Tuesday, June 25, 2013

June is ALS Awareness Month - What Do YOU Know About ALS?

What is it?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a progressive neuromuscular disease which attacks and irreversibly damages nerve cells, leaving large voluntary muscles such as those in the arms, legs, and face paralyzed. ALS is considered a disease of the motor neurons, nerve cells that communicate between the nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord) and voluntary muscles of the body. As ALS progresses, both upper and lower motor neurons are damaged and eventually they stop sending messages to muscles. The muscles then weaken and eventually atrophy.

Who gets it?
ALS most commonly affects adults between 40-60 years old, with a slightly higher incidence in men than women. The large majority of individuals affected by ALS do not have a family history of the disease, nor are there any clearly associated risk factors at this time. One potential risk factor appears to be the use of statins. Further research needs to be done to investigate the relationship between statin use (for lowering cholesterol) and the development of ALS-like syndromes, as well as the benefit that discontinuation of these medications may have – such as preventing progression of disease, or even complete reversal of symptoms.

Genetic research is also proposing the possibility of a genetic mutation being associated with the onset of familial (inherited) ALS development in a small sub-set of those affected with the disease.

The symptoms of ALS vary greatly from person to person! Often an individual reports tight and stiff muscles (with or without spasticity or hyperreflexia) or muscle weakness affecting the arms and legs, often accompanied by cramping. Others may notice that speech is affected early on, with slurred and nasal speech, also difficulty chewing or swallowing. Although pain is a potential symptom, it is usually less significant than weakness, which, as the disease progresses, spreads to other/all parts of the body. In later stages of the disease, the muscles of the respiratory tract weaken to the point that these individuals may not be able to breathe on their own, and a ventilator may be necessary. Complications of respiratory weakness/ventilator use, such as pneumonia, are common and can be fatal in these patients.

There is certain requirement that must be met before a diagnosis of ALS can be made. In general it is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning all other medical reasons for these symptoms are first ruled out, leaving ALS as the remaining option.

Treatment Options
Currently there is no cure to ALS, and most treatments, whether pharmaceutical medications, or natural interventions, are aimed at alleviating symptoms, increasing expected quantity and improving quality of life.

There are a variety of pharmaceutical medications aimed at treating various symptoms prevalent in ALS. Riluzole (Rilutek), is one commonly prescribed medication to delay the onset of ventilator-dependence. Physical therapy and/or speech therapy may be recommended for many individuals, in addition to these medications.

The Natural Route
High energy diet = High fat/High calorie
It is estimated at individuals with ALS are often hypermetabolic, burning up to 15% more calories than expected. As such, these individuals also need to consume more calories in spite of being less active, which is often the case. The key is to consume the right type of calories, maintaining a healthy diet! Focus on a diet high in "healthy fats", such as high quality olive oil, omega 3 from fish and flax, hemp, or chia.  Nuts and seeds are also high in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, and part of a healthy diet.

Alkaline Diet
Researchers have speculated that an alkaline diet might slow bone loss and muscle wasting, increase growth hormone, and decrease overall risk of chronic disease. Thus, there may be some benefit to an Alkaline diet for the treatment of ALS. An alkaline diet is one that supports optimal ph. An overly acidic ph play a part in the root cause of all inflammation and disease. An alkaline diet puts emphasis on the ingestion of fruits and vegetable, limiting animal proteins, refined sugars and carbohydrates, caffeine and processed foods. Click the following for more information on ph balancing.

A greens powder supplement mixed with juice or water, is an excellent supplement option. Spirulina, wheat grass, and chlorophyll are all known to improve alkalinity. A greens mix also provides essential nutrients in a liquid form, bypassing addressing any potential difficulties with swallowing.

Vitamins and Minerals
Calcium and magnesium are both extremely important to muscle health. There is research to suggest that ALS patients are typically low in many essential minerals, including calcium and magnesium.   Vitamin C has been shown to help support collagen production, and therefore may help to slow the destruction of connective tissue associated with ALS. B12 deficiency is one proposed risk for the development of ALS, suggesting that a B12 supplement, or B complex, including B12 and B6 may improve symptoms. Vitamin E has also been studied for its use in decreasing the risk of developing ALS. More studies need to be done in this area.

Animal studies show that creatine supplementation may improve motor performance and prolong life. More research is needed to understand how or if this would translate to human treatment.

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