Innovative approach of the gut health management by combining microbiota modulation and prevention of intestinal inflammation

Pauline POURTAU, business developer manager, Wisium



Gut health is a multi-factorial and complex topic, depending on the environment, farm management, feed and housing changes. It is also probably the greatest concern for meat producers because of its impact on growth performance, animal welfare, economic sustainability and a consumer concern about food safety and traceability. Antibiotics are often used as a tool to manage intestinal health in pigs, especially after weaning. But antibiotic resistance is increasing dramatically in every farm in the world and more and more animals are impossible to cure. Develop alternative and innovative solutions to antibiotics is a must. 


Gut health management


The intestine constitutes the largest interface between the animal and his environment. An intact intestinal barrier is thus essential in maintaining gut health and preventing tissue injury and several diseases. The intestinal barrier is formed by enterocyte membranes, tight junctions, secreted mucus, and immunologic factors, such as tissue macrophages. Dysfunction of this barrier can be caused by different types of stress (e.g., physiological, pathological, psychological, pharmacological) and can lead to increase intestinal permeability. Increased permeability to endotoxin, a component of the walls of gram-negative bacteria, causes local or systemic inflammatory reactions, or both. The immune response can then promotes more serious conditions. Hence, assessing barrier integrity is of the utmost importance.


The gut microflora is an integral part of the digestive system which is colonized by an abundant and taxonomically diverse microbial community. Because each of the species of organisms in the intestine possess different metabolic capabilities, the relative proportion of different species of organisms changes in response to a variety of factors including age, diet composition, rearing environment and possibly genotype. To avoid the over growth of pathogenic bacteria in the gut leading to diseases, maintaining a well balanced microflora is also essential.


Piglets' weaning

Piglets' intensive breeding generates critical periods where gut health is highly challenged including the modification of the gut microflora leading to a higher risk of over growth of intestinal pathogenic bacteria. At weaning, piglets are facing multi-factorial stresses and challenges in a short time:


    •  Adaptation to the feed intake: one of the main target for the farmer is to insure that the piglets will eat properly after weaning. Longer will be the time without eating at weaning, higher the risk of diarrhoea will be. Effectively, this drop in feed intake is likely to cause difficulties to cover growth requirements, due to reduction of the villi height, thus nutrient absorption area, and to mobilisation of fat and muscle reserves;
    •  Adaptation to the feed distribution, from milk suckled at the sow to a solid feed;
    •  Feed composition changes: from milk containing lactose to a prestarter feed containing mainly plant-based raw-materials (with new nutrients as starch for example).

    •  Adaptation to a new environment: separation from mother to litter, from farrowing crate to post-weaning pen, with possible variation of the microflora present in the environment.


All those changes requires physiological and immunological adaptations which are non-visible. For example, weaning means first encounter between piglets and some new raw materials. Consequently, it may lead to a digestive risk of a gut microbiota imbalance involving diarrhoea and a loss of performances. That is why the modulation of the digestive microflora is an important parameters to pay attention. Furthermore animals have to adapt their enzymatic system in order to digest these new raw materials, which is an important physiological change. As first reaction, piglets' organism considers new feed as an antigen. Piglets have also to adapt their immune system in order to accept this new feed. As 70 to 80% of the immune cells are located in the gut, this adaptation can generate local inflammation and oxidative stress. In contact with antigens, macrophages induce the production of pro-inflammatory and oxidative stress markers and this consumes a lot of energy and nutrients which won't be dedicated to performances.


Antibiotics usage


To prevent and cure the negative impacts and reduction of performances during weaning, antibiotics are commonly used in the feed. Their roles can be multiple with a large spectrum which aims to regulate the gut microflora by eliminating non-specifically a big part of the bacteria population. Another property of antibiotics, demonstrated in the literature, is their anti-inflammatory role.


With an eye on increased bans on antimicrobial growth promoters (AGP), feed millers, premixers and farmers have to find reliable, validated and cost effective solutions. Moreover, alternative products must act differently from AGP in order to do not develop the same resistance mechanisms and thus the same threats for human health. With the aim to replace AGP efficiently and to take care of the gut health, Wisium developed an alternative and innovative approach made of a combination of complementary solutions, acting on the gut microbiota modulation and on the modulation of intestinal inflammation involving a regulation of the immune response.


