The role of condensed tannins in ruminant animal production: advances, limitations and future directions
ABSTRACT Tannins represent one of the most abundant polyphenolic compounds in plants. Tannins exist as a multitude of chemically unique entities in nature. The most commonly occurring tannins are typically divided into two major classes based on chemical structure: hydrolysable (HT) or condensed tannins (CT). Hydrolysable tannins are esters of gallic or ellagic acid linked to a polyol core, typically glucose. Condensed tannins or proanthocyanidins consist of flavan-3-ol subunits linked together to form oligomers and polymers. Both HT and CT are defined as astringent, medium-to-high-molecular weight polyphenolic compounds that characteristically bind and precipitate soluble proteins. The objective of this paper was to present recent advances in CT-ruminant interactions, the limitations associated with understanding and using CT in ruminant animal production, and future needs for research to further advance our knowledge of the role of CT in optimization of ruminant animal production. Condensed tannins pose some anti-nutritional problems to ruminants due to their astringent property that reduces feed intake and, consequently, animal performance. Ruminants can, however, tolerate CT by slowly adapting the ruminal microbes to the toxic effects of CT and by releasing CT-binding salivary proteins. The protein-binding ability of CT has some benefits to the ruminant due to complexes formed with essential amino acids, preventing their degradation in the rumen, but releasing them in the lower gut for absorption by the animal. Recent data have suggested increased N retention when CT is given to growing animals. There are potential benefits of using CT and HT for anthelmintic purposes due to their ability to inhibit egg hatching and larval motility of gastrointestinal nematode parasites, especially in small ruminants. Condensed tannins also bind to minerals (Al, Ca, Co, Cu, Fe, Mg, Mn, P, and Zn). Although studies with ruminants have been contradictory, it has been reported that because the CT-metal ion complex is stable over a wide pH range, CT may reduce the bioavailability of minerals. Methane mitigation by feeding CT might be the most impactful benefit for ruminant production. Many empirical equations have been developed to predict ruminal methane emissions, but very few have included CT. Future research should focus on the improvement of methodology to assess CT biological activity, interaction with other plant-specialized metabolites, and associated physiological and nutritional impacts on ruminants.