Citrus Flavonoids Supplementation as an Alternative to Replace Zinc Oxide in Weanling Pigs' Diets Minimizing the Use of Antibiotics

Montserrat Paniagua, Sandra Villagómez Estrada, Francisco Javier Crespo, José Francisco Pérez Hernández, Anna Arís i Giralt, Maria Devant, David Solà Oriol

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Weaning is a stressful period for pigs that causes gastrointestinal disruption and low growth rates. For a long time, zinc oxide at pharmacological doses, along with different antibiotics, has been used prophylactically during this phase to reduce the incidence of these gastrointestinal problems. Nowadays, the increasing concern about the environment, along with the global and constant growth of bacterial resistance to antibiotics, has led to the prohibition of the prophylactic use of zinc oxide in diets for piglets in the EU, along with the implementation of new regulations on the use of antibiotics. Consequently, the pig sector faces the important challenge that supposes developing alternatives to the classical system based on the use of these antimicrobial compounds. This study is the first step to achieving this goal by minimizing the use of various antibiotics and zinc oxide in weanling pigs by supplementing citrus flavonoids and only one antibiotic (amoxicillin). Accordingly, the influence of zinc oxide plus antibiotics and citrus flavonoids plus amoxicillin in weaned pigs has been investigated and its impact on growth performance, gut microbiology profile, gut signaling, intestinal architecture, and serum biomarkers indicative of stress and inflammatory responses have been evaluated. Citrus flavonoids plus amoxicillin improved growth performance and gut health, evidencing a positive microbial modulation, stress status reduction, and a positive effect on the gastrointestinal barrier, and other digestive functions. Additionally, the expression of some bitter taste receptors in the intestine has been increased when supplementing both dietary strategies, the one based on zinc oxide or the one based on citrus flavonoids supplementation. Consequently, the present study shows that in weanling piglets, the supplement of citrus flavonoids with amoxicillin might be a promising alternative to the dietary use of pharmacological doses of zinc oxide with more than two antibiotics, therefore minimizing the use of antimicrobial compounds without detrimental effects on performance. Since citrus flavonoids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it was hypothesized that these compounds would become a suitable alternative to the use of therapeutic doses of zinc oxide at weaning. A total of 252 weaned pigs ([LargeWhite × Landrace] × Pietrain) were distributed according to BW (5.7 kg ± 0.76) into 18 pens (6 pens per diet, 14 pigs/pen). Three experimental diets for the prestarter (0-14 d postweaning) and starter (15-35 d postweaning) period were prepared: (i) a nonmedicated (CON) diet, (ii) a CON diet supplemented with zinc oxide at 2500 mg/kg, amoxicillin at 0.3 mg/kg and apramycin at 0.1 mg/kg (ZnO), and (iii) CON diet with the addition of a commercial citrus flavonoid extract at 0.3 mg/kg and amoxicillin at 0.3 mg/kg (FLAV). Pig BW, ADG, ADFI, and FCR were assessed on d7, d14, and d35. Samples of intestinal tissue, cecal content, and serum were collected on day seven (18 piglets). FLAV treatment achieved greater BW and ADG during the starter and for the entire experimental period compared with the CON diet (p < 0.05), whereas ZnO pigs evidenced intermediate results. Jejunum tissue analysis showed that pigs fed the FLAV diet overexpressed genes related to barrier function, digestive enzymes, and nutrient transport compared to those pigs fed the CON diet (p < 0.05). An increase in the abundance of bacterial genera such as Succinivibrio, Turicibacter, and Mitsuokella (p < 0.05) was observed in the FLAV compared with the CON and ZnO piglets. ZnO and FLAV increased the expression of TAS2R39, while ZnO pigs also expressed greater TAS2R16 than CON (p < 0.05) in the intestine. FLAV treatment improved the gut function, possibly explaining a higher performance at the end of the nursery period. Consequently, citrus flavonoids supplementation, together with amoxicillin, is a promising alternative to the use of zinc oxide plus amoxicillin and apramycin in weanling pigs, minimizing the use of antibiotics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number967
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2023


  • antibiotic use
  • bitter taste receptors
  • citrus flavonoid
  • gene expression
  • gut health
  • weaned piglet


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