Supplements Reduce ALS Risk

Michael A. Smith, MD

One of the most feared diagnoses is Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

It’s a devastating nerve disease with an insidious onset characterized with muscle weakness or stiffness.

The disease progresses rapidly, eventually causing muscle wasting and paralysis of the limbs and trunk.

It also affects the muscles that control vital functions such as speech, swallowing and breathing. The cause is unknown and the prognosis is very poor, with a 5-year survival of 20%.1

Current ALS Treatment Options

To date, treatment has been limited and not very effective. Mostly, patients are given Riluzole, an anti-glutamate drug.

By blocking glutamate, nerve cells are protected from excitotoxicity, which may help to prolong the life of ALS patients. Given the limited ability to treat the disease and a low 5-year survival, prevention is really our best hope.

Fortunately, Dutch researchers have found that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E may reduce the risk of ALS.

Omega-3 Fats and Vitamin E Offer Hope for ALS

Study subjects, 132 with definite or possible ALS and 220 healthy controls, were asked about their dietary intake before noticing ALS symptoms.

Researchers found that ALS patients had markedly lower omega-3 and vitamin E intake than control subjects. Compared to the lowest intake, the highest intake of the nutrients was associated with a 50%–60% reduction in the risk of ALS2.

The Dutch researchers were able to factor out additional factors such as age, sex, smoking history, BMI, socioeconomic status and total caloric intake. They also reported that lycopene, vitamin C, vitamin B12, glutamate, calcium, phytoestrogens and polyphenols had no effect on ALS risk.

The researchers believe that omega-3 fats and vitamin E work together to improve nerve cell structure-function relationships and offer protection against free radical attack.

According to the lead investigator, “The finding that a higher intake of PUFAs appeared to decrease the risk of developing ALS may be in accordance with the results of studies in patients with other primarily neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.”

New Research Confirms Omega-3 Protective Effects

Newer research confirms what the older study found: Omega-3 fats have preventative effects against ALS. A pooled analysis has shown an association between higher omega-3 fatty acid intake and a reduction in the risk of developing ALS.3

While omega-6 intake was not associated with ALS risk, subjects whose intake of omega-3 fatty acids was among the highest one-fifth had a 34% lower risk of developing the disease in comparison with those among the lowest fifth.

Increased alpha-linolenic acid and marine omega-3 fatty acid intake were both associated with a lower risk of the disease. Total calories consumed or percentage of energy intake from fat were not associated with ALS risk.3

Preventing Serious Diseases Like ALS with Nutrition

Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E belong to a broad-spectrum approach to improved brain and nerve health, and may even help to prevent ALS.

Life Extension suggests 1000 to 4000 mg/day of omega-3 fats and 400 IU of natural vitamin E, providing all tocotrienols and tocopherols.

To achieve these ideal doses will require some form of supplementation though, as food alone simply will not provide them.

References:

  1. ALS Association, Fact Sheet. http://www.alsa.org/about-als/facts-you-should-know.html. Accessed July 16, 2014. 
  2. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. Apr 2007; 78(4): 367–371.. 
  3. July 14, 2014 in JAMA Neurology

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