Betaine, a naturally occurring compound found in plants, animals and microorganisms, has gained attention as an effective heat stress alleviator in broiler diets. It acts as an osmolyte, helping cells maintain their fluid balance, and as a methyl donor, aiding in various metabolic processes. However, it is the former property that makes betaine a powerful tool to mitigate the negative effects of heat stress. Adding betaine can confer the following benefits, if used as part of a general heat-stress package.
1. Improved performance
Research suggests that betaine supplementation in broiler diets can enhance growth performance by improving feed conversion efficiency, increasing weight gain and reducing mortality rates, even in high-temperature environments. This has been attributed to betaine’s ability to regulate osmotic balance.
2. Enhanced antioxidant capacity
Heat stress increases the production of harmful free radicals in broilers, leading to oxidative damage. Betaine acts as part of the antioxidant system, protecting cells from oxidative stress and preserving the integrity of tissues and organs. However, betaine itself should not be confused as an antioxidant per se.
3. Immune system support
Heat stress weakens the immune system, making broilers more susceptible to diseases. Betaine supplementation can be seen as a way to enhance immune response by stimulating the production of antibodies and improving lymphocyte function. However, this remains an unclear area that requires further research.
4. Gut health maintenance
Heat stress can disrupt the balance of the intestinal microbiota, negatively affecting gut health and nutrient absorption. Betaine can also play a minor role in maintaining a healthy gut environment by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria and supporting intestinal integrity.
However, it’s important to remember that betaine is not a magic potion. Proper management practices, such as adequate ventilation, provision of cool water, and appropriate stocking densities, should be combined with betaine supplementation along with other additives to optimize results.