Probiotics and Colostrum for Cold and Flu Season

The immune system faces so many viruses, bacteria and other environmental threats throughout the year that it is getting more difficult to point to one season as needing the most attention. However, fall still showers its gold and red leaves on communities teeming with cold and flu viruses, as children return to school (read: infection incubators) and empty work offices return to full capacity with vacations mostly over. Consumers looking to bolster their defenses in early fall, in hopeful preparation for the coming cold and flu months, will turn to their trusty health products retailers for the latest offerings well-researched for immune benefits, especially relative to the dreaded cold season.

Whether in defense of the common cold, the flu or other challenges, empowering the immune system means increasing the production and strength of its white blood cells, such as T cells, macrophages and B cells. These cells coordinate a team effort to identify and destroy potentially dangerous invaders like influenza viruses and the collection of more than 200 rhinoviruses that can manifest as the common cold.

Outright prevention of these types of illnesses is considered an endless pursuit, scientifically, but a strong immune system heading into the typical cold and flu season could be the difference between getting one short, mild cold versus a couple lingering colds, or having insufferable symptoms from a cold or flu versus having few, if any, uncomfortable symptoms.

With a common cold, the most people generally hope for is to fight it off quickly and minimize the discomfort. In this case, consumers turn to dietary intervention—most often via supplements—to help fight infection before it happens, as opposed to over-the-counter (OTC) medications that don’t apply until after infection and symptoms rear their ugly heads. Advantage: supplements.

In the case of the flu, public health officials try to gauge which of the few influenza strains will be most prevalent in a given year and tailor the flu vaccine to this estimation. Some years this strategy works pretty well, but other times the guesses are wrong. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported this year’s flu vaccine was only about 44-percent effective, contributing to an elevated flu season. Barry Ritz, Ph.D., a nutritional immunologist at Drexel University, Philadelphia, tracks such data, in addition to his activities in the field of immune research. He noted on average, influenza virus infects 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population annually, contributing to approximately 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths, mostly among the elderly. Fortunately, nutritional immunology has generated positive results to counter such negative statistics. “My own research demonstrates that dietary interventions can have dramatic effects on the immune response to influenza infection,” he said.

In his study of how dietary supplements may affect the innate immune response to influenza infection, Ritz has focused on how bovine colostrum can potentially help stave off or manage flu infection.

Ritz explained colostrum provides antibodies that are important for establishing passive immunity in newborns; colostrum also contains numerous other compounds, such as bioactive peptides, that appear to enhance immunity even later in life. On specific research, he reported oral administration of bovine colostrum to neonatal and adult mice has been demonstrated to affect local intestinal immunity, including an increase in macrophage function and natural killer cells.1,2

“In my own research, in collaboration with La Belle Inc., I am working to determine if bovine colostrum supplementation may also result in systemic effects on innate immunity and increased resistance to influenza infection,” Ritz said.

It appears to be a good direction, as Italian researchers reported in 2007 that bovine colostrum, with its concoction of antibodies, vitamins, growth factors and other nutrients, represents an inexpensive therapeutic tool in prevention and treatment of several human microbial infections, including influenza.3

According to Ritz, consumers need to know that science supports bovine colostrum as an immune and intestinal health support supplement. In purchasing colostrum, he advised retailers and consumers to choose colostrum products that are produced in the United States, to assure the highest quality standards. “Depending on special needs, consider colostrum concentrates that are lactose- or casein-free,” he added.

An emerging immune force, colostrum has been studied alongside probiotics,4 which have a longer appearance in immune research and are beginning to take hold in the minds of educated consumers, thanks in large part to the growth of functional foods.

“More consumers are becoming aware that they help GI health,” confirmed Lia Peterson-Love, director of marketing for Sedona Labs and Nutri-Health Supplements. “I don’t think many people know that probiotics help support a healthy immune response.” She emphasized there is great science being done on probiotics, adding the immunomodulatory actions of probiotics are at the forefront of research.

In fact, Sedona Labs based its iFlora® Nasal Health multi-probiotic formula on 2003 clinical research in Switzerland that showed probiotics, taken orally, support a healthy immune response in the nasal mucus.5 The researchers concluded, “the ingestion of probiotics may enhance the immune barrier of the upper respiratory tract and therefore constitute a clinically preventive therapy.” The iFlora formula includes N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), a natural amino acid antioxidant that helps break up stagnant mucus, helping to support nasal and upper respiratory health.

“Although research showing that probiotics have an effect on the immune system was being published in the 1990’s … it takes awhile for consumer awareness and to catch up,” said Peterson-Love. “There is still much to be learned about probiotics and how they affect the immune system.”


1. Yoshioka Y, et al. “Oral administration of bovine colostrum stimulates intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes to polarize Th1-type in mice.” Int Immunopharmacol 2005;5(3):581-90.

2. Perez-Cano FJ, et al. “Bovine whey protein concentrate supplementation modulates maturation of immune system in suckling rats.” Br J Nutr. 2007;98:Suppl 1:S80-4.

3. Biswas P et al. “Immunomodulatory effects of bovine colostrum in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells.” New Microbiol. 2007 Oct;30(4):447-54.

4. Wei H, et al. “Synergistic antidigestion effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus and bovine colostrums in simulated gastrointestinal tract (in vitro).” Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 2007;75(2):427-34.

5. Gluck U and Glebbers JO. “Ingested probiotics reduce nasal colonization with pathogenic bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and beta-hemolytic streptococci).” Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Feb;77(2):517-20.