Numerous health advantages of omega-3 fatty acids are well documented. Harvard University researchers have discovered that those with ALS who consume meals strong in omega-3 fatty acids may experience a slower pace of physical deterioration and a longer survival time.
Additionally, researchers discovered that participants in the trial who consumed more omega-6 fatty acids had a lower risk of passing away. Omega-3 fatty acids have long been known to have several positive effects on health, according to a study.
According to earlier research, these good fats, which may be found in various plants and shellfish, may help stave off diseases like metabolic syndrome, autoimmune diseases, Alzheimer’s, age-related macular degeneration, and cardiovascular disease.
Now, researchers from Harvard University have discovered that those who consume foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may experience a slower rate of physical decline and a longer survival time if they have the incurable, degenerative neurological disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Consuming omega-6 fatty acids, according to the researchers, was also linked to a lower chance of passing away among study participants.
ALS: What is it?
A condition affecting the body’s central nervous system, namely the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, is ALS, sometimes referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Over time, a person loses the ability to control their leg, arm, and face movements due to ALS, which damages the neurons necessary for movement. People with ALS may eventually lose the ability to talk and swallow, in severe situations.
Within a population of 100,000 individuals, there are “two new ALS cases each year,” according to the ALS Association. Males are more likely to get ALS than females, and it often strikes persons between the ages of 40 and 70.
ALS symptoms include:
- weakness in the hands, legs, feet, or ankles
- having trouble walking
- falling or stumbling
- discomfort in the shoulders or arms
- having trouble swallowing
- muddled speech
- cognitive problems.
Although the actual etiology of ALS is still unknown, researchers think genetics and environmental risk factors may be involved.
ALS presently has no known cure. Certain treatments can aid with symptom relief. With some individuals living longer, the typical life expectancy for someone with ALS is frequently between 2 and 5 years.
A diet for ALS
The lead author of this study, Dr. Kjetil Bjornevik, assistant professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, says he and his research group chose to investigate the relationship between diet and ALS because they were interested in identifying modifiable risk factors for neurological disorders, such as dietary factors.
He told Medical News Today, “We have done studies in the past that have shown that a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly alpha-linolenic acid, may decrease the risk of developing ALS.”
Therefore, he continued, “we were interested in investigating whether a diet high in these fatty acids is also connected with a slower rate of disease development in those who have already been given an ALS diagnosis.
This is not the first time that scientists have looked at how essential fatty acids affect ALS. A 2017 study indicated that maintaining motor neuron activity in ALS requires a mix of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Additionally, according to study from 2019 that was published, omega-3 fatty acids could be used to make drugs to treat neurological diseases.
ALS research on omega-3 fatty acids
Dr. Bjornevik and his team gathered 449 ALS patients with an average age of 58 years for this study. Participants in the study were monitored for 18 months. 126 people, or 28% of the participants, died over that time.
Researchers measured each participant’s blood concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, each participant earned a score between zero and 48 on 12 physical tasks, such as speaking, chewing, and swallowing, with higher values indicating higher function.
The subjects with the greatest levels of omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid had an average score of 38.3 at the beginning of the trial, according to analysis. The average score for those with the lowest amount was 37.6.
The research team also discovered that only 21 of the 126 deaths happened in the group with the highest levels of alpha-linolenic acid in their bodies, as opposed to 37 deaths that occurred in the group with the lowest levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Dr. Bjornevik and his team discovered research participants with the highest quantity of alpha-linolenic acid had a 50% lower risk of death during the trial, compared to those in the lowest amount group, after accounting for age, sex, and ethnicity.
According to Dr. Bjornevik’s research, some omega-3 fatty acids, such as alpha-linolenic acid, may benefit those who have ALS. He did, however, issue a warning: “Randomised clinical trials are required to establish whether supplementation with this fatty acid is beneficial.”
Omega-6 fatty acids might be helpful.
A lower chance of passing away during the study period was linked by the research team to linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid.
Dr. Bjornevik noted that linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid linked to a lower risk of death in his study, is also an essential fatty acid that can only be received by food.
“However, it is less apparent whether and how this fatty acid benefits ALS patients. Since omega-3 fatty acids were linked to a lower chance of developing ALS in prior studies, we largely focused on them in this work,” the researcher said.
We also discussed this study with Dr. Stephen Johnson, a Mayo Clinic expert in neuromuscular diseases.
He said, “I read the study with great curiosity and cautious optimism since I am always eager for the next breakthrough that might slow down, stop, or even reverse the progression of the ALS disease“.
“The study’s results are intriguing and open the door for more research, which is necessary to more precisely answer the question of whether or not specific fatty acids can prolong life and halt the advancement of ALS disease. We already have an association, but we need to do our homework to determine whether it can be replicated in the context of a more thorough scientific investigation,” according to Dr. Stephen Johnson.
Dr. Johnson expressed his preference for a sizable prospective phase 2/3, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial to assess the identified possibly advantageous fatty acids as the next stage in this investigation.
“This trial should pay particular attention to participant diet, medications/supplements, and any potential confounders, in addition to measuring longevity and participant function,” he said. However, a phase 1 clinical trial will probably need to be conducted first.
Dr. Johnson continued, “By taking these next steps, just as we would with any pharmaceutical medication, we can assess whether the association is more than just an association and whether specific dietary supplementation of fatty acids should be added to the standard of care for people with ALS.”
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