Kansas State University researchers have found that essential oils may play a role in livestock health.
Essential oils are removed from plants and distilled into concentrated forms that distributors say support immunity and other bodily functions.
In a study, Kansas State professors Evan Titgemeyer and T.G. Nagaraja found that limonene, which is in lemon oil, and thymol, which is in thyme oil, help combat Fusobacterium necrophorum in cattle stomachs. The harmful bacterium makes dietary protein less available to the animal.
The Food & Drug Administration has issued a guidance to minimize the use of some antibiotics in livestock. FDA's guidance aims to avoid exposing human food to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to Nagaraja, a university distinguished professor of microbiology in the university's College of Veterinary Medicine.
As the researchers started studying alternative treatments to antibiotic use, one of the team members, Eman Elkaweel, a then-graduate student in animal science, suggested a substance that was new to the professors.
"She wanted to test some products that might have the potential to be used in her home country of Egypt, so we contacted a company that sold products containing essential oil components," said Titgemeyer, a professor and graduate program director in the animal sciences and industry department in the Kansas State University College of Agriculture.
With funding from DSM Nutritional Products Inc., which supplies nutritional solutions for animal health, Nagaraja and Titgemeyer tested five essential oil components -- eugenol, guaiacol, limonene, thymol and vanillin -- to determine the compounds' ability to inhibit the growth of F. necrophorum.
Limonene and thymol performed best. Follow-up testing between the two showed that limonene was slightly more effective than thymol and nearly as effective as tylosin, a commonly used antibiotic and feed additive used to hinder bacterial growth and the incidence of liver abscesses in cattle.
"While livestock producers often turn to antibiotics, our study shows that some essential oils also can inhibit microbial growth," Titgemeyer said. "Certain essential oil compounds can target specific bacterial populations and optimize animal health."