Remember the 2014 ice bucket challenge that brought millions together to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)? Well, the fight for research and awareness for ALS is still not over. ALS is a severe progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, which eventually leads to atrophy, paralysis and respiratory failure. There is no cure for the disease, yet. However, scientists are beginning to learn much more about ALS, and this will help us further understand the disease so we can find a cure or key preventative measure. ALS usually strikes between the ages of 40 and 70, and at any given time the number of people with ALS can be around 20,000. Based on U.S. population studies, a little over 6,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. This is about 15 diagnoses every day! ALS seems to affect men slightly more than women with a 1.6:1 ratio. With no known cure and only one FDA approved treatment on the market, Riluzole, the life expectancy of a person diagnosed with ALS is about two to five years following a diagnosis. Some people can and have lived up to 10 years after a diagnosis, however. With sudden interest in the pathogenesis of this disease, scientists are becoming more interested in the role that nutrition can play in the progression and treatment of ALS. Patients who are diagnosed with ALS can benefit greatly from these studies and learn how to improve their lives and every day functions. Recently, data from a study of ALS progression was collected to examine associations between nutritional intake, function and respiratory function at the time of study entry for patients who had ALS symptoms. Jeri W. Nieves, PhD and coauthors, recently conducted this cross-sectional analysis of a multicenter cohort that involved 302 patients with ALS. Patents diagnosed with ALS less than 18 months after symptom onset were recruited to participate. This is one of the only studies done with participants who were diagnosed at such a short time before the study. A revised food frequency questionnaire was used to obtain data on the nutrient intakes of the participants. Results showed that antioxidants, carotenes, fruits, and vegetables were associated with higher ALS function at baseline, by regression of nutrient indices and weighted quantile sum regression analysis. Weighted quantile sum regression allows an analysis of a combination of nutrients rather than the typical evaluation of single nutrients, so this method is preferred. This study concluded that antioxidant nutrients, foods high in carotenoids and fiber, and vegetable intake are associated with better ALS function using two different analysis methods. So what exactly does this mean? This is good news! These findings can lead to better care for people with ALS. We can conclude that nutritional care of the patient with ALS should involve promotion of foods high in antioxidants and carotenes, including fruits and vegetables. It is important to keep in mind that this study only proves a correlation, not cause and effect. However, the sample size was quite large and adds strength to the results and conclusion. Many more studies need to be done on this subject in order to better understand it. As of right now, we are aware of the health benefits of various antioxidants for many diseases, and now that list of diseases includes ALS.
- Jeri W. Nieves, PhD1,2; Chris Gennings, PhD3; Pam Factor-Litvak, PhD1; et al. Association Between Dietary Intake and Function in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. JAMA Neurol. 2016;73(12):1425-1432. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2016.3401.