Previous studies have identified the many potential health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, including a decreased risk of obesity, asthma, heart disease and diabetes. Now, a new study has discovered that omega-3 fatty acids may also be effective in weakening Listeria monocytogenes, the bacterium that causes listeriosis, a life-threatening infection.
A research team at the University of Southern Denmark discovered a very important benefit of omega-3 involving the genes responsible for the virulence of L. monocytogenes. Omega-3 deactivates those genes, which in turn would leave the bacterium open to attack.
“It’s interesting that naturally occurring, completely harmless and actually healthy fatty acids can be used to suppress dangerous bacteria such as listeria,” said Birgitte Kallipolitis, professor at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense. “The long-term perspective is that it may prove possible to develop new treatment methods, no only against Listeria, but also against other dangerous bacteria that are currently resistant to antibiotics.”
L. monocytogenes, a genus of Listeria bacteria, is responsible for listeriosis, a serious infection that is linked to about 260 deaths and affects nearly 1,600 people in the United States each year.
Those at the greatest risk of listeriosis include older people, pregnant women and people with a compromised immune system.
In most cases, L. monocytogenes contaminated food is the cause of the infection. Soft cheeses (Brie and Feta), pre-prepared deli meats, dairy products and unpasteurized are considered high-risk foods.
Switching Off The Genes Linked L. Monocytogenes
Antibiotics are utilized to treat listeriosis, but previous studies revealed that L. monocytogenes is becoming more resistant to those drugs.
The new study demonstrates that omega-3 may have the ability to neutralize L. monocytogenes, which in turn would hinder its ability to become resistant to antibiotics and leaving it vulnerable to attack.
The research team focused on the potential effects of different concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids would have on L. monocytogenes.
The findings revealed that after 30 minutes of the initial consumption, even the lowest concentrations of omega-3 had the ability to weaken L. monocytogenes, which in turn could lead to new treatments and drugs for listeriosis.
“Our theory is that the fatty acids do something to the PrfA protein, so that it cannot switch on the virulence genes and we’re very interested in finding out what exactly is occurring,” says Kallipolitis.
The researchers noted that bacteria would only create a new survival strategy, which could make them resistant to an attack, if their growth is threatened. Since, omega-3 fatty acids did not destroy the L. monocytogenes during the study, it may be the more preferred outcome.
“Bacteria can develop resistance to attacks and we have many examples of how this merely creates new and even bigger problems for combating them. It might be a better strategy to let them live and instead aim to neutralize their capacity to cause disease, said Kallipolitis.
The study was published in the journal Research in Microbiology