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4 minute read

Reducing Leaky Gut & Intestinal Inflammation in Poultry with Zinc

Group of baby chicks
Dr. Christof Rapp

Lead Researcher – Swine
Zinpro Corporation

Intestinal inflammation is a condition that causes a roughness in a bird’s gastrointestinal tract, impairing its ability to absorb nutrients and achieve its growth and genetic potential. Infection, trauma, fighting, pecking and other environmental factors can cause intestinal inflammation. But one of the main causes could be the bird’s diet as some feed ingredients, such as soybean meal, wheat and rye, can cause an intestinal disturbance, which can lead to inflammation.

What is Leaky Gut in Poultry?

The lining of the intestinal tract is comprised of a layer of epithelial cells. These cells are bound to each other by complex protein structures called “tight junctions,” and their role is to prevent bacteria, pathogens and toxins from passing through the intestinal lining and into the blood stream.

Factors, such as heat stress, bacteria, feed contaminants, etc., can weaken the quality of the tight junctions, leading to a syndrome called “leaky gut.” This negative impact — leaky gut — allows bacteria, pathogens and toxins to pass in between the epithelial cells, resulting in cell damage or inflammation of the intestine.

Once the bacteria, pathogens or toxins pass between the cells, the immune system will recognize them and trigger an immune response to kill the challenge. This inflammation — activation of the immune system — will consume significant amounts of nutrients to deal with the inflammation, reducing the amount of nutrients available for muscle growth.

How does zinc mitigate leaky gut in poultry?

There are two avenues through which zinc mitigates inflammation. One, it strengthens the bonds between the epithelial cells in the gastrointestinal tract, helping to maintain the “tight junctions” during a challenge and decreasing the occurrence of leaky gut and inflammation. Second, zinc helps fortify the immune system, so when a challenge does occur, the immune system can respond in a more rapid and robust manner.

To demonstrate how zinc can help broilers better cope with intestinal inflammation and oxidative stress, Zinpro partnered with Ghent University, Belgium to test whether zinc from Availa®Zn is superior to zinc sulfate for preserving intestinal morphology in birds challenged by dysbiosis, an imbalance of good and bad bacteria due to a dietary challenge.

The study involved 680 one-day-old broilers which were fed a wheat-rye-based diet for a period of 36 days to initiate a gut challenge. To ensure the formation of a gut challenge, the broilers did not receive an NSP-enzyme, which is a standard supplementation when feeding wheat, barley or rye in the diet. Zinc from Availa-Zn was fed to 340 of the broilers at a rate of 60 ppm, while the remaining 340 broilers received 60 ppm of zinc sulfate during the 36-day study.

Duodenal tissue samples were collected at day 28 and blood samples were collected at 36 days of age.

The broilers fed Availa® Zn had increased villus length and a greater villus to crypt depth ratio at 28 days of age. A longer villi length and higher ratio indicates the broilers fed zinc from Availa-Zn did not suffer as much from the intestinal inflammation caused by the wheat-rye-diet, compared to the broilers fed zinc sulfate.

Chart showing villus length and crypt depth

A second key finding from the research study indicated a decrease in plasma glutathione peroxidase (GPx) activity at 36 days of age. Glutathione peroxidase is an enzyme that is part of the antioxidative system of the body. When inflammation occurs, the body will react to the inflammation and increase production of antioxidants and glutathione peroxidase. A lower level of glutathione peroxidase means the broilers fed zinc from Availa-Zn had a decreased need for antioxidants because they experienced less inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. This indicates zinc from Availa-Zn is helping to spare the antioxidative system during an inflammation challenge.

Chart showing Plasma GPx levels

A third finding shows an improvement in the feed conversion rate of the broilers fed zinc from Availa-Zn. Despite the intestinal inflammation challenge, the broiler fed zinc from Availa-Zn consumed less feed per kilogram of body weight gain — meaning the birds were more efficient in using the nutrients from the feed to produce muscle tissue. This is an indirect indication that the birds fed zinc from Availa-Zn experienced less intestinal inflammation from the wheat-rye diet.

Bottom line: Zinc from Availa-Zn Reduces Intestinal Inflammation

Inflammation and the body’s response to inflammation comes at a cost. By feeding zinc from Availa-Zn to poultry, producers can decrease the impact of inflammation. This helps ensure nutrients are being used for growth and muscle development instead of fighting an inflammation challenge.

Contact your Zinpro representative to learn more about performance trace minerals and their role in helping to manage intestinal inflammation in your poultry operation.

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