TUESDAY, July 15, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A diet rich in
omega-3 fatty acids may help cut your risk for the fatal
neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also
known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a new study suggests.
These fatty acids -- found most commonly in certain fish -- are
known to help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress on cells.
Both of those processes can damage nerve tissue, according to the
Inflammation and oxidative stress have long been linked with
ALS, the study authors said, so any nutrient that fights those
processes might be helpful.
In the study, "individuals with higher dietary intakes of total
omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids -- an essential type of dietary
fat found in vegetable oils and fish -- had a reduced risk for
ALS," said lead researcher Kathryn Fitzgerald of the Harvard School
of Public Health in Boston.
"We also found that higher dietary intake of alpha-linolenic acid, a type of fatty acid found in vegetable oils and nuts, is also associated with lower ALS risk," she said.
For the study, Fitzgerald's team looked at the association
between ALS and these fatty acids among almost 1,000 ALS patients.
They found that those who ate the most foods containing omega-3
fatty acids had the lowest risk of developing ALS.
People ranked in the top 20 percent in terms of their omega-3
fatty acid intake cut their odds of developing ALS by a third,
compared to those in the bottom 20 percent, the study found.
Fitzgerald cautioned, however, that the study was an
observational study, where the researchers look at data from
published sources and not from their own randomized trial. "So we
can't say there's a cause-and-effect relationship, only that
there's an association," she said.
And there was another caveat: This study only looked at the risk
of developing ALS. Whether high intake could help treat people who
already have the disease isn't known.
"Future studies are needed to establish whether increasing omega-3 intake might be helpful for people with ALS," Fitzgerald said.
ALS is a relatively rare disease, she noted. "Currently, there
are roughly 20,000 to 30,000 Americans who have ALS, and roughly
5,000 patients are diagnosed with ALS each year," Fitzgerald
The report was published online July 14 in
Dr. Michael Swash is a British neurologist at the Royal London
Hospital and the author of an accompanying journal editorial. He
believes that the new study "is important in that it provides the
possibility of an environmental factor [diet] in the complex
processes triggering the onset of ALS."
Dietary factors could be such a factor, and this research opens
the door a little toward addressing that idea, Swash said.
"Maybe we are headed toward two forms of therapy -- one preventing the disorder, an ideal solution -- the other slowing the progression of the disease, also necessary," he said.
For more information on ALS, visit the
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