Food and Behaviour Research

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15 July 2014 - MNT - Could certain fatty acids reduce the risk of Lou Gehrig's disease?

James McIntosh

A new study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, MA, and published in JAMA Neurology has suggested that eating foods high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may reduce the risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the fatal neurogenerative condition that is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.


The abstract for the underpinning research article can be found here:  Fitzgerald et al 2014 - Dietary ω-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Intake and Risk for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is also referred to as motor neuron disease or Lou Gehrig's disease, after the famous baseball player who developed the condition. It is a disease that causes nerve muscles to break down and eventually die. Muscles gradually weaken, and the individual loses all control over voluntary movements. The majority of people with ALS die within 3-5 years of the onset of symptoms.

In the majority of cases, the disease occurs seemingly randomly, and it is uncertain as to precisely what some of the risk factors are. The condition most commonly appears in people between 40-60 years old, more often in men than women, and 5-10% of cases are inherited.

Inflammation and oxidative stress have previously been implicated in the cause of neurodegenerative diseases such as Lou Gehrig's disease, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are known to help modulate them.

Before now though, there has been little to no data regarding a link specifically between PUFA intake and the risk of developing Lou Gehrig's disease. This lack of data was the reason for the new study from the Harvard School of Public Health research team.

The authors examined a total of 1,002,082 participants from five different study groups. The diet of the participants was assessed by questionnaires throughout the duration of each of the five studies. The follow-up period ranged from 9-25 years, depending on the study group.

The authors reported 995 deaths as a result of Lou Gehrig's disease during this period. Alongside this, the authors found that a greater intake of omega-3 PUFA was associated with a reduced risk of Lou Gehrig's disease. This association was contributed to by the consumption of marine omega-3 PUFAs with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

No significant evidence was found associating Lou Gehrig's disease risk with age, BMI, carotenoids, smoking status or vitamin E supplement use.