Diet Influences Sporadic ALS Progression

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by Maureen Newman |

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Diet has a significant influence on a person’s health status because it determines which nutrients are available for the body to function properly. Depending on the balance between diet and energy, body mass index (BMI) is also significantly influential to an individual’s health. Since the effects of diet on developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), specifically the intake of naturally antioxidant foods, are largely unknown, a group of researchers from the Netherlands conducted a study that looked at premorbid nutrient intake and the risk of developing sporadic ALS.

“A decreased risk of ALS with higher levels of [antioxidant] intake has been reported more than once,” stated Mark H. B. Huisman, MD, lead author of the study, “Effect of Presymptomatic Body Mass Index and Consumption of Fat and Alcohol on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.” In this original investigation, published in JAMA Neurology, the team of researchers collected responses to a 199-item food frequency questionnaire from 674 ALS patients. As controls, 2,093 random individuals were also given the questionnaire.

The questionnaire gave the researchers insight on foods the patients consumed and the nutritional supplements they were taking before they were diagnosed with ALS. Looking at the results, the researchers were able to calculate a disease risk based on correlation constants and nutrient consumption.

Interestingly, the presymptomic BMI of patients was significantly lower than the BMI of controls, despite the daily energy intake being higher in patients than in controls. It appeared as though the patients were not more physically active than the controls to create the offset. Breaking down the participants diets, the researchers noted that a higher consumption of vegetable protein, polysaccharides, fibers, and flavonoids led to a lower risk of ALS, and a higher consumption of total fat, saturated fat, trans-fat, and cholesterol led to a higher risk of ALS. Consuming alcohol within reason was also associated with a decreased risk for ALS.

The combination of a positive association of high total energy intake, low premorbid BMI, and high fat intake, corrected for lifetime physical activity, supports a role for an altered energy metabolism before clinical onset of ALS,” wrote Dr. Huisman. Patients with ALS may have an increased resting energy expenditure, according to previous studies. This may explain the disparity between energy intake and BMI, but individuals may want to avoid high-caloric diets to lower their risk for sporadic ALS.