Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Could Nutrition Affect Motor Neuron Disease?

You probably remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from a couple of years ago, which aimed to raise awareness of ALS (or Motor Neuron Disease, or Lou Gehrig's Disease) as well as money to fund research into the disease. But can we already take control of our risk of developing the disease, and could natural medicine help to fight it?

ALS/MND (let's go with ALS) is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes paralysis and eventually respiratory failure. I remember, at 15, being forced to watch Tuesdays with Morrie in Christian Studies class and being absolutely terrified as well as thoroughly depressed (this was before I knew much about natural medicine and before it was really respected). Discovering Life Extension and others after typing in "what is the meaning of life" as instructed by the teacher on another day was the best possible outcome. The median survival time after diagnosis is between 20-48 months, although 10-20% of patients survive longer than 10 years. As prevention is far better than any cure for diseases like this, there is now interest in nutritional and environmental factors that can affect the development and progression of ALS. In this analysis, reposted by Life Extension, nutrient intake and respiratory function of 302 people with ALS were measured and compared. Fruit and vegetable intake, and intake of antioxidants, particularly carotenoids, were associated with better functioning.
Source: B. Navez

Don't just settle for slower progression or "better functioning", you can reduce your risk of ALS too! Like many diseases, quitting smoking, or to be specific, never touching one, has a protective effect. A case-control study found that ever having smoked increased the risk of developing ALS by 70%! Lead exposure may be another risk factor for ALS. Another case-control study, on 109 ALS patients and 256 controls set out to determine what risk there may be. They didn't just stop at interviews or questionnaires this time; they also looked at blood and bone levels of lead. For every mug/dL increase in blood levels of lead, ALS risk increased by 90%. For every doubling of bone levels, ALS risk was raised by 2.3-3.6 times. A gene that increases the risk of lead poisoning also raised ALS risk by 90%. Fortunately, both smoking and use of lead seem to be falling out of fashion. Vitamin E and unsaturated fatty acid consumption, however, may reduce your risk of ALS by 50-60% when you have a high intake of both. Other nutrients, such as calcium and vitamins C and B2, did not reduce ALS risk. This may be because vitamin E and (omega-3, at least) unsaturated fats are fat-soluble antioxidants and anti-inflammatories respectively, and therefore have a high affinity for nervous tissue, which is fat based. Vitamin C and the others which showed no real effect are water-soluble, so there is less affinity for the nervous system.

But what about people who already have ALS? A 1998 study of 24 people with the terrible disease assigned them to one of two groups: one where they were injected with half a milligram of vitamin B12 for 2 weeks, and another where they got 25mg. No significant improvements were found in the low-dose group, but the high-dose group saw an increase in their average compound muscle action potential amplitudes (CMAPs) after 4 weeks. An action potential is basically a fancy name for "nerve signal". Acupuncture may even be another natural treatment for ALS, as seen in a case study of two patients. After 4 weeks (5 days a week) of acupuncture injection point therapy, both improved; one who stopped the therapy and relapsed, and another who continued and saw more gains. Clinical trials will be necessary to see if these effects can be generalised, and to see how acupuncture therapy could be improved. While much more research into how to fight ALS is needed, whether it's best to go integrative or all-natural, there is hope!

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