The Impact of Heat Stress: Prioritizing Gut Health and Inflammation Reduction

Alister MacDonald – Feedworks Monogastric Technical Specialist


As we enter into summer, we must develop effective management strategies to battle heat stress in animal production systems. Heat stress not only affects overall animal welfare but also has a significant impact on health and performance outputs. In recent years, a new model has emerged, highlighting the role of gut tissues and the gut microbiome in positively tackling heat stress. A proactive approach that focuses on improving the physical environment is critical. Additionally, preventing damage to gut tissues, maintaining cell hydration, and minimising gut inflammation is also crucial.

The Key Role of Gut Tissues in Heat Stress

When we think of heat stress in animals, dehydration typically comes to mind as a primary concern. While water balance is indeed important, the impact of heat stress on the gut goes beyond dehydration. The inflammation and degradation of the gut wall under heat stress can lead to the entry of toxins into the bloodstream. This triggers the activation of the innate immune system, and substantial energy is spent fighting the resulting “challenge.” The loss in production due to heat stress can be attributed to both reduced feed intake and the energy expenditure on the immune response. Moreover, the cumulative effect of heat stress means that each event increases the chance of further damage in subsequent bouts of heat stress.

A Proactive Approach to Managing Heat Stress

Traditionally, interventions such as environmentally controlled housing, misters, and shade have been used to mitigate the effects of heat stress. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that no intervention is perfect under hot conditions, and additional measures are necessary. To effectively manage heat stress, several approaches may be needed, focusing on prevention rather than trying to recover lost performance or deal with mortalities, which can be challenging to overcome.

Maintaining Cell Hydration with Natural Betaine

One of the most effective strategies for combating heat stress is maintaining cell hydration. While electrolytes like potassium and sodium provide short-term emergency relief, they are energetically expensive. To ensure long-term hydration and optimal cell volume regulation, natural betaine emerges as an ideal solution. Betaine is an organic osmolyte that is selectively absorbed or secreted by various cells, including those in the gut, liver, and kidney. It is the most widespread osmolyte in nature, used by single-cell bacteria, plants, animals, and humans throughout evolution to maintain cell osmolarity. Remarkably, gut cells preferentially use betaine to maintain hydration, as moving electrolytes in and out of cells through ion pumps consumes energy. High levels of intracellular ions can also destabilise cell proteins, leading to gut damage under heat stress. Natural betaine has proven to be 50% superior to synthetic versions in maintaining cell hydration and improving the impacts of heat stress across various animal species. Synthetic sources of betaine, despite their chemical similarity, do not elicit the same osmolyte function as natural betaine, which comparatively, has been shown to have 75-80% less of a carbon footprint.

Minimising Gut Inflammation for Health and Productivity

Another critical aspect of managing heat stress is minimising gut inflammation. In response to heat stress, the innate immune system activates to protect the body. While this is a valuable defense mechanism, it comes at an energy cost. Minimising gut inflammation and maintaining gut integrity are vital not only under heat stress but also as a general approach to animal health. Managing diseases such as coccidiosis in poultry and sub-clinical rumen acidosis in cattle and sheep is crucial for minimizing gut inflammation. Among various approaches, functional yeast metabolites from Diamond V have stood out as highly effective in reducing inflammation and supporting the innate immune response. These yeast metabolites have shown numerous benefits, but when it comes to heat stress, their ability to reduce gut inflammation is unparalleled.

By incorporating the above strategies, we aim to avoid irreversible damage to both animal health and production outputs. Through implementation of the above changes, we tend to observe disproportionate improvements from small inputs, maximising the value equation for our customers. If you would like more information, please contact your Feedworks representative or email [email protected]