Neurodegenerative disorders are medical conditions that affect the nervous system and are characterized by gradual degeneration of the brain and other neurological structures. The most common neurodegenerative disorders include Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. All these neurodegenerative disorders are caused due to genetic and environmental factors. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS is quite rare and affects the upper motor neurons of the brain and lower motor neurons of the spinal cord. It is a rapidly progressive disease which over time affects the ability of a person to chew and swallow and ultimately the disease causes respiratory failure leading to the patient succumbing from the disease.[1,2,3]
The ALS Association in the United States estimates that more than 5000 people each year are diagnosed with ALS and there are more than 30,000 people at present with a known diagnosis of ALS. Research shows that majority of the people with ALS succumb to this disease within 3 years of diagnosis. However, there are about 20% of people who survive for more than 5 years and 10% survive for more than 10 years post diagnosis of ALS.[1,2,3]
The cause of ALS is not known but both genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of ALS. A study conducted on ALS has come up with a variety of occupational exposures which can increase the risk of ALS. Among the various exposures, extremely low frequency magnetic field is believed to be one of the risk factors for ALS.[1,2,3]
However, the correlations found in these studies are questionable due to numerous flaws observed in the methodology used for analysis of the data. These flaws have been addressed by the new study where researchers have examined the evidence already present and making new observations on the risk of ALS in people exposed to very low frequency magnetic field. This research was carried out by a group of scientists from Utrecht University, Maastricht University, and the University Medical Center Utrecht from Netherlands. The results of the study were published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine.[1,2,3] This article highlights the details of the link between exposure to magnetic fields and increased risk for ALS.
Can Exposure To Magnetic Fields Increase The Risk Of ALS?
The scientists used data from the Netherlands Cohort Study, which is a large scale cohort study which was done to examine the diet and cancer risk and included 58,000 males and 62,000 females. All the participants in the study were between 55 and 69 years of age at the start of the study. All of them were clinically followed for a period of 17 years. The participants were asked to fill in questionnaires about their professional occupations.
The researchers then entered data for randomly selected 2400 males and 2500 females about their occupational exposures along with data for ALS mortality of 76 fatalities in males and 60 in females. Then using the standard tool for analyzing occupational health hazards they found that low frequency magnetic field was indeed a factor that increased the risk for ALS. This was further compounded when the researchers used Cox regression models to analyze the link between those who had been exposed to magnetic fields and those who had not been exposed to it to ALS mortality.
All other factors like gender, lifestyle habits, body mass index education levels, and physical activity were all taken into account. The study clearly proved that exposure to magnetic field increased the risk of ALS especially in males. The study showed that males who were exposed to high frequency magnetic fields were about 2 times at higher risk for developing later on in life.
The researchers feel that the study clearly solidifies the already existing evidence of a close association between exposure to magnetic link and ALS. However, researchers also admit that the reason as to why and how magnetic fields increase the risk of ALS. Another limitation of the study is that some of the fatalities observed in the research may have been mistakenly attributed to ALS whereas the cause might have been different.