Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) risk affected by BMI, dietary intake and alcohol consumption

Amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) risk affected by BMI, dietary intake and alcohol consumption

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) risk is affected by body mass index (BMI), dietary intake, and alcohol consumption. Although the exact cause of ALS is still not understood widely, dietary intake is a modifiable factor, which may play a role in ALS.


Researchers from the University Medical Center Utrecht used a 199-item food frequency questionnaire in order to study dietary intake and the risk of ALS.

The study included newly diagnosed patients with ALS, and their final analysis included 674 patients and 2,093 control patients without ALS.

The researchers uncovered presymptomatic total calorie intake in patients with ALS was higher compared to the healthy controls. Additionally, presymptomatic BMI was lower in patients compared to the controls as well.

Further analysis found higher premorbid intake of total fat, saturated fat, trans-fatty acid, and cholesterol was linked with an increased risk of ALS, and alcohol intake was linked with a reduced risk.

The authors of the study concluded, “The combination of independent positive associations of a low premorbid body mass index and a high fat intake together with prior evidence from ALS mouse models … and earlier reports on premorbid body mass index support a role for increased resting energy expenditure before clinical onset of ALS.”

Diet high in calories and carbs can slow down ALS progression

In many disorders and illnesses, caloric restriction has been found to improve health outcomes. Researchers tested this theory on mice with ALS, and although at first they found it improved motor functions, the benefits were short-lived, and greatly reduced body mass, as well as overall mobility and fore-paw grip endurance.

Additionally, caloric restriction also sped up the progression of ALS and shortened the mice lifespan. Furthermore, reduction in body weight negatively affects ALS, and caloric restriction may aggravate malnutrition. Malnutrition is especially harmful in ALS, as it increases the risk of mortality.

Factors contributing to malnutrition in ALS include dysphagia, loss of appetite, impaired function of tongue muscles and ability to chew, muscle deterioration in the hands, increasing the difficulty of self-feeding, and hypermetabolism.

In an alternative study that examined caloric intake and progression of ALS, researchers found that overweight mice with ALS lived longer, and that mice with an ALS-causing gene lived longer when they were fed higher calories and fat.

The researchers also tested their findings on 20 ALS patients who were fed through feeding tubes directly into the stomach. Patients were divided into three groups: one group was fed high carbs/high calories, the second group was fed high fat/high calories, and the last (control) group followed a standard diet to maintain weight.

The control group experienced 42 adverse effects linked to ALS, and the high carbs/high calorie group only experienced 23.

Researcher Dr. Anne-Marie Wills said, “Although the sample size was small, we are optimistic about these results, because they are consistent with previous studies in ALS mouse models that showed that hypercaloric diets improve survival.

Not only could this type of nutritional intervention be a novel way to treat and slow down the progression of ALS, it might also be useful in other neurological diseases.”

Additional research still needs to be conducted in order to confirm these outcomes, but they are preliminary findings to a possible course of treatment to slow down ALS.

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