It’s estimated that approximately 20,000 individuals in the US currently suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Although there is no known cure for this debilitating neurological disorder yet, understanding its risk factors and implementing preventative measures can help reduce your chances of developing it. In this post, we’ll cover what you need to know about ALS and provide strategies on how to avoid contracting it.
What is ALS?
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a dreadful and progressive neurodegenerative disorder that destroys motor neurons located in the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system. As these cells erode away, so does your capacity to control muscular movement. In its advanced stages, some patients may experience issues with speaking and swallowing as well as trouble breathing which can lead to paralysis or even death if left untreated.
Can ALS be treated?
Scientists still don’t know what causes ALS; however, it appears that environmental and genetic factors—such as viruses, exposure to toxins, and physical trauma—play a role in causing this debilitating disease. Some experts believe that exposure to certain toxins may increase an individual’s risk of getting ALS; however, more research is needed to confirm this connection. Additionally, people with certain inherited genes may be at higher risk for developing the illness.
ALS is an incurable disease for which no known cure exists; however, research continues to find a treatment or therapy. While ALS cannot be prevented, some ways can slow the progression of the disease. Several promising clinical trials are underway that may offer hope to those who have ALS.
ALS Risks factors
ALS has been linked with chemical imbalances in the brain or central nervous system. In some people, the condition may be caused by a malfunctioning immune system, while others may inherit a genetic mutation predisposing them to it.
Although most ALS incidents happen randomly, numerous risk factors may make you more susceptible to developing it. This is known as sporadic ALS. Fortunately, science has advanced, and now we have a better idea of who will get this condition; still, so much remains unclear about its causes. The following could potentially increase your vulnerability to the disease:
Genetics. Approximately 5-10% of individuals diagnosed with ALS have inherited it genetically from one or both of their parents.
Age. As your age increases, so does the risk of being diagnosed with ALS; on average, individuals are diagnosed at around 55.
Sex. The risk of developing ALS before age 65 is slightly greater for men than women. However, after age 70, both genders have an equal chance of being diagnosed with this disease.
Race and Ethnicity. People of Caucasian and non-Hispanic descent are more likely to acquire ALS than other populations.
Smoking. Evidence suggests that smoking tobacco may be a major contributing factor to the risk of developing ALS, particularly in post-menopausal women.
Exposure to Toxins. Numerous studies suggest that lead and other substances may be linked to ALS. Although countless experiments have been conducted, no one source or chemical has been verified as an authoritative catalyst for this condition. As a result, scientists are actively pursuing further research on potential causes such as hazardous materials, viruses, physical injury, diet routines, lifestyle practices and occupational factors.
Military Service. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges ALS as a service-related condition. Certain research demonstrates that veterans have an elevated risk of developing the illness, with some studies suggesting the risk is between 1.5 and 2 times greater than non-veterans. Despite this enhanced vulnerability, scientists are still uncertain why it exists – hypotheses range from exposure to toxic elements in combat zones such as chemicals or metals; physical trauma; viral infections; and strenuous physical activity during wartime.
High Glutamate Levels. In addition, some people with ALS have increased levels of glutamate, a chemical messenger in the brain, around the nerve cells in the spinal fluid. Too much glutamate is toxic to some nerve cells and may contribute to the development of ALS.
Faulty Immune Response. The condition has also been linked with a “disorganized” immune response, in which the immune system attacks and kills some normal nerve cells. This attack could cause ALS.
Virus Cells. There’s also some evidence that the condition may have a viral link. Some studies have found that ALS patients have virus cells in their spinal cords. These viral cells have similar properties to echovirus-7, which causes meningitis and rare cases of encephalitis.
Abnormal Proteins. Finally, research suggests that the formation of abnormal proteins in nerve cells can cause the condition by destroying the affected nerve cells. More research is needed to understand this process.
Reducing your risk of developing ALS
As we mentioned earlier, ALS cannot be prevented. However, researchers have found that carotenoids (a pigment found in plants) might play a role in helping to prevent neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS, or delay the onset of symptoms.
Carotenoids are orange, red, green, and yellow pigments in fruits and vegetables. High concentrations of carotenoids can be found in green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, spinach, and coriander.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to lower your chances of getting ALS:
- Avoid exposure to environmental toxins whenever possible
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritious food and exercising regularly
- Consider talking with your doctor about genetic testing if you think you may be at increased risk
- Quit smoking if you currently smoke
By following these steps, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing the illness — although there are no guarantees since the underlying cause of ALS remains unknown.
Although there is no cure for ALS, a variety of treatments are available to slow the progression of the disease, allowing individuals to remain independent and reduce discomfort as much as possible.