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Which Came First: Ketosis or a Health Challenge?

Larry Roth, Ph.D., PAS - Vice President of Nutrition, Agrarian Solutions and Caroline Knoblock, MSc, - Director of Nutrition

Dairy nutrition researchers and consultants have been kicking around for some time the subject of ketosis in lactating dairy cows. The June 2024 Journal of Dairy Science featured the “Invited Review: Ketone biology – The shifting paradigm of ketones and ketosis in the dairy cow” by J.E. Rico and M.A. Barrientos-Blanco (J. Dairy Sci. 107:3367-3388). The review covers a range of interesting topics including ketosis (the accumulation of blood ketones) as being the cause of reduced milk production and lowered reproductive success or ketosis as a sign of unresolved inflammation.

As a starting point, the authors establish the ketone bodies (acetoacetate, D-betahydroxybutyrate (BHB) and acetone) as being metabolic fuels created by the liver and ruminal mitochondria and then delivered for cellular respiration by a wide range of tissues. The availability of ketones has a glucose-sparing effect to enable the cow to meet glucose needs for red blood cells, immune function and lactose creation in the udder. Glucose is also a key carbon source for developing follicles.

The review cites 1971 research suggesting that contemporary cows utilized ketones for 30% of total respiratory CO2 production, and postulate that current lactating cows with greater energy demands are even more dependent upon ketones as an energy source. Much research and industry focus has been on resolving ketone accumulation and increasing gluconeogenesis during the energy deficit and fat breakdown associated with freshening, and more recently the focus has shifted to resolving underlying inflammation. The variable success of supplementing glucose-generating compounds at calving may be due to not resolving the base causes of inflammation. The authors also mention research suggesting health-promoting and inflammation-reducing benefits of ketones.

At Agrarian Solutions, field experience and independent research has led us to the theory that protecting against or reducing mycotoxin-related inflammation would enable redirection of nutrients for a range of physiological purposes. Perhaps, mycotoxin protection at calving and during the initiation of lactation would reduce ketone accumulation during this critical phase of the production cycle.

Please contact Agrarian Solutions for information on our dry cow and lactating cow products which may play a role during inflammation and intense energy demand periods.