Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) sufferers might have a new ray of light on the horizon. A promising new study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA, and reported in the international medical magazine The Lancet on Friday could offer hope for those patients suffering from ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. According to preliminary findings, a high-caloric diet rich in carbohydrates could potentially slow the progression of the disease. This study is the first of its kind and it provides evidence that dietary intervention could not only improve the quality of life but possibly extend life expectancy for Lou Gehrig’s disease sufferers.
Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is also commonly known as ALS, involves the dying off of motor neurons (nerve cells) within the brain and spinal cord. The disease attacks the motor neurons and impairs the body’s muscle control thereby affecting mobility in those stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a progressive, debilitating disease and its progress varies among affected individuals. Some individuals can live long periods of time with Lou Gehrig’s disease; however, most cases of ALS will claim its victims within three to five years from the onset of symptoms. As the disease progresses, sufferers have difficulties with various motor functions, such as the ability to walk, talk, eat, breathe, and swallow. These impairments lead to illness, injury, and eventual death. ALS is a rare disease that affects only one or two in every 100,000 people in the U.S. and most of the global community every year. It is somewhat more common in males than females and can affect people of any age group. However, it is more common in middle-aged and older individuals.
The study that indicated ALS sufferers might benefit from high caloric intake were given high calorie, high carbohydrate tube-feeding formula. In addition, study participants were found to live longer and experience fewer adverse events than ALS patients not given the formula. Researchers examined 24 ALS patients in the advanced stages of the disease, who had experienced significant weight loss and were receiving nutritional supplements via feeding tube. The control group was given a formula designed for weight stability while two other groups were given formulas with 125 percent of calories needed to maintain weight. One of the two high-caloric formulas included high-fat content while the other high caloric formula included high carbohydrate content. The results of the study were varied. None of the patients that received the high calorie, high carbohydrate formula experienced adverse health effects. While one of the patients on the high calorie, high-fat formula and three patients from the weight stability control group were forced to withdraw from the study due to adverse effects.
The cause of ALS remains unknown and it can be difficult to diagnose until symptoms become noticeable and further testing is done. However, there could be a genetic component involved as approximately one of every 10 cases has a familial link. The first signs of ALS often involve weakness in one of the limbs, face, or tongue. As the disease progresses, the motor neurons die off and stop sending signals to the muscles to move. Eventually, weakness spreads to all the limbs and the muscles atrophy because there are no signals telling the muscles to move. Other ALS symptoms that become more pronounced over time include muscle spasms, twitching, and lack of fine motor coordination. The most common serious complication of ALS involves respiratory issues. Breathing problems result from the muscles in the chest and throat weakening over time due to ALS. These respiratory issues can lead to pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, lung and heart failure, as well as swallowing and choking issues. These complications are the most common cause of death among ALS suffers.
The study that indicated ALS sufferers might benefit from a high caloric and carbohydrate intake included a five-month follow-up period, in which none of the patients on the high calorie, high carbohydrate diet died. While one of the patients on the high calorie, high-fat formula and three patients from the weight stability control group that were forced to withdraw from the study and subsequently died due to respiratory failure. The researchers are greatly encouraged by their preliminary findings and hope to secure funding to expand the study so they can test their findings among a larger participant pool of ALS sufferers. Additionally, the researchers do feel their preliminary findings support the importance of avoiding weight loss among ALS patients. Moreover, the researchers want to include a nutritional counseling component to their study to examine the benefits of weight gain in slowing the progression of ALS, which is a component not currently covered by insurance companies. The doctors feel that early dietary intervention in combination with weight gain or weight maintenance could play a pivotal role in slowing the progression of ALS and improving the quality of life for those affected by the disease.
By Leigh Haugh