Beyond the Efficacy of Colostrum: When Does a Natural Food Product Become an Artificial Supplement?

by Jim Singletary

When the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) issued it’s stance on Insulin Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), they made sure to mention other natural food products that contain smaller doses of the banned substance such as Colostrum.  Colostrum in and of itself was not declared a banned substance under the WADA guidelines, however they made it clear that athletes utilizing such supplements may be doing so “at their own risk” – as in some cases the doses of banned substances manifest in such supplements may or may not be enough to set off a negative result in a banned substance test.   So this raises the larger ethical question of when and how does a naturally occurring food product like colostrum cross the line into artificial, and potentially banned, performance enhancing supplement?

Colostrum, for those who don’t already know, is the first milk produced by mammals just after they’ve given birth.  Typical nutritional supplement offerings, utilize bovine colostrum, or the first milk from a mother cow.  This “first milk”, often referred to as nature’s perfect food, is radically different from normal cow’s milk.  It contains about four times as much protein, twice as much fat, and half as much lactose (sugar). It is especially rich in the mother’s antibodies (IgG and IgM), providing a newborn calf with passive immunity before its own immune system gets going.  It is because of colostrum that doctors and nurses strongly suggest that human mothers breastfeed their little ones for at least the first few weeks post-pregnancy.  Many athletes across a range of different sporst take colostrum in the belief that it has strong health and performance benefits. It’s said to reduce muscle recovery time after intense training, maintain gut integrity against the heat stress of exercise, and assist recovery from illness and surgery.  Cyclists, rugby players, football players, runners, bodybuilders, soccer plays and others convinced of its value regularly pay the significant premium which colostrum commands over ordinary milk.

The question of course becomes, even if a nutritional product is naturally occurring, if you are regularly ingesting it due exclusively to the potential performance enhancing benefits, would it thus be considered an artificial performance enhancing supplement?  This places the burden of definition on context rather than substance. One person may be consuming a substance ignorant of it’s potential benefit, and another may be consuming it exclusively for self enhancement.  Another extreme would be to chemically extract the specific compounds in a given substance that provide the most athletic benefit and ingest those directly.  In this case I think it’s clear that the method and context are artificial and specific.  But at the end of the day – food is food, and artificial supplements are supplements.  As athletic supplementation, and our understanding of natural food products gets more sophisticated, the line between the two may just get fuzzier.

Where do you think the distinction lies? Context or Substance?

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