into blood circulation" (Korhonen. 2009; in Park, ed. 2009, ISBN 978-0-8138-1982-2). As you may have read in my dissertations related to the IGF1-spray, rodent studies show that naturally occuring proteins (e.g. casein) and protease inhibitors in milk protect these peptides against gastric and intestinal breakdown. The number of human studies on the subject is yet not very extensive, to say the least. The most comprehensive research has probably been done by Antti Mero and his group at the Department of Biology of Physical Activity at the University of Jyväskylä in Jyväskylä, Finland. Their results show that in the absence of performance increases in vertical jump performance, 8 days of supplementation with a commercially available colostrum product (Bionervie) dose-dependently increased serum IGF-1 levels (Mero. 1997).
Figure 5: Changes in IGF serum concentration [in nmol/L] between pre- and posttraining in 9 male sprinters and jumpers; note: a follow up study showed that the increase in IGF was not a result of immediate oral absorption, but a downstream effect of colostrum supplementation (data adapted from Mero. 1997)
These observations are not only noteworthy because they suggest that IGF1 from bovine colostrum survives gastrointestinal passage and would (read the rest of this post!) be readily absorbed into the blood stream by the gut lining in human beings, but also because the effects of 25ml and 125ml also compensated the training induced decrease in IGF1 measured in the placebo group (cf. figure 3).
Image 5: Creatine Monohydrate increases
IGF1 by 24% over placebo (Burke. 2008).
Did you know that plain creatine monohydrate, taken at a dose of 0.25 g/kg lean-tissue mass for 7 days (loading phase) and 0.06 g/kg lean-tissue mass for 49 days (maintenance phase) increased intramuscular IGF1 levels in 12 men and women, who did nothing but 30 minutes of very light aerobic activity per day, by a whopping +24% over placebo? Regardless of whether or not you believe that colostrum works. Creatine certainly does! And I stand to what I said before: Creatine monohydrate is still the king of all dietary supplements.
Within the scientific community the results of Mero's study were highly disputed, claims were made that the increase in IGF concentrations was "spurious, caused by inaccurate measuring techniques" etc. In an experimentally more sophisticated (gel electrophoresis techniques) follow up study, Moreno et al. were however able to replicate the results from the previous study with another colostrum product (Dynamic). Much to the scientists surprise, however, the measured increase in serum insulin like growth factor was not a result of direct oral absorption of the growth factors from the colostrum, but the result of an increased endogenous IGF production that was triggered by the intake of the supplement (Mero. 2002):
Absorption data show that ingested 123I-rhIGF-I [that is the previously radiolabelled IGF1 in the colostrum] is fragmented in circulation and that no radioactive IGF-I is eluted at the positions of free, or the IGF, binding proteins, giving no support to the absorption of IGF-I from bovine colostrum.
Yet even if colostrum does not do its magic by delivering IGF and other growth factors into the bloodstream, it appears to "work" and thus the question that remains to be answered is whether plain milk, or rather a whey protein supplement, which currently is the gold-standard for the majority of athletes and fitness enthusiasts, would not be as effective as the more expensive colostrum supplements.
Illustration 2: According to Buckley. 2003 there may be a 500% difference in price, the effect on serum IGF1 and exercise performance of 60g colostrum and 60g whey per day, are yet 100% identical.
The answer to this question comes from a 2003 study by Buckley et al. who compared the effect of 60g of bovine colostrum to the effects of the same amount of a standard whey protein supplement and found similar performance increases in both groups and no effect on IGF levels in any of the 51 men (Buckley. 2003). Moreover, Burke and Deakin remark in their review of the literature in Chapter 16 of the third edition of Clinical Sports Nutrition that studies using trained subjects were less likely to show any effect of colostrum supplementation at all (Burke. 2006).
Shing. 2006"[10g/day] bovine CPC [colostrum concentrate] supplementation elicited improvements in TT40 [40 km time trial] performance during an HIT period and maintained ventilatory threshold following five consecutive days of HIT"
Buckley. 2003 same increase in peak power for 60g colostrum as with whey protein; no increase in IGF1
Brinkworth. 2004a"[cross sectional area of biceps increased more in trainees supplemented with 60g bovine colostrum than in whey control, but that was] due principally to a greater increase in skin and subcutaneous fat (SSF) CSA"
Buckley. 2003 same increase in peak power for 60g colostrum as with whey protein; no increase in IGF1
Buckley. 2002b"[...] latively few scientifically controlled studies have been conducted. The limited evidence that is currently available suggests that BC supplementation can increase lean body mass and improve exercise performance and recovery for a number of athletic activities, but an understanding of the mechanism by which this supplement exerts these effects remains elusive"
Buckley. 2002a"[...] supplementation with intact powder did not increase plasma IGF-I concentrations or improve performance during an initial bout of incremental running to exhaustion in our sample. However, performance during a second bout of exercise may be improved by as much as 5.2% in the average subject after 8 weeks of supplementation, possibly due to an enhancement of recovery"
Coombes. 2002"Oral bovine colostrum supplementation at 20 g or 60 g/d provided a small but significant improvement in time trial performance in cyclists after a 2-h ride at 65% VO2max." [improvements were 20g colostrum+40g whey  60g+ colostrum 60g+ whey]
Antonio. 2001"[...]supplementation with bovine colostrum (20 g/d) in combination with exercise training for 8 wk may increase bone-free lean body mass [+1.5 kg, while whey-placebo group increased overall BM by +2 kg] in active men and women."
Mero. 1997"appears that a bovine colostrum supplement (Bioenervi) may increase serum IGF-I concentration in athletes during strength and speed training" (cf. discussion in the text)
Table 2: A selection of studies on the ergogenic effects of colostrum

