Fish oil supplements can have antibacterial properties. (Stock, supplied: Flinders University)
Fish oil supplements can break down “superbugs” that have become resistant to antibiotics, according to research.
The World Health Organization has identified antibiotic resistance as “one of the greatest threats to human health”. Infections that are currently considered near harmless may one day be incurable and once effective drugs become useless.
Antibiotics become less effective the more often they are used. Inappropriate prescriptions and patients who do not take the drugs properly mean that many bacterial infections have developed resistance to bypassing the drugs they are trying to destroy.
Scientists at Flinders University in Adelaide have now found that taking fish oil fatty acids along with antibiotics can help ward off resistance.
Continue reading: Fear of antibiotic resistance increases amid a pandemic
In an article in mBio magazine, the team explains how fish oil supplements have antimicrobial properties and provide a safe and easily accessible solution to drug resistance.
Research is still in its infancy, with it being unclear how many supplements a person might need to take to combat the problem.
Watch: How to Learn More About Antibiotic Resistance
“Our studies show that an important mechanism of antibiotic resistance in cells can be negatively influenced by the intake of omega-3 fatty acids in food,” said study author Dr. Bart Eijkelkamp.
“In the experiments and additional supercomputer models, we found that these fatty acids in fish oil make the bacteria more susceptible to various common antibiotics.”
Continue reading: What is antibiotic resistance?
The scientists focused on the Acinetobacter baumannii bacterium. A. baumannii, which are often picked up in hospitals, have developed “antimicrobial resistance unprecedented in the world”.
“Our research has shown that fish oil fatty acids become part of the bacterial membrane, making the invading bacterial membrane more permeable and more susceptible to the antibiotics that attack it,” said co-author Dr. Felise Adams.
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Some antibiotics attack the cell walls of bacteria and kill the pathogens. Others work to suppress the bacteria from dividing, which gives a patient’s immune system a better chance of fighting off the infection naturally.
Bacteria mutate quickly and acquire mutations almost constantly. As with the “Survival of the Fittest”, mutations then remain that enable bacteria to trick the antibiotics.
Continue reading: Antibiotic discovery slowed down by bankrupt pharmaceutical companies
These mutations are then passed on between bacteria and to future generations.
Regarding fish oil research, co-author Dr. Megan O’Mara of the Australian National University: “This rift in the armor of harmful bacteria is an important step forward in combating the rise in superbugs that develop multi-agent antibiotic resistance.”
Bacteria acquire mutations that can aid their survival in the mutation. (Stock, Getty Images)
Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, but medical professionals have mistakenly prescribed the drugs for viruses such as colds and flu. This gives bacteria a better chance of developing resistance.
Patients who do not take antibiotics as prescribed, for example stopping them too early, also contribute to the problem.
In 2015, antibiotic use in England alone had risen 6.5% in the last four years. In the US, at least 30% of prescribed drugs are considered “unnecessary”.
One of the best-known examples is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
The bacteria S. aureus live harmlessly on the skin of about one in 30 people. However, if they get into the body, S. aureus can cause dangerous infections.
Now resistant to the antibiotic methicillin, MRSA is believed to kill more people each year in the United States than acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), Parkinson’s disease, emphysema, and murder combined.
The sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea, which affects around 44,000 people in Great Britain every year, has also developed into a “superbug”. Only one class of antibiotics, cephalosporins, is still effective.
As scientists work to solve the problem, the public can help fight antibiotic resistance by carefully following prescriptions and never sharing or skipping doses.
Good hand hygiene and up-to-date vaccination protection can also help.
Watch: Antibiotic Resistance May Lead to More Coronavirus Deaths