Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS which is also known by the name of Motor Neuron Disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease is a rapidly progressive neurodegenerative condition in which the upper motor neurons of the brain and the lower motor neurons of the spinal cord get affected. This results in the person experiencing severe weakness and muscle atrophy thereby affecting the overall mobility of the person. As the condition progresses the person then starts having problems with swallowing, speech, and breathing. Eventually, the patient has respiratory failure within three years of diagnosis and in most cases succumbs to the condition.[1, 2, 3]
According to estimates, about 30,000 people in the United States have ALS with approximately 5000 cases being diagnosed yearly. The root cause of ALS is not yet known but research suggests that both environmental and genetic factors may be at play in the development of this condition. There is no cure for ALS as of yet and treatments are basically supportive and palliative.[1, 2, 3]
The treatments for ALS are directed to prevent complications and make the life of the patient as easier as possible. It involves a multidisciplinary approach involving variety of specialists including physical, speech and occupational therapists, nutritionist, social workers, psychologists, and hospice care. However, there is one study that has been published in The Lancet which states that a diet high on carbs and calories has a tendency to slow down the progression of ALS.[1, 2, 3] This article goes into more detail as to whether high carbs and calories really slow down the progression of ALS.
Can A High Calorie and High Carb Diet Slow The Progression Of ALS?
Since problems with eating and swallowing are some of the primary symptoms of ALS, muscle and fat loss is quite common during progression of the disease. However, a research team from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have found in an animal study that mice that were overweight or obese and had ALS had better chances of survival for longer period of time than mice which were not overweight. This prompted the researchers to find whether certain dietary modifications like diet rich in carbs and calories affected the progression of ALS in humans.
For this, the researchers selected 20 patients who were diagnosed with advanced ALS and were already dependent on PEG tube feedings. These participants were divided into three groups. The first group was then put on a high carb and high calories diet. The second group was fed with high fat and high calorie diet and the third group acted as a control group and was given diet to maintain weight.
The patients were required to follow this diet pattern for a period of a month and were monitored for five months from the study baseline. After carefully analyzing the data after the study, the researchers found out participants in the control group had 42 adverse events related to ALS and participants who were on high carb and high calorie diet had only 23 adverse events and none of them were serious or fatal.
Another observation made by researchers was that the group that was on high carb and high calorie diet gained about 0.39 kg in weight every month compared to only 0.1 kg per month in the control group. It was also observed that there was an average weight loss of about 0.46 kg in the group on high fat and high calorie diet. The researchers also observed that there were no adverse events as a result of weight gain noted in any of the groups throughout the study.
The lead researcher Dr. Willis commented on the finding that even though the sample size was quite small the results are extremely optimistic about whatever results they observed during the study and the results are consistent with whatever observations that were made in the animal study with high carbs and high calorie diet improving the survival to a certain degree.
Dr. Willis suggests this form of nutritional intervention can be a novel way to slow down the progression of ALS and may also be useful for treatments of other neurological conditions. However, the researchers admit that the sample size was very small and studies need to be done on a much larger population to better understand the link between high carbs and high calorie diet and progression of ALS.
An editorial related to the study written by Dr. Ammar Al-Chalabi of King’s College London states that despite the results of the study he may not change the dietary plans in his patients with ALS but he is extremely interested in the outcome of studies that are done on a much larger population. He mentions that Dr. Willis has taken a big leap in finding a non-pharmacological treatment that is easy to administer and is well tolerated by all patients.
He states that more research needs to be done on a much larger scale to complete the work that the team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have started on the complex topic of dietary intervention and ALS disease progression.