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Diet rich in omega-3 linked to reduced ALS risk

3 min read

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is a neurodegenerative disease

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease" - Lou Gehrig was a New York Yankees baseball player who broke numerous records and played for 2130 consecutive games. This streak ended in 1939 after he was stricken with ALS which forced him to retire at the age of 36 and claimed his life 2 years later. As a result ALS is now commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease in North America.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The disease attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles - with voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralysed. It is one of the most common neuromuscular diseases worldwide, it can strike anyone - it has no racial, ethnic or socio-economic boundaries. Perhaps the most famous of sufferers is the physicist Stephen Hawking.

ALS occurs in greater percentages as men and women grow older

Most people who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 and 70, with an average age of 55 at the time of diagnosis. However, cases of the disease do occur in persons in their twenties and thirties. ALS is 20% more common in men than in women however with increasing age, the incidence of ALS is more equal between men and women. Half of all people affected with ALS live at least three or more years after diagnosis. 20% live five years or more; up to 10% will live more than ten years.

Risk factors currently unknown

There are several research studies investigating possible risk factors that may be associated with ALS but more work is needed to conclusively determine what genetics and/or environment factors contribute to developing the disease. 

Harvard study finds link between omega-3 consumption and ALS disease risk reduction

A study conducted by Harvard researchers has shown that 20% of consumers who had the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet were a third less likely to develop the incurable neurodegenerative disease Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) compared to the 20% who ate the lowest amount.

The study gathered data from 1 million people who had participated in 5 previously published studies and looked specifically at the association of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) consumption and ALS risk. The scientists already knew that these fatty acids are incorporated in brain lipids and modulate oxidative and inflammatory processes and therefore could affect the risk of developing ALS as well as it's progression in those already suffering from the disease.

In a review of 995 ALS cases it was found that a higher omega-3 intake was associated with a reduced risk of ALS - consumption included alpha linolenic acid (ALA) from plant sources and nuts as well as marine omega-3 sources. Meanwhile omega-6 intake was not associated with ALS risk.

Diet was assessed through dietary questionnaires - for men the intake of omega-3 ranged from 1.4 to 1.85 grams per day while for women intake ranged from 1.14 to 1.43 grams per day.

It was concluded that a diet rich in Omega-3 may result in a reduced risk for ALS

The study concluded: "Overall, the results of our large prospective cohort study suggests that individuals with higher dietary intakes of total omega-3 PUFA and ALA have a reduced risk for ALS".

The authors added that more research is needed to confirm their findings and to determine whether higher omega-3 intake could be of benefit to individuals already suffering from ALS. 

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.