Symposium review: Transition cow calcium homeostasis : health effects of hypocalcemia and strategies for prevention
The effects of subclinical hypocalcemia have been explored in numerous observational and mechanistic studies in recent years. Besides obvious, well-known effects on muscle contractility, the role of Ca with respect to immune function and intermediary metabolism explains the contribution of subclinical hypocalcemia to the development of several diseases observed in early lactation and underlines its importance in high-performing dairy cows. The present review aims at integrating recent scientific progress, such as discoveries about the role of the mammary gland in regulating bone mobilization, into generally accepted aspects of the endocrine control of Ca homeostasis. We will discuss Ca transport mechanisms through absorption, resorption, secretion, and mobilization, as well as the physiological regulation of Ca through parathyroid hormone, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, fibroblast growth factor 23, and serotonin, in addition to dietary mineral requirements. To improve hypocalcemia prevention strategies, our knowledge of the physiological mechanisms necessary to maintain normocalcemia and their endogenous regulation should be combined with data derived from herd-level studies. Using such studies, we will discuss prepartum nutritional strategies aimed at reducing the incidence of subclinical hypocalcemia, as well as options for postpartum Ca supplementation and their effects on early-lactation health and production. Especially in respect to approaches that might interfere with endogenous adaptation processes, such as supplementation with vitamin D metabolites or large doses of Ca, a thorough understanding of the underlying mechanisms that might induce unwanted hypocalcemia rebound effects will be crucial to ameliorate our future management of transition cows. Continued efforts by researchers to understand the interaction of Ca homeostasis with prevention strategies is necessary to optimize cow health and support copious milk production.