Personally, I would trace these subject-specific differences back to an already optimized nutrient supply, where the addition of the beneficial amino acids, minerals and vitamins from colostrum (or milk) does not make much of a difference. Otherwise, I would allign myself with the following statements Burke and Deakin make in view of the expedience of colostrum supplementation
[t]he only consistent findings from the present studies of colostrum supplementation are that there are no apparent benefits to the outcomes of resistance training (Antonio et al. 2001; Buckley et al. 2003; Brinkworth et  al. 2004), and that when benefits are detected, they are apparent only after more than 4 weeks of treatment (Buckley et al. 2002, 2003).

[...] The lack of a plausible hypothesis to explain how colostrum might enhance the response to exercise is also an important absence.

[...] Whether all colostrum supplements are of equal quality or efficacy is also a concern.
In view of the exorbitant costs of a colostrum supplements (cf. illustration 2) and the absence of any reliable quality standards (you never know if "your" colostrum has even remotely the same nutrient / growth factor composition as the one used in one of the studies) I thus strongly advise against spending the roughly 270$ a month supply of bulk colostrum powder (of questionable quality) would cost you, if you wanted to mimic the 60g/day dose that was used in the majority of studies with beneficial outcome.

Figure 6: 1st-day Colostrum is a particularly
rich source of antibody against all
sorts of pathogens (adapted from
Stephan. 1990 and Rump. 1992)
Colostrum, Pathogens and Infections

I've broached the issue of possible infections from (raw) milk in a previous paragraph, already. As it turned out, chicken, meat and most notably fish, one of the only foods even the "hip", health-conscious Men's Health or Shape readers are scarfing down raw, are the major offenders, when it comes to pathogen infections. Now, what's even more interesting is that to protect the growing calf from harm, colostrum comes with a whole host of antibodies against all your favorite pathogens:
  • Helicobacter plyori
  • E. coli (remember the recent death-toll in Europe?)
  • Rotavirus
  • Salmonella 
  • Staphylococcus
  • Candida albicans
  • and many more
And these are only the best-known of the antibodies that have hitherto been identified in 1st-day colostrum (cf. titer=antibody count values in figure 1).

In view of the sheer amount of highly bioactive compounds in colostrum, it is no wonder that the "early milk" has also been implicated as a viable treatment for several gut pathologies. Its ability to eradicate gut parasites such as candida or helicobacter plyori aside, its effect on intestinal permeability may be of greatest value for athletes, who experience significant (sometimes more than 2.5x, which is similar to what is seen upon the administration of particularly nasty NSAIDs such as indomethacin) increases in gut permeability as a consequence of streneous exercise.
Image 6: Could Glutamine be
the cheap colostrum?
Did you know that the cheap supplement l-glutamine has also been shown to protect athletes from exercise induced increases in gut permeability and the consequent influx of toxins and pathogens into their blood stream? No? Well I guess than you have missed the Amino Acids for Super Humans Series, a joint project of the SuppVersity and Carl Lenore's Super Human Radio and a "must read / listen", if you are interested in the ergogenic of these nitrogen containing molecules which are much more than just building blocks of protein and muscle.

Click here to read all about l-glutamine
A very recent study by Marchbank et al. shows that the administration of 20g/day of colostrum in the 14 days prior to a standardized exercise test blunted 80% of the detrimental effects on intestinal permeability and thus protected the subjects from the influx of luminal toxins in the post-exercise period (Marchbank. 2011).

