by George Looby, DVM
Regulations put in place within the past year have essentially eliminated the routine use of antibiotics in livestock as supposed growth stimulants. Only in instances where a veterinarian has prescribed an antibiotic for a specific disease in an individual animal or group of animals can they be used in food producing animals. With the advent of these restrictions researchers at a number of institutions are searching for substances that may aid in improving gut health.
As most readers know it was thought for many years that the addition of antibiotics in small quantities not only improved feed utilization but also reduced the likelihood of low-grade intestinal infections. Consumer concerns, very likely well justified, brought an end to the practice on Jan. 1, 2017.
Eliminating antibiotics did not make probable problems associated with the gut go away but did change the focus of improving gut efficiency in other directions. Finding acceptable alternatives to antibiotics has become the goal of many researchers including Ryan Arnsenault, Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at the University of Delaware who is working to establish a laboratory to study the gut health of production livestock. Substances such as probiotics, prebiotics, postbiotics, feed additives and feed enzymes are all being studied as possible alternatives to antibiotics.
Much of Ryan’s research has been directed at antibiotic alternatives such as yeast cell wall. The cell wall is the structure that gives yeast its form and structure and it is a non-specific stimulator of the immune system of both man and animals. When eaten a constituent of the cell wall called Yeast Beta-Glucan can stimulate the cells of the immune system called macrophages to help overcome bacterial infections. This is important because many of the pathogens that invade the body do so through the mouth which soon end up in the gut. It is Ryan’s contention that the gut is the center of most of what goes on in the rest of the body and without a normal, healthy gut all of the body’s other systems are compromised. Microbiota is the term given to the resident bacteria that normally inhabit the gut, the good guys.
If these organisms are functioning normally it is highly likely that the rest of the body will be doing so also. In the opinion of some experts, diseases such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are related to an upset in the microbiota. All infants, be they two legged, four legged, feathered or not, must acquire a high level of beneficial gut flora if they are to have a healthy life. Just how they go about acquiring such a level will be the focus of much of Ryan’s research over the next several months, very likely extending into years. This relates directly to what they are or should be fed during their infancy. In human nutrition the use of probiotics has increased dramatically over the past several years and their counterparts prebiotics and postbiotics continue to grow in popularity.
The poultry industry is very strong in the Delaware area so much time and effort will be spent in addressing some of the diseases that continue to plague the industry. One of these is necrotic enteritis or inflammatory dead gut disease. One of the products being evaluated is a crude yeast cell extract which trigger immune receptors. A purified form of the same material is also available which seems to be doing a better job.
Replacing the tons of antibiotic fed annually with a safe, effective, consumer friendly material that will provide the necessary stimulus to an animal’s immune system will be no easy task but with it can and will be done. Young, dedicated researchers such as Ryan Arsenault and his colleagues at the University of Delaware are poised to make a strong contribution to this study.