Fish oil's role in stopping superbugs

Tuesday, 22 June, 2021

Fish oil's role in stopping superbugs

Australian scientists have discovered that regular fish oil has the potential to break down superbugs’ ability to become resistant to antibiotics.

The research team, led by Flinders University, found that the antimicrobial powers of fish oil fatty acids could prove a simple and safe dietary supplement for people to take with antibiotics to make their fight against infection more effective. The results are published in international journal mBio.

“Importantly, our studies indicate that a major antibiotic resistance mechanism in cells can be negatively impacted by the uptake of omega-3 dietary lipids,” said microbiologist Dr Bart Eijkelkamp, from the Bacterial Host Adaptation Research Laboratory at Flinders University.

“In the experiments, and complementary supercomputer modelling, we found that these fatty acids in fish oil renders the bacteria more susceptible to various common antibiotics.”

Co-author Associate Professor Megan O’Mara, from the Australian National University (ANU), added, “This chink in the armour of harmful bacteria is an important step forward in combating the rise of superbugs that are developing multidrug resistance to antibiotics.”

The research is vital in the field of infectious diseases caused by bacteria such as Acinetobacter baumannii, a leading hospital-acquired pathogen with unprecedented levels of antibiotic resistance around the world.

“With the rise of superbugs, we have now been able to show this greedy bacterium cannot distinguish between ‘good and bad’ host fatty acids and will consume all of these during an infection,” said co-author Dr Felise Adams, from Flinders University.

“Our research showed that fish oil fatty acids become part of the bacteria membrane and thus make the invading bacteria membrane more permeable and susceptible to the antibiotics being used to attack it.

“We know Acinetobacter baumannii is one of the world’s most notorious multidrug-resistant pathogens, yet how it responds to host-mediated stress is poorly understood.”

Professor Anton Peleg, Director of the Department of Infectious Diseases at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, explained, “These studies provide new insights into the potential benefits of omega-3 supplements for bacterial infection, in particular during antibiotic treatment.”

The two research publications feature collaborators from ANU, Macquarie University, the University of Adelaide, Monash University, the University of Newcastle and the SA Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI).

Image caption: Dr Bart Eijkelkamp, Dr Felice Adams and Maoge Zang at the Bacterial Host Adaptation Research Laboratory (Flinders University).

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