Supporting health with dietary natural antioxidants

High-productive animals require a balanced nutritional diet to stay healthy and perform maximally. On top of that, dairy cows are subject to stress at various points in their life, especially in these highly productive environments. As the body reacts to stress, cellular metabolic processes are triggered, leading to oxidation and production of many harmful free radicals. An increase in these radicals can lead to disease. This means that, if not adequately managed, stress can have a negative impact on the health and welfare of high-performing dairy cows.

Free radicals are harmful by-products produced during normal essential metabolic processes. They are also called reactive oxygen species (ROS) and can be extremely damaging for the animal body cells. ROS can induce oxidation of intracellular and extracellular molecules, which directly affects the viability of cells. In high-productive animals or during stressful periods all cellular metabolism processes in the body are triggered, including these oxidation processes, leading to high release of free radicals. Vitamin E (in synergy with selenium) is able to break the radical chain reaction, protecting cellular membranes from being attacked by peroxyl radicals. 

Many plant-based ingredients have been found to have very powerful antioxidant properties too. Plant polyphenols, being a diverse group of more than 8000 distinct compounds, can provide a useful alternative dietary strategy to fulfill the role as biological antioxidant. Certain combinations of polyphenols may be interesting in managing oxidative stress instead of Vitamin E.

Vitanox, a product based on a specific combination of polyphenols, was developed to partially replace Vitamin E in the diet, in order to increase the antioxidative capacity of dairy cows and improve general health and performance.

Plant polyphenols spare the need of vitamin E

At the independent research facility ILVO in Belgium, 39 mid-lactation dairy cows were challenged with a diet low in vitamin E and selenium, during 9 weeks. Anti-oxidative and production parameters were evaluated during a pre-treatment (week 1 to 3) and treatment period (week 4 to 9), with two groups receiving 2 doses of Vitanox (5g/c/d and 20g/c/d) and one group being the control.

Figure 1. Increasing doses of Vitanox decrease the need for vitamin E mobilization in dairy cows.

Results indicated that when comparing the treatment period to the pre-treatment period, a lower mobilization of Vitamin E is required when Vitanox is added to the diet (Figure 1). In this context, dietary supply of Vitanox, rich in polyphenols, can provide a useful complementary dietary strategy to fulfill the role as biological antioxidant.

Plant polyphenols towards a more resilient anti-oxidative defense potential

To further evaluate the resistance against the aggression of free radicals, the Kit Radicaux Libres (KRL) test was used. KRL gives a measure of half haemolysis time, which is the time in minutes after which 50% of blood cells are lysed upon a free radical attack. The higher the level of KRL, the lesser the animal suffers from the negative effects of free radicals. The KRL test discriminates between the dietary supplementation of both lipid- and water-soluble antioxidants. Values for plasma tell something about hydrophilic antioxidants (such as the polyphenols from Vitanox).

Figure 2. Vitanox increases the plasma anti-oxidant efficiency in dairy cows

KRL values of plasma were suppressed in the control group because all animals were depleted in vitamin E and selenium. However, plasma antioxidant efficiency was clearly increased when adding Vitanox compared to the control group, which illustrates the effectivity of Vitanox’ polyphenols (Figure 2).

KRL values indicate that Vitanox has a good anti-oxidative effect. In addition, there is still a need vitamin E for optimal performance. We therefore keep the current advice, which is that Vitanox is useful on top and that you can partially replace vitamin E. In this way, a more resilient anti-oxidative defense potential is created, because of the complementary mode of action of both hydrophilic and lipophilic anti-oxidants.

Impact on performance under stressful conditions

When the body reacts to stressors, cellular metabolic processes are triggered, leading to oxidation and a high production of harmful free radicals. This means that, if not adequately managed, stress can not only have a negative impact on the animals’ health and welfare, but also on overall performance.

In this experiment, all animals dealt with a viral infection at the beginning of the treatment period. This unforeseen situation created the possibility to look at the effect of Vitanox during challenges on performance parameters such as dry matter intake and milk yield. Though not significant, the reduction in feed intake and milk yield seemed less severe when the cows had access to Vitanox treated feed, despite facing disease. Dairy cows appear to cope better with periods of stress when Vitanox is part of the diet.


The carefully selected plant-based polyphenols in Vitanox help to maintain the balance between oxidation and antioxidant capacity. Partial replacement of vitamin E by Vitanox not only offers a cost-efficient alternative, it also positively affects animal health and productivity. Additionally, there are clear indications that Vitanox has a positive effect on physiological parameters and performance of dairy cows in challenging situations.

What we want to achieve with Agrimprove? Healthy and well-taken care of cows that live longer. Because by striving to extend the cow’s longevity, we create impact on the sustainability of dairy production.

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Kobe Lannoo
Global lead swine