Olive oil, walnuts and fish may be able to prevent potentially fatal food poisoning.

A recent study suggests omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in the previously mentioned foods, can neutralize listeriosis-causing bacteria without increasing its resistance to medication. It does this by deactivating the genes in the listeria bacteria that cause infection.

Common, naturally occurring fatty acids can switch off the specific genes that make the listeria bacterium dangerous.- Birgitte Kallipolitis, University of South Denmark

“It’s interesting that naturally occurring, completely harmless and actually healthy fatty acids can be used to suppress dangerous bacteria such as listeria,” Birgitte Kallipolitis, a professor at the University of South Denmark and one of the study’s authors, told Medical News Today. “The long-term perspective is that it may prove possible to develop new treatment methods. Not only against Listeria, but also against other dangerous bacteria that are currently resistant to antibiotics.”

Listeriosis afflicts about 1,600 people and kills 260 in the U.S. each year. Eating foods contaminated with the listeria bacteria is the primary cause of infection. It’s most commonly found in unpasteurized milk and dairy products, soft cheeses and pre-cut deli meats. Pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk.

“Our study has shown that common, naturally occurring fatty acids can switch off the specific genes that make the listeria bacterium dangerous,” Kallipolitis said. “We tested omega-3 fatty acids, and it took them about half an hour to neutralize the Listeria bacteria.”

That’s promising news for the development of new treatments. Antibiotics are currently used to combat listeriosis, but research shows the listeria bacteria has become increasingly resistant to the medication. This latest study indicates omega-3 fatty acids can be used to nullify the effects of the bacteria without destroying it. If a bacteria’s growth isn’t threatened, it doesn’t build resistance.

“Bacteria can develop resistance to attacks, and we have many examples of how this merely creates new and even bigger problems for combating them,” Kallipolitis said. “It might be a better strategy to let them live and instead aim to neutralize their capacity to cause disease.”

The researchers hope their discovery will lead to better treatment options as listeria continues to become more resistant to antibiotics. Results of the study were published in the journal Research in Microbiology.

This study is the latest in a series of numerous others that display the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Other research indicates omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity, asthma and heart disease. These fatty acids may also help balance cholesterol levels, boost immunity, treat digestive disorders and reduce muscle, bone and joint pain.

The following foods are high sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

– Mackerel
– Salmon fish oil
– Cod liver oil
– Walnuts
– Chia seeds
– Herring
– Salmon
– Flaxseeds
– Tuna
– Sardines
– Hemp seeds
– Anchovies
– Egg yolks
– Olive oil

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