Dietary phytonutrients and animal health: regulation of immune function during gastrointestinal infections

J Anim Sci. 2020 Apr 1;98(4):skaa030. doi: 10.1093/jas/skaa030.


The composition of dietary macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fibers) and micronutrients (vitamins, phytochemicals) can markedly influence the development of immune responses to enteric infection. This has important implications for livestock production, where a significant challenge exists to ensure healthy and productive animals in an era of increasing drug resistance and concerns about the sector's environmental footprint. Nutritional intervention may ultimately be a sustainable method to prevent disease and improve efficiency of livestock enterprises, and it is now well established that certain phytonutrients can significantly improve animal performance during challenge with infectious pathogens. However, many questions remain unanswered concerning the complex interplay between diet, immunity, and infection. In this review, we examine the role of phytonutrients in regulating immune and inflammatory responses during enteric bacterial and parasitic infections in livestock, with a specific focus on some increasingly well-studied phytochemical classes-polyphenols (especially proanthocyanidins), essential oil components (cinnamaldehyde, eugenol, and carvacrol), and curcumin. Despite the contrasting chemical structures of these molecules, they appear to induce a number of similar immunological responses. These include promotion of mucosal antibody and antimicrobial peptide production, coupled with a strong suppression of inflammatory cytokines and reactive oxygen species. Although there have been some recent advances in our understanding of the mechanisms underlying their bioactivity, how these phytonutrients modulate immune responses in the intestine remains mostly unknown. We discuss the complex inter-relationships between metabolism of dietary phytonutrients, the gut microbiota, and the mucosal immune system, and propose that an increased understanding of the basic immunological mechanisms involved will allow the rational development of novel dietary additives to promote intestinal health in farmed animals.

Keywords: curcumin; essential oils; immunity; infection; polyphenols; proanthocyanidins.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet / veterinary*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / immunology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / prevention & control
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / veterinary*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects*
  • Phytochemicals / metabolism*


  • Phytochemicals