Staving off the Common Cold (and Other Ailments) with Supplemental Colostrum!?

Compared to the information on its effect on gut health, the scientific data on the immune-strengthening effects many people associate with, or even expect from the consumption of colostrum is less unequivocal. While long term studies (10 and 12 weeks of 25g/day supplemental colostrum) showed improved immunity and reductions in upper-respiratory tract infections in distance runners (Crooks. 2006) and swimmers (Crooks. 2010), respectively, a 2011 study by Carol et al. showed no improvement in the immune reaction to a 90-minute glycogen-depletion trial over skim-milk, when the subjects had consumed a similar colostrum supplement as it was used in the Crooks studies in the ten days prior to the experiment (Carol. 2011).
Image 7: Long distance endurance athletes
such as swimmers and marathon runners
probably benefitmost from colostrum.
Regarding the results of the 2006 Crooks study, it is important to note that a 2010 study by Peters et al. (Peters. 2010) found that their markers of immune status, i.e. the number and composition of immunoglobulins, did not correlate with incidences of upper-respiratory tract infections in marathon runners. It is thus questionable how significant the increases in salivary immunoglobulins they observed in their 35 distance runners actually is, as far as its real-world outcomes are concerned.
Whether the differences we see in the results of these studies are related to milking time (remember the immunoglobulin content is highest in day 1 colostrum) and thus the product quality, the type of exercise (repeated long-distance endurance exercises such as running and swimming are notorious for wreaking havoc on your immune system) or simply the duration of supplementation is hard to say. If you nailed me down to a single answer, I would say chronic stress, as in long-distance running, requires chronic supplementation of a stress-reducing supplement. Thusly, I would blend the last two of my suggested explanations into a single more comprehensive one.... Nevertheless, even if you are a marathon runner or Ironman competitor you should ponder, whether these inconclusive results really warrant an investment of more than 112$ for a month supply of colostrum (this is what it would cost you if you used the 25g/dose that worked for the swimmers in Crooks. 2010).

Hormones and Other 'Fun' Compounds in Milk and Colostrum

Figure 7: Androgen and estrogen content in
milk from French supermarkets collected in 2006
and 2007 (data adapted from Courant. 2008)
Last but not least, and as we will see probably less related to athletic performance than to unwanted side-effects, is the often cited endless list of
  • gonadal hormones (estrogens, progesterone, androgens), 
  • adrenal (glucocorticoids), pituitary (prolactin, growth hormone), and hypothalamic hormones (gonadotropin - releasing hormone, luteinizing - hormone – releasing hormone, thyrotropin - releasing hormone), and 
  • peptides and hormone-like substances like somatostatin, bombesin, calcitonin, insulin, melatonin, and parathyroid hormon, and
  • pesticides and other toxins, beta-agonists, non-steriodal-antiinflammatory drugs, etc.
  • melamine (the stuff the Chinese add as a protein substitute that then kills their babies)
that have been found in colostrum or milk of bovine origin.

I've already broached the issue of peptides, will leave aside the toxins, pesticides and co, simply because these are exogenous contaminants you may or may not find in your milk products (not to mention that this blogpost is already epic enough ;-) and conclude this epic "Ask Dr. Andro" segment with a brief discussion of the potential dangers or benefits of naturally occuring hormones in milk. 

By now, the presence of all sorts of hormones in "white gold" actually should not surprise you anymore. I've already mentioned in one of the previous paragraphs that the milk of a mammal is just as much a mirror of its metabolic and endocrine status, as is its blood. This obviously entails that if you inject your cows with growth hormone (as it is obviously still allowed in the US) or other hormones to increase milk production or whatever other wicked intention you may be harboring, you will obviously find "traces" of these exogenous hormones in the milk and, even more so the, colostrum of your cow.

