Nutritional Aspects of Ecologically Relevant Phytochemicals in Ruminant Production. Academic Article uri icon


  • This review provides an update of ecologically relevant phytochemicals for ruminant production, focusing on their contribution to advancing nutrition. Phytochemicals embody a broad spectrum of chemical components that influence resource competence and biological advantage in determining plant species' distribution and density in different ecosystems. These natural compounds also often act as plant defensive chemicals against predatorial microbes, insects, and herbivores. They may modulate or exacerbate microbial transactions in the gastrointestinal tract and physiological responses in ruminant microbiomes. To harness their production-enhancing characteristics, phytochemicals have been actively researched as feed additives to manipulate ruminal fermentation and establish other phytochemoprophylactic (prevent animal diseases) and phytochemotherapeutic (treat animal diseases) roles. However, phytochemical-host interactions, the exact mechanism of action, and their effects require more profound elucidation to provide definitive recommendations for ruminant production. The majority of phytochemicals of nutritional and pharmacological interest are typically classified as flavonoids (9%), terpenoids (55%), and alkaloids (36%). Within flavonoids, polyphenolics (e.g., hydrolyzable and condensed tannins) have many benefits to ruminants, including reducing methane (CH4) emission, gastrointestinal nematode parasitism, and ruminal proteolysis. Within terpenoids, saponins and essential oils also mitigate CH4 emission, but triterpenoid saponins have rich biochemical structures with many clinical benefits in humans. The anti-methanogenic property in ruminants is variable because of the simultaneous targeting of several physiological pathways. This may explain saponin-containing forages' relative safety for long-term use and describe associated molecular interactions on all ruminant metabolism phases. Alkaloids are N-containing compounds with vast pharmacological properties currently used to treat humans, but their phytochemical usage as feed additives in ruminants has yet to be exploited as they may act as ghost compounds alongside other phytochemicals of known importance. We discussed strategic recommendations for phytochemicals to support sustainable ruminant production, such as replacements for antibiotics and anthelmintics. Topics that merit further examination are discussed and include the role of fresh forages vis--vis processed feeds in confined ruminant operations. Applications and benefits of phytochemicals to humankind are yet to be fully understood or utilized. Scientific explorations have provided promising results, pending thorough vetting before primetime use, such that academic and commercial interests in the technology are fully adopted.

published proceedings

  • Front Vet Sci

altmetric score

  • 7.58

author list (cited authors)

  • Tedeschi, L. O., Muir, J. P., Naumann, H. D., Norris, A. B., Ramrez-Restrepo, C. A., & Mertens-Talcott, S. U.

citation count

  • 30

complete list of authors

  • Tedeschi, Luis O||Muir, James P||Naumann, Harley D||Norris, Aaron B||Ramírez-Restrepo, Carlos A||Mertens-Talcott, Susanne U

publication date

  • January 2021