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Fountain of Youth Rediscovered?
Colostrum as an Anti-Aging Agent.
By Donald R. Henderson, M.D., M.P.H. Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine and Gastroenterology at UCLA School of Medicine
The search for youth started long before Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon roamed the New World seeking the fountain of youth. Much of that search, then and now, has focused on the superficial effects of aging – graying hair, wrinkles, and reduced endurance. However, aging is far more than the physical changes in our body’s appearance.
While “feeling old” may be a state of mind as well as a set of physical sensations, the aging process itself is a biological one. No matter how young we feel, our body goes through physiological changes as we get older. These changes bring about a decline in our ability to fight disease and infection. They also affect our central nervous system and alter our cellular structures, which, in turn, affect our muscles, skin, and skeletal form.
However, it is possible that the fountain of youth – or a part of it, anyway – has been found in colostrum. For the 63% of American adults who report they are concerned about the effects of aging*, and the 19 million people expected to be over age 85 by 2050† , this is great news.
But just how is colostrum able to do all this?
Colostrum: The Anti-Aging Connection
While changes due to aging in our cells, muscles and immune system sound like a series of irreversible processes, they can be slowed with colostrum because of the growth factors it contains. Among its myriad ingredients, colostrum contains:
Natural antibiotic factors:
- immunoglobulins (IgG, IgA, IgD, IgE, and IgM) – substances that neutralize toxins, viruses, and bacteria, particularly in the digestive and respiratory systems
- cytokines – small proteins that affect the behavior of other cells
- lactoferrin – a substance that neutralizes bacteria and helps release cytokines
- growth factors (IGF-I, IGF-II, EGF, TGF α & β) – substances that aid in cellular, muscular and skeletal growth
Immunoglobulins, or antibodies, specifically recognize any foreign compound that enters the body. When one enters, various antibodies direct themselves to different areas of the invader and attack it, wherever it is in the body.
Over our lifetime, we are exposed to a variety of foreign substances and normally have built a vast array of antibody-producing lymphocytes (more than 100 million by some estimates) that persist at low levels for years. Their goal is to surface again if we are exposed to the same substance. The immune system is able to remember with what we have been infected, and often can prevent us from being infected again. This is the premise upon which vaccines work.
The most abundant antibodies in the bloodstream are of the immunoglobulin G class, IgG, but the IgA, IgD, IgE, and IgM classes are also important. These antibodies have similar structures but different functional properties. For example, Immunoglobulin A, or IgA, plays a key role in mucosal immunity, which is of particular importance in maintenance of mucosal health and avoidance of infection, while IgG neutralizes toxins and microbes in the lymph and circulatory system.
Antibodies carry out two basic functions. First, they bind specifically to molecules from the foreign substance that caused the immune system to respond. Secondly, they recruit other cells and molecules to destroy the substance once the antibody is bound to it. Antibodies can also block receptors on cells and prevent viruses from entering cells.
When we think our antibodies are not responding well enough to something like an infection, we may take a series of antibiotics. But, by doing so, we reduce the body’s active immune response to that organism, whatever it may be. In essence, this means that the next time we face the same organism, our own immune response will likely be less effective than it otherwise would have been. Even when an antibiotic is properly prescribed and works as it should, it does not just kill the offending organism. It also kills others that perform important functions, such as the beneficial bacteria that aid in the breakdown and digestion of food, and help combat yeast overgrowth in the intestinal tract.
Any process that can replenish our natural antibodies and keep them strong has massive potential, and also has many implications. Imagine a natural food or supplement, such as colostrum, that provides a natural immunity against bacteria and viruses, allowing us to rely less on antibiotics. Using colostrum can assist our immune system.
Although there are clearly many ingredients in colostrum that are of utmost importance, perhaps it is the growth factors that hold the most promise in slowing the aging process. Growth factors stimulate our skeletal and muscle growth on a cellular level while regulating our metabolism.
The growth factors contained in colostrum include:
- epithelial growth factor (EGF)
- insulin-like growth factor-I and II (IGF-I and IGF-II)
- fibroblast growth factor (FGF)
- platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF)
- transforming growth factors alpha & beta (TG-α and TG-β)
Children need these growth factors to flourish. If they are absent, then growth-hormone therapy is prescribed. But such replacement therapy is not often done for adults, even though data indicates that adults who have abnormal body composition can benefit from growth-hormone replacement. Specifically, the researchers found that GH replacement in adults with growth-hormone deficiencies resulted in markedly beneficial alterations in body composition, fat distribution, and bone and mineral metabolism.
Growth hormone (GH) helps our long bones, joints and muscles grow. As we age, we create less GH, and we tend to experience osteoporosis and less lean muscle mass. Yet, several studies done in the 1990’s indicate that – at least in older men – the administration of GH can slow this aging process by lowering body fat content, increasing lean muscle mass, increasing bone-mineral density, and improving skin moisture and elasticity.
A study, found in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that GH treatment could prevent some signs of aging. Dr. Daniel Rudman treated 26 men between the ages of 61-80 with GH. He documented that his patients experienced a decrease in overall body fat, as well as an increase in bone density and lean muscle mass. He also reported an increase in the skin’s thickness and elasticity of these patients (Rudman 1990).
