Athletes usually pay particular attention to a healthy diet and their body. Due to their high energy consumption and the exponentially high strain on the body, athletes like to use nutritional supplements. Colostrum, Mother Nature's natural immune and nutritional miracle, has been of particular interest to athletes from all over the world for more than 20 years. Unfortunately, and as we now know, wrongly, the nutrient-rich colostrum was suspected of acting as a doping agent for a while, which is why it was briefly banned for athletes and was on the Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) list of banned substances. While colostrum is no longer banned by WADA, the agency still advises against taking it during professional sports competitions in its FAQ section. Scientific studies, biochemists and food researchers have now been able to give the all-clear for athletes: colostrum does not pose any risk of doping. In addition, countless positive effects of colostrum on health can be proven.
In this article we would like to clarify why athletes no longer have to be afraid of taking colostrum during competitions, why it is not considered a doping agent and why it is even advisable for people who do regular and intensive sports. We would also like to address WADA's motivation for continuing to advise against taking colostrum during competitions.
Colostrum - The miracle cure for athletes
If you haven't read our detailed article about colostrum yet, feel free to do so again here .
In short, colostrum is the first substance that is given to a newborn after pregnancy by a mammal, such as a woman or a cow. Colostrum is produced in liquid form by the female mammary glands and contains concentrated and versatile ingredients in the form of antibodies, proteins, vitamins, amino acids and many other valuable ingredients that are intended to strengthen the new living being in the first days after birth.
Among these healthy nutrients is IGF-1, which is a so-called growth factor.
But what is IGF-1 actually?
IGF-1 – The basis for the doping discussion
Simply put, IGF-1 is a growth hormone that is found, among other things, in dairy products - therefore also in colostrum.
Scientifically speaking, IGF-1 is a bit more complex. It is a cytokine that is related in structure and function to the better-known insulin. IGF-1 stimulates the body's own protein synthesis and can therefore naturally support growth processes, such as those of organs or muscles. However, IGF (insulin-like growth factor) differs in its lack of immunological cross-reactivity. Immunological cross-reactivity is the binding of an antibody to two different antigens.
Basically, IGFs are involved in wound healing in the body, in hypertrophies (organ growth processes) and the regeneration of damaged nerve cells.
There are two IGFs in total: IGF-1, also called somatomedin C or “basic somatomedin” and discussed in this article, and IGF-2. By the way, IGF-1 is produced in our body by the liver.
The “insulin-like growth factors” are highly conserved, homologous peptides that are produced by both fetal and adult tissues in the body.
In our blood and in the colostrum relevant to us, the majority of IGFs are bound to specific proteins that serve as transport proteins.
And how exactly do these IGFs work and why did Wada classify colostrum as doping for a time?
The effect of IGFs – doping?
IGFs basically have a variety of effects on our body. They lower our blood sugar levels and stimulate growth factors in the body. They also have a partly synergistic effect with other growth factors in our body.
IGFs also stimulate our DNA synthesis, protein synthesis, increase the rate of cell division and increase our metabolism. The natural serum concentration of IGFs in an adult is between 150 and 250 μg/l for IGF-1 and 400–900 μg/l for IGF-2.
IGFs are a natural part of our body. Before 2013, its effect as a growth hormone briefly persuaded the World Anti-Doping Agency to classify the naturally contained IGF-1 in colostrum as doping and to ban it as a muscle-building substance in and outside of competition.
Since 2013, this ban has been lifted and replaced by advice in the WADA “Questions and Answers” section. WADA points out that taking colostrum could possibly lead to a positive doping test, although it no longer classifies colostrum itself as a doping substance.
Note from Wada
The advice against colostrum consumption during competitions in order not to risk a positive doping test, which has been in WADA's FAQ section since 2013, still has a deterrent effect on some athletes.
Understandably, they do not want to risk a positive doping test and therefore often avoid taking colostrum on the advice of WADA. We would like to explain below why this is not only scientifically questionable and partly unfounded, but also not necessarily in the interests of the athletes:
We already know that IGF-1 is found in some dairy products and can act as a natural growth factor.
Shouldn't WADA then also have classified cow's milk and other dairy products as doping substances? Theoretically yes.
Because: In some cases, whey protein has been proven to contain just as much IGF-1 as colostrum and, according to WADA logic, should therefore not be consumed as a precaution. However, WADA does not advise against whey protein consumption and has not removed the advice against taking colostrum from the FAQs.
What does the state of scientific knowledge say about this?
The all-clear: the scientific consensus makes it clear
The effects that the nutrients in colostrum can provide offer countless potential benefits for athletes: improved wound healing, immune system support, support of healthy intestinal culture, and nutritional benefits are just a few examples. Athletes in particular, who challenge their bodies much more intensively than “normal” people, can benefit health-wise from the nutrients in colostrum and should provide their stressed bodies with good care and support, which is why colostrum is a popular food for athletes.
But should athletes forego these benefits because the IGF-1 in colostrum supposedly poses a doping risk?
Several scientific studies and recognized scientists have conducted research on the topic of IGF-1, colostrum and doping. The findings that were gained make Wada's advice against it in its FAQ section seem unfounded because:
A study from Finland, which carried out a follow-up study to the study on the alleged anabolic effect of colostrum, was able to clearly prove that the discussed IGF-1 from colostrum was already digested in the human intestine and did not pass intact into the blood. The critically discussed increase in the IGF-1 content in the blood can actually only come from the body's own production from the liver - not from colostrum.
The Max Rubner Institute has also made a clear statement on the discussion about IGF-1 in dairy products and the doping risk that was announced by WADA:
"The normal IGF-1 concentration in the blood is in the range of 89 - 342 ng/mL, with a median of 182 ng/mL. Consumption of milk and milk products therefore only contributes to a small extent to increasing the IGF-1 concentration in the blood. It is not completely clear whether milk proteins increase IGF-1 concentrations more than other proteins in adults. Some observational studies found a positive association between milk protein consumption and IGF-1 concentration, but other studies did not confirm this.”
The conclusion: Colostrum poses no risk of doping
There are many reasons why taking colostrum does not pose a risk of doping, even during competitions.
- The lack of absorption of IGF-1 from colostrum in the human intestine has now been scientifically confirmed several times. The discussion about the doping risk from taking colostrum is therefore invalid and WADA should actually give the all-clear. Numerous studies in anti-doping laboratories that have examined the increase in IGF-1 in the blood due to colostrum intake and the scientific consensus agree: there is no risk of doping if you take colostrum because the human intestine does not accept it transported into the blood when active. Taking colostrum does not lead to an increase in IGF-1 in the blood, which could result in a positive doping result. An all-clear can therefore be clearly given.
- There are no regulations for IGF-1 concentrations in colostrum or colostrum preparations. The general advice against taking colostrum is therefore generalized and unfounded, without specifying a maximum IGF-1 value for preparations. For example, if colostrum is pasteurized, IGF-1 is almost completely destroyed. Other dairy products also contain IGF-1 in equal amounts and WADA does not recommend against these dairy products.
- It is unclear whether the milk proteins in colostrum would increase the IGF-1 concentration in the blood more than other proteins do.
- According to scientific knowledge, it has not been proven that colostrum makes muscles grow or improves the physiology of the body, which once again makes WADA's doping suspicion seem unfounded.
What we know and can prove clearly and scientifically is that colostrum supports the intestines and the immune system. This is recommended not only for athletes, but for everyone because it can improve general well-being. The International Olympic Committee also confirms these positive findings about colostrum. Avoiding colostrum because of fear of a positive doping test is unfounded.
You can now breathe a sigh of relief!