Host-mediated effects of phytonutrients in ruminants: A review

J. Oh, E. H. Wall, D. M. Bravo, A. N. Hristov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Plants produce an extensive array of organic compounds derived from secondary metabolism that may be useful in animal nutrition because of their chemical makeup. These plant-derived bioactive compounds, also referred to as phytonutrients (PN) or phytobiotics, have been shown to express antimicrobial activities against a wide range of bacteria, yeast, and fungi and have been investigated as rumen modifiers in ruminant nutrition. Studies have reported that PN may inhibit deamination of AA and methanogenesis in the rumen and shift fermentation toward propionate and butyrate. Most of the experiments, however, have been conducted in vitro, and responses have been highly variable and inconsistent in animal experiments. In addition, some studies have reported that PN had positive effects on productivity, although rumen fermentation was not affected. Other than antimicrobial effects in the gut, PN are known to bind specific receptors expressed in neurons, intestines, and other cells and exhibit related physiological effects in nonruminants. The receptor-mediated effects include immune responses, oxidative stress, and insulin secretion and activity. Some PN, due to their phenolic nature, are likely less susceptible to microbial degradation in the rumen and may exhibit activities postruminally, similar to their mode of action in nonruminant species. This opens a new area of research in ruminants, including effects of PN on the animal's immune system, postruminal nutrient use, and animal physiology. Although limited, studies with ruminants provide first evidence of PN's regulatory effects on the host responses. For example, PN were reported to regulate immune cells related to adaptive and innate immunity in challenged or nonchallenged dairy cows. Supplementation of PN reduced oxidative stress by decreasing lipid peroxidation and increasing endogenous antioxidants in ruminants. Additionally, insulin secretion and sensitivity were reportedly regulated by PN in dairy cows. The regulatory effects of PN on immunity may be beneficial for immune suppression and inflammation in dairy cows. In addition, PN could positively affect energy partitioning for milk production through their effects on insulin secretion and sensitivity. Further research is needed to elucidate the effect and mode of action of PN on immune function and animal energetics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5974-5983
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of dairy science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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