Another study found that long-term, low-dose growth-hormone treatment in mice significantly prolonged their life expectancy. Similar data even suggests that those without the needed levels of growth hormones have a much higher mortality rate (Khansari 1991)!
In my mind, this is certainly one of the top benefits of colostrum. Taking colostrum provides us with essential growth factors, immune factors, antibiotic factors, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It is a whole and complete food and/or supplement.
Each of the growth factors in colostrum helps stimulate cell and tissue growth by activating DNA formation. In fact, epithelial growth factor (EGF) is the growth factor that demonstrates the highest ability to stimulate epithelial (skin) regeneration on wounds (Bhora 1995).
EGF is a protein that helps protect and maintain the skin. When it is combined with insulin-like growth factors, it works even better – and this is what happens with colostrum. Unlike other supplements that provide only single growth factors, colostrum combines a complete package of growth factors that work together synergistically, as nature intended.
Most of the anti-aging effects of GH therapy are a result of increasing the body’s concentration of IGF-I and IGF-II. IGF-I and IGF-II are the most active ingredients found in bovine colostrum. They tell the body how to use the fat, sugar, and protein that it gets from food. They also control how cells grow and repair themselves. The fact that colostrum contains these growth factors, and that aging is a result of low levels of growth factors, suggests that colostrum could help counteract the biological aging process. Studies have shown that taking bovine colostrum by mouth can increase the body’s IGF-I levels (Antonio 1998).
IGF-I can also stimulate the growth and repair of DNA and RNA, the two most important ingredients in a cell (Francis 1988). DNA contains all our encoded genetic information, and RNA controls how we synthesize protein.
Bovine colostrum is the only natural source for IGF-I. IGF-I accelerates our healing process, balances our blood glucose and reduces the need for insulin, increases muscle mass and strength, and assists in bone growth and repair. In addition, IGF-I is capable of increasing T-cell production. And T-cells, the ones that help control our immune reactions, also release cytokines.
The benefits of using cytokines for the treatment of cancer were first made known by the book titled Quiet Strides in the War on Cancer, written by Steven Rosenberg in 1985. Since then, it has been popular that the cytokines found in colostrum have been one of the most researched protocols in the cure for cancer. Cytokines act as anti-inflammatories and help boost the production of other immunoglobulins(Goldman 1986;Hayashida 1994). As we grow older, however, our cytokine production is reduced by a significant extent. It also seems that cytokines might be responsible for regulating our immunological and metabolic responses (Playford 2005;Zimecki 2005).
Thus, as we age, we produce, and have access to, less of the essential substances that we need to maintain our health. It is estimated that colostrum triggers at least fifty processes in breast-fed infants. In adulthood, we should try to maintain that same level of nutrition through whole-food nutrition and dietary supplements. For this, colostrum is the natural choice.
The Importance of a Healthy Digestive Environment
The digestive tract is the source of a vast majority of our body’s immunity. As infants take colostrum from the mothers’ breasts, the cells of the digestive organ begin to develop. Too often, we forget the relationship between what we eat and how the food is processed. If the cells and organs are not healthy, then even the best diet will be of no benefit. Simply stated, if our intestine is unusually permeable, then bacteria, viruses and other toxins may enter the bloodstream. This can lead to inflammation, food allergies, and a malabsorption of minerals. Some of the more common culprits causing a leaky gut include the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), antibiotics, birth control pills, caffeine, and alcohol. The result of a leaky gut is a compromised immune system (Deitch 1990).
Research has shown that colostrum can help maintain a healthy digestive environment and can prevent the development of a leaky gut. Moreover, the growth factors in colostrum play a key role by keeping the intestinal mucosa sealed and impermeable to toxins. Colostrum has been shown to prevent gastrointestinal tract injury caused by NSAIDs. It has been shown to provide the ingredients we need to help with nutrient absorption. In essence, colostrum’s anti-inflammatory factors help repair the damaged intestinal walls (Playford 1999).
Colostrum’s Future Impact
Research now underway is expected to yield even more concrete data about the impact colostrum has on our lives. Just a partial list of the ways bovine colostrum can potentially help us achieve and maintain optimum health and slow the aging process includes:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – because colostrum can reduce inflammation.
- Osteoarthritis and Osteoporosis – because colostrum helps to build bone density.
- Transplantation – immunoglobulins in colostrum could help reduce infection with fungus and bacteria.
- Cancer Fighters – the cytokines in colostrum include the powerful interleukins.
- Slowing of HIV – colostrum can reduce the infectious pathogens that cause related conditions.
- Reduction in Obesity – colostrum can help the body better utilize the food it eats.
- Effects of Aging – colostrum cream can moisturize and even repair skin (via epithelial growth factor) to help reduce the effects and appearance of aging.
Bovine colostrum is one of nature’s greatest miracles. Its nutritional properties alone are of tremendous value to us. The highly beneficial immune and growth factors present in bovine colostrum offer considerable possibilities for the prevention and recovery of illnesses and disease. Colostrum also offers doctors, researchers, and the general population great hope in the quest for treatments that will help reverse the aging process.