Omega-3 fatty acids could help reduce the risk of ALS

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Since the ice bucket challenge, The ALS Association has received over one hundred million dollars in donations.

Neurologist Elizabeth Sullivan says that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a motor neuron disease. Motor neurons are the part of the nervous system that connects from the spinal cord to the muscles. So in ALS people develop damage to those nerves connected to the muscle.

Simply put it slowly destroys the nerve that controls your muscles. Often starting in the hands and legs and overtime more patients lose the ability to swallow and talk.

"Currently twenty to thirty thousand cases are in the country. There is five to six thousand that come up each year," said Dr. Sullivan

There is no cure and no treatment for ALS, but a new study suggests that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help cut your risk for fatal disease.

"We typically think of fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. Salmon is a big one and nuts like: almonds, walnuts, and canola oil," said Dr. Sullivan

These fatty acids found most commonly in certain fish are known to help to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress on cells. Both of these processes can damage nerve tissue, according to the study authors.

"Their thought was that the patients who develop ALS seem to intake, over the course of their lives, less omega-3 then patients that do not develop it," said Dr. Sullivan

For the study, a 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.

"The study does not necessarily prove that taking omega-3 will prevent the disease. They cannot say that it is causative. It is suggestive that it is helpful and may be protective to prevent people from developing ALS," said Dr. Sullivan

This study only looked at the risk of developing ALS. Whether high intake could help treat people who already have the disease is not known. Future studies are needed in order to establish this.

Doctors encourage and advise people to increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids anyway because it has other health benefits.

The donations that the ALS Association has received from the ice bucket challenge, doctors and researchers now have the funding to do many more tests such as this one.

The report was published online July 14 in JAMA Neurology.