Establish and maintain a healthy gut

18-10-2018 | | |
Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

In the last decade a huge focus was put on intestinal health both in human and animal sciences. In humans, the driver of this research have been chronic diseases like Chron’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In pigs and poultry, the main focus are more acute diseases like E. coli, diarrhoea, Lawsonia, Necrotic enteritis and Salmonella.

A healthy gut balances 3 important parts namely:

  1. gut microbiota,
  2. gut morphology
  3. the gut barrier

At birth the gut is sterile, has a limited morphology and a weak gut barrier. Therefore early nutrition should focus on establishing a good intestinal health, a process called gut maturation. Once established, gut health is then continuously challenged by diseases, stress situations and environmental changes. During this second challenging period it is important to focus on maintaining a good gut health needing a slightly different approach especially in times where preventive antibiotics are considered unethical. Nuscience has created a 2-step approach starting with a focus on gut maturation through specially designed creep feeds like Babito, followed by a focus on gut health maintenance as can be seen in the ‘Aim for Zero’ programme to replace colistin and zinc oxide in piglets.

Establishing gut health

Prenatal maturation

Maturation of the piglets gastrointestinal tract (GIT) already starts in the prenatal period, speeding up shortly after birth (neonatal). During gestation, the GIT undergoes several morphological and functional changes mediated by hormones, growth factors and luminal factors/products. It is seen by D’Inca et al (2010) that Intra Uterine Growth Retardation, leads to a negative effect on GIT development and impaired performance in later stages of life.

Neonatal maturation

After birth the GIT undergoes a big transformation. This impressive growth and development together with the biological functioning of the GIT is determined predominantly by the composition and the amount of colostrum and milk.

Even though colostrum production and quality can be influenced through sow nutrition, this can never compensate for the huge litter sizes. It is important to help piglets as early as possible to further develop the GIT with a well-designed creep feed like Babito. By using specific whey oligosaccharide fractions, Nuscience was able to boost the piglets gut maturation by affecting the morphology (9% higher villi, Figure 1). In addition, the proliferation of good bacteria such as Lactobacilli is stimulated and the pathogenic Enterobacteriaceae load is reduced. Due to the carefully selected raw materials in the product, the acid and enzyme secretion is stimulated, leading to a better adaptation to vegetal raw materials resulting in higher performance in later life, +1.4 kg at 8 weeks of age.

Figure 1 – Effect of specific whey oligosaccharides in Babito on villus height after 14 days.

Maintaining gut health around weaning

The established gut health gets challenged at the moment of weaning. The combination of being separated from the sow, drastic feed changes (no more milk), a new environment in the nursery and a ‘new to be established’ hierarchy leads to huge stress at a moment where the endogenous

immunity of the piglet is not yet fully established. Combined with a high pathogenic infection pressure this leads to detrimental effects on the gut health.

In order to overcome the challenges around weaning without the use of antibiotics or zinc oxide, Nuscience has developed a total solution that combines nutritional and managerial advice with a good safety concept, this is called Vitazero. A digital tool enables farm managers and nutritionists to benchmark the farm system and nursery feeds with the latest trends in the industry as well as with the general Nuscience advice. These insights will help them in understanding how they can adapt nutrition and managerial routines with the aim of better performances and less weaning diarrhoea. As a next step, the implementation of Vitazero in the weaning diet will maintain a healthy gut as well as the level of microbiota, morphology as gut barrier without challenging the piglets endogenous immune system. Triggering of the immune system would cost a huge amount of energy while this energy should be used for growth.

The mode of action of the concept focusses on creating an exogenous shield to protect the gut using four different approaches:

  1. Killing of incoming pathogens: By combining a mixture of 4 well defined and patented medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), incoming pathogens are killed at stomach level, meaning in a very early stage before they can do any damage and disrupt the piglets microbiota.
  2. Agglutinating pathogens: Pathogenic bacteria that succeed in passing this first barrier get captured by a specific health fibre combination by agglutination at duodenum and colon level. The reduced pathogenic load results in less damage to the villi resulting in a better gut morphology.
  3. Blocking receptors: The health fibre combination is also able to prohibit endotoxins from binding to receptors at the level of the intestine. This way the local immune system of the piglets which is based on inflammation is not unnecessarily activated (Figure 2).
  4. Fortifying gut barrier: By using a unique mixture of polyphenols the oxidative stress inside the intestine is countered, which has a positive effect on the gut barrier inhibiting pathogens and toxins to invade.

Figure 2 – Vitazero reduces the release of neutrophils after an endotoxin (LPS) challenge resulting in a lower redundant activation of the immune system.


In the fight for sustainable livestock rearing, gut health will be key. In the neonatal period when piglets have not yet established their own gut health it is important to support them with the right nutritional concepts which are present in a creep feed like Babito. At moments of severe stress however, other concepts will be needed in order to protect the gut health that was originally established. These concepts will combine the best managerial approaches with an optimal nutritional strategy. The ‘Aim for Zero’ programme containing Vitazero can help to create the best gut health strategy designed at your farm or feed mill without using colistin or zinc oxide.

Author: Kobe Lannoo, Group Product Manager, Nuscience

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