Figure 8: Naturally occuring androgen and
estrogen content in different forms of colostrum
(data adapted from Farke. 2011)
Other factors that will influence the type and amount of hormones you will find in your milk, i.e. the milk you buy at your grocery store, farmers market or friendly dairy farmer, are related to
  • what the animals were fed
  • which medications the animals received
  • when, i.e. in which hormonal phase (note: the melatonin content even varies with the time of the day), the cows are milked
  • what "happened" to the milk on its way from the cow / farmer into your fridge
These are, quite obviously, too many factors for me to consider, but if you look at the little publicized data, there is, you will find that some information that applies to pretty much all (uncontaminated) milk and colostrum products, regardless of whether you bought them from your local farmer or the grocery store (cf. figures 8 and 9):
  1. colostrum (skimmed) contains roughly 19x more androgens and 213x more estrogens than whole milk
  2. for milk and colostrum the full fat variety tends to have generally higher levels of both androgens and estrogens - for colostrum, for example the fat fraction contains 10x androgens and 10x more estrogens than the skimmed variety, which is also used as a base for most powdered colostrum supplements
  3. in the case of milk, the ratio of androgens to estrogens (AE-ratio) drops by -34% during the skimming process; in fact, skimmed milk contains more estradiol (per liter) than whole milk.
Now to put these general observations as well as the data in figures 7 and 8 into a "health perspective" we got to have a look at the respective "acceptable daily intake" (ADI) established by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the maximum secure daily intake established by the FDA:
  • 17beta-testosterone - 2µg/kg (ADI), 320ng/kg (FDA)*
  • 17beta-estradiol - 50 ng/kg, 65ng/kg (FDA)

    * Isn't it strange how the FDA allows roughly 160x the amount of testosterone to be present in foodstuff than the WHO considers an "acceptable daily intake"? How come steroids are illegal in the US, then ;-)?
Now how much of our milk products would an 80kg human or his/her 1 year old toddler have to consume in order to surpass these levels?
Figure 9: Number of 0.3l cups of milk or colostrum an 80kg adult human being or a 1 year old 10kg toddler would be "allowed" to consume according to the JECFA acceptable daily intake (ADI) and the maximum secure intake as established by the FDA (FDA); data has been calculated on the basis of figures 8 and 9, i.e. based on naturally occuring levels of the respective hormones
As my calculations in figure 9 clearly show, the general public is not really in danger of hormonal "intoxication" by colostrum, let alone milk consumption - at least as long as the dairy does not come from cows who have been treated with hormones. Even if we assume that all the hormones would pass right through the endothelial layer of your intestines and into your blood stream it would still take 4 full 0.3l cups of the fat fraction of colostrum for a toddler to surpass at least the WHO's very rigid acceptable daily intake recommendation for testosterone.
Image 7: If you want the anabolic effect
from milk or colostrum you better buy
yourself this 45,000$ milk truck!
Just a short note on possible performance enhancements. Let's say the average bobybuilder does not even start to see significant results below a weekly dose of 500mg of testosterone. Now (we are again assuming that he would in fact assimilate all the hormonal content of milk and colostrum), this would mean that the poor guy would have the choice between 388 milk trucks with whole milk, 18 milk trucks full of skimmed milk or just two 5000 gallon trucks that are filled to the seams with the fat fraction from 1st day colostrum per day(!) to get his weekly dose of anabolics - Cheers!

An Overdue Preliminary Conclusion

Image 8: Even colostrum won't
make you unbreakable... it is
yet about as unlikely that it
will kill you, as some anti-dairy
activists would have it.
Will milk and/or colostrum kill you? No. Will milk and/or colostrum make you look like Jay Cutler and unbreakable like Bruce Willis aka David Dunn in the Y2K thriller Unbreakable within days? Certainly not. 

Well, I guess these are the two polar extremes of the preliminary conclusion to this "Ask Dr. Andro" segment and, as it is so often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between. I cannot tell you your exact position on the death to ultimate health continuum as far as your personal reaction to dairy consumption is concerned, I can only tell you that even if your genetic polymorphisms allow you to consume dairy, the chance that replacing your whey protein by a 6x more expensive colostrum powder will make a beneficial difference in how you look, feel and perform are minimal. I am not so sure however, if you would not see some, if only psychological (placebo) benefits if you mixed that whey into some real, i.e. whole, liquid and not powdered, 1st day colostrum you bought the very same day from your local farmer ;o)

That being said, I could certainly go on forever on milk, organic milk, milk from happy and milk from pasteur fed cows, the effects of soy on the milk you consume, raw milk, 1st day and 4th day colostrum, and so on and so forth, but I suppose that Peter, who posed the original question (just in case you forgot due to the informational overkill of this not even half-done write-up), and the rest of you have enough to think about for the coming week. Ah... and in case you can't get enough of milk (I mean metaphorically) just pose another, hopefully more concrete "Ask Dr. Andro" question in the comment area or on the SuppVersity's facebook page  ;-)
Disclaimer:The information provided on this website is for informational purposes only. It is by no means intended as professional medical advice. Do not use any of the agents or freely available dietary supplements mentioned on this website without further consultation with your medical practitioner.