Gut health


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Combined efforts of feed formulation, management, biosafety and the use of additives target the achievement of “gut health” or “gut welfare”, that has been defined as the “ability to perform normal physiological functions and to maintain homeostasis, thereby supporting its ability to withstand infectious and non-infectious stressors”.

Mantaining gut heath is necessary in order to carry out a highly productive livestock production without antibiotic growth promoters.


As far back as evidence can be gathered, humans used medicinal plants (along with magic and religious rituals) to treat their diseases, and presumably, those of their animals. Some evidence for their use dates back to the Neanderthal period. In the XIX century, the use of medicinal plants began to decrease in medical practice and was replaced by pharmaceuticals, but it reemerged in the late 1960 as a response to increasing side effects of synthetic medicines.

The current usage of botanicals is quite different from their historical use, because scientists call that traditional knowledge is validated, that the results are reproducible and that the treatments are safe and effective. This has led to the production of standardized botanical extracts:

  • Produced from properly identified and controlled plant species;
  • Using manufacturing processes that are respectful of the active compounds contained in the plant;
  • Products that guarantee a minimum concentration of active principles.

The scientific application of plant extracts in animal production is a technology that is still progressing but, in many cases, results are very satisfactory, especially when they are combined with organic acids.


Plants contain an abundance of chemicals that enable them to resist attack by microorganisms and insects. These ‘secondary compounds’ or ‘phytochemicals’ can potentially have useful growth-promoting effects in livestock:

  1. Direct microbiocide effects
    Some compounds have the ability to adhere to the cell wall, forming a crack and causing the cell contents spill to the medium, killing the microorganism. Cinnamon and marjoram are examples of plants with microbiocide active principles.
  2. Prebiotic effects
    Some plants rich in oligosaccharides, such as chicory, are able to stimulate the growth of favorable bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria without promoting the growth of pathogenic species. This is associated with a reduction of digestive diseases in poultry and swine.It has been shown that prebiotics, besides stimulating growth of beneficial bacteria, also increase the production of short chain volatile fatty acids (SCVFAs) by lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. SCVFAs inhibit the growth of a range of putrefactive proteolytic bacteria.Some plant extracts are not able to boost the growth of lactic bacteria, so they are not real prebiotics, but, instead, they can increase the production of short chain volatile fatty acids by the lactic acid bacteria present in intestine. Cinnamon and garlic are some of these SCVFAs-production boosters.
  3. Blocking of bacterial adhesion to gut surface
    Lectin–carbohydrate receptor interactions are the main mechanism of pathogen adhesion to the brush border of the gut mucosal epithelium. Some phytochemicals, such as those contained in carob, can block the adhesion of pathogens onto the mucosal layer of the intestine, thus avoiding the onset of the infection.
  4. Immunostimulatory effects
    The gut–associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) plays a key role in digestive immunity in farm animals. Prebiotic compounds, such as oligosaccharides from chicory, can exert beneficial effects on gut health by enhancing local digestive immunity through GALT responses.Other substances, such as mushroom polysaccharides or allicin from garlic, may be used as general (whole animal) immune enhancers because they activate both innate and adaptative immunity.
  5. Secretion of digestive enzymes
    Some compounds such as those contained in cinnamon or cardamom are able to stimulate the production of digestive enzymes of the pancreas and intestinal mucosa, leading to a better feed use and a significant increase in growth.

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