Effects of coconut oil feed additive on growth performance, immune function, and metabolism in post-weanling piglets
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In the swine industry, antibiotic supplementation of feed for post-weanling piglets has been used to ensure piglet health and growth. However, such supplementation may be linked to the development of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains. Therefore, there has been much interest in the development of animal feed supplements designed to maintain immune function and growth in the absence of antibiotic feed additives. Although probiotics have been explored as an alternative to antibiotic supplementation in pigs due to their modulation of the immune system, they have not been found to help maintain good growth gains in young pigs.This research aims to examine the suitability of coconut oil supplementation of post-weanling piglet diets as a substitute for antibiotic supplementation in these diets. Coconut oil is comprised of 91% saturated fatty acids and has been explored as a potential dietary component to modulate cholesterol and high density lipoprotein in humans. Coconut oil also may improve insulin sensitivity. In addition to modulation of metabolism, fatty acids are key to membrane structure and function. Current human parenteral nutrition guidelines favor the inclusion of medium chain fatty acids, like coconut oil, for the ease with which they are broken down and their anti-inflammatory properties.We propose that coconut oil may provide a safe, effective alternative method to antibiotic feed supplementation that will maintain, and perhaps, improve post-weanling piglet health and growth without dramatically changing carcass quality. This research is of benefit to piglet health, because if coconut oil is found to be a suitable or superior replacement for swine feed antibiotics, the health, productivity, and immune function of post-weanling piglets will be enhanced, thereby improving the welfare of the Nation's food supply. Furthermore, if coconut oil supplementation significantly alters the fatty acid composition and adipose tissue metabolism in swine, it may improve the health of humans who consume this meat.