In this review, the potential for use of soy-derived bioactive compounds as immunomodulatory feed additives in pigs is discussed. Soy is a major component of the modern U.S. swine diet in today’s commercial industry, providing the bulk of dietary AA necessary for growth and production. However, soy use has generally been limited in early growth phases, during which the risks of immunological insult and disease are among the highest. Improvements of soybean processing and development of soy protein products with little to no antinutritional factors have made soy more appropriate for use in young pigs but additional processing may affect bioactive compound levels in the feed. The bioactive compounds of interest for this review are soy isoflavones and soy saponins. Soy isoflavones are flavonoid compounds with a range of biological activity including moderate estrogenic effects at low biological concentrations. Although estrogenic effects are of more interest in human medical research, isoflavones are also known for their anti-inflammatory, antioxidative properties at cellular levels, engaging several receptors and pathways including inhibition of NF-κB activation and inducible-nitric oxide synthase enzymes, thereby ascribing antiviral properties. Saponins, amphipathic glycoside compounds, also engage anti-inflammatory pathways, though their biological activity in pigs has not been well investigated and seem to mainly be observed on the mucous membrane in the gastrointestinal tract. Regarding use as an immunomodulatory feed additive, supplemental soy isoflavones have been shown to improve immunological status of pigs and produce mild improvements of growth performance under certain disease challenges including porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus.
Although more in vivo research in pigs is needed to fully understand biological activity of these compounds in the live animal, soy-derived bioactive compounds show great potential as a health promoting feed additive for the modern swine industry.