Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

What is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is also referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. This is a neurological disease that progresses rapidly and is fatal.

One of a group of diseases referred to as motor neuron diseases, ALS causes the degeneration and death of motor neurons that are responsible for controlling your voluntary muscle movements.

What are the Symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis?

Since neurons (nerve cells that are found in the brain stem, spinal cord, and brain) are attacked and destroyed, there are early symptoms.

Symptoms include

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty walking or doing normal activities
  • Tripping
  • Weakness in the feet, ankles, legs, or hands
  • Twitching shoulders, tongue, and arms
  • Muscle cramping
  • Difficulty maintaining a good posture or holding the head up

This disease will often start in the limbs, feet, or hands. Then it will spread to other areas of the body. As it advances, the muscles weaken progressively, eventually adversely affecting swallowing, breathing, speaking, and chewing.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Causes

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a disease that affects the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary movement. At this point, there isn’t a known cause; however, risk factors have been identified for why people get ALS. People older than 55 and people who are Caucasian and non-Hispanic are more likely to get this disease. There also have been genes identified with the disease; unfortunately, only 5-10 percent of the cases are genetic. The majority of cases are sporadic ALS, meaning there are no apparent risk factors.

One risk factor that is well known and documented is serving in the military. The exact reason why serving in the military increases risk for ALS isn’t known. One of the potential causes is gene mutation. The gene SOD1 shows a significant role in creating an environment leading to ALS. This gene helps produce mutated SOD1 proteins which become toxic. Other genes point to changes in mutations to processing proteins and possible defects in the structure and shape of motor neutrons.

How is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Treated?

There is no way to reverse the course of Lou Gehrig’s disease once it starts. Therefore, treatment will focus upon slowing the progression of its symptoms, while also attempting to prevent complications.

Treatment includes

The only drug that has been FDA approved for use in treating ALS is Rilutek, as it appears to be effective at slowing the progression of the disease in some patients.

Therapies include breathing care, physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, psychological support, and nutritional support to maintain as much comfort and independence as possible.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Prevention

A preliminary study of more than one million participants has shown a diet high in bright colored foods, particularly foods that are orange, yellow, and red may prevent or slow the onset of ALS. The study showed that the antioxidants in the bright foods slowed or prevented the onset. The antioxidants in the other colored foods did not slow or prevent the onset of ALS –
The exception to this is dark green leafy vegetables. These plants showed a decrease in the risk of developing ALS. The antioxidants that are responsible for this reduction are Vitamin E and Carotenoids; these antioxidants are also responsible for giving the bright colored foods their color. Dark green leafy vegetables have carotene and lutein; these nutrients also showed a reduction in the risk of getting ALS. Further diet-based studies are needed to investigate the impact of diet on ALS.

Last Reviewed:
September 12, 2016
Last Updated:
November 07, 2017
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