A global and holistic approach


To help animals coping with this stressful period by maintaining an healthy gut, a patented combination of plant extracts named POWERJET® and a patented Copper Exchanged Clay (B-SAFE®) have been developed by Wisium. The natural active ingredients of POWERJET® have been selected for their synergistic effect against intestinal inflammation and oxidative stress.  B-SAFE® aims to support piglets' microbiota and growth during challenging period as weaning but also to insure a well-balanced and secure microflora during the whole life of the animals. This solution is a combination of copper ions at very low level[1] and a synthetic zeolite having anti-microbial properties and able to specifically target pathogenic bacteria and have a limited action against beneficial bacteria.


Proof of efficacy


The complementary effects of those 2 solutions have been tested on piglets at weaning in comparison with a group supplemented with 2 antibiotics and with a control group not supplemented with antibiotics. The effects on piglet's performances and sanitary status as diarrhoea occurrence were studied.


At weaning (20 days of age), 144 piglets were allocated in 3 groups until the end of starter period (69 days of age). The R&D trial was run under challenging conditions in order to mimic field conditions and provoke some digestive disorders. Buildings have not been cleaned before the entrance of piglets; density of piglets was higher than recommended and temperature in the building was fixed at 15°C the first day of the trial. The animals were divided in 3 groups:


    -  Negative control group with animals receiving a standard diet (prestarter diet from 20 to 43 days and then starter diet from 44 to 69 days).
    -  Positive control group receiving the standard diet + 120 ppm of colistin + 800 ppm of chlortetracycline (CTC) in the pre-starter diet and then the starter feed non-medicated.

    -  Wisium combination group receiving POWERJET®+B-SAFE®in prestarter and starter diets. 


Live weight at 69 days was the highest for animals receiving medication (positive control). The combination POWERJET® and B-SAFE® obtained intermediate weight between negative control group and positive control group. Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) is the lowest with POWERJET® and B-SAFE® due to a normal feed intake and a better ADG compared to negative control. The FCR of the positive control between 43 to 69 days have been significantly degraded in comparison with the combination POWERJET® and B-SAFE® (1.971 vs 1.727). It may be explained by an additional expenditure of energy and additional nutrients following the withdrawal period of antibiotics which required a readjustment of microbiota and activate intestinal inflammation process).


Table 1:  Zootechnical performances 


Regarding the sanitary status of the trial, the diarrheic episodes and the medications were evaluated. In this challenged conditions, the diarrheic episodes, considered as the observation of at least 1 piglet presenting diarrhea within a pen on a daily basis between 20 and 42 days of age, was of 23% in control piglets. The combination of POWERJET® & B-SAFE® allowed dividing the diarrheic episodes by 2 (12%) in comparison with the negative control group. The best result remaining with the medicated group which reduced diarrhea incidence to 4 %. Number of piglets treated with individual medication because of their health status was also drastically decreased with the combination of POWERJET® & B-SAFE® compared to control group (8% vs 27%).


Table 2:  Sanitary status of the piglets (20-43 days)




The innovative Wisium approach combining POWERJET® & B-SAFE® allowed intermediate results between control group and medicated group. The action on the gut health of those 2 solutions are complementary: B-SAFE® acts on the modulation of gut flora, inhibiting pathogens growth and POWERJET®, by preventing intestinal inflammation promotes a good intestinal integrity and allow saving energy to production purpose.

A successful weaning translated by good performances is obviously generated by a proper gut health management. Nevertheless, it remains complex to level performances of a medicated feed in prestarter period. That is why innovative and reliable nutritional specialities are part of the solution to cross the bridge of antibiotic use reduction. A holistic approach to animal nutrition and health, involving all actors of the feed value chain, are necessary to accomplish the transition. Wisium aims to propose such a comprehensive approach, with a multi-level action encompassing quality control, formulation, nutritional specialities, industrial support and farm-management practices to ensure a good gut health, good performances and strong profitability.



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Article made possible through the contribution of Pauline POURTAU